The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, yesterday maintained in court that Cassiel Ato Forson, Deputy Finance Minister in the previous NDC government, ordered for the payment of €3.95 million, contrary to the terms of the contract in respect of the ‘dubious’ purchase of ambulance.
Dr Abdul Basit Aziz Bamba, counsel for Dr Ato Forson, posed questions to the Health Minister in an attempt to establish that his client ordered for the payment after following due process. But the Minister insisted that the evidence available to him proved otherwise.
While counsel for Ato Forson had suggested that, under the agreement, LCs were to be established only when documents had been seen, the Minister said he had not seen any document by which Dr Ato Forson was justified in requesting payment to be made.
On a suggestion that the first accused did not authorise payment, Mr Agyeman-Manu disagreed, and referred to letters written by Dr Ato Forson, showing that he requested LCs to be established.
He further indicated that the means of payment for the transaction was by LCs, and so requesting LCs to be established meant authorising payment for the transaction.
On claims that he rejected the ambulances, the Health Minister said his predecessors were those who rejected them because they were not fit for purpose.
Dr Ato Forson has pleaded not guilty to charges of causing financial loss of €2.37 million to the state in the ambulance purchase deal.
Two other accused persons standing trial with him, Dr Sylvester Anemana, former Chief Director of the Ministry of Health, and Richard Jakpa, a businessman, have also pleaded not guilty to charges of abetment to causing financial loss to the state.
They have been charged with five counts in total. These are: wilfully causing financial loss to the Republic of Ghana, contrary to Section 179A (3) (a) of the Criminal Offences Act 1960 (Act 29), abetment of crime, namely wilfully causing financial loss to the state, contrary to Sections 20 )1) and 179 A (3) (a) of the same Criminal Offences Act 1960, contravention of the Public Procumbent Act 2003 (Act 663), contrary to Section 92 (2)(b) of the said act, and intentionally misapplying public property, contrary to Section 1 (2) of the Public Property Protection Act 1977 (SMCD 140).
In the year 2009, the then President announced that new ambulances would be purchased to expand the existing fleet of the National Ambulance Service.
The third accused, using his company, Jakpa at Business, presented a proposal and term loan to MoH, which he claimed to have arranged through Stanbic Bank to finance the supply of 200 ambulances.
Cabinet then endorsed an executive approval granted for a joint memorandum submitted by the Health Minister and the Deputy Minister of Finance for the purchase of the 200 ambulances.
Through a joint memorandum, the then Minister of Finance and Minister of Health applied for parliamentary approval for the supply of the ambulances at a price of €15.8 million.
The second accused, who was then the Chief Director at the Ministry of Health, requested approval from the Public Procurement Authority to engage Big Sea through a process of single-sourcing to supply the 200 ambulances.
By an agreement dated 19 December 2012, the Government of Ghana, represented by the Ministry of Health, contracted Big Sea General Trading llc to supply 200 Mercedes Benz ambulances. The contract sum was €15,800,000, at a unit price of €79,000.
Payment terms breached
Under the agreement, advance payment was prohibited. In addition, payment for the purchase price of €l5.8 million was to be by “raising an irrevocable and transferable letter of credit” from the Government of Ghana’s bankers for the benefit of the supplier.
Upon delivery of every 50 ambulances, 25% of the purchase price was to be paid through confirmed letters of credit (LCs) on sight of goods opened in favour of the supplier, upon submission of a number of documents specified in the agreement.
On 7 August 2014, Dr Cassiel A Forson wrote to the Bank of Ghana “urgently requesting … to establish the letters of credit for the supply of 50 ambulances amounting to €3,950,000, representing 25% of the contract sum, while arrangements are being made to perfect and sign the loan agreement … in favour of Big Sea”.
He again wrote to the Controller and Accountant General authorising the release of a sum of GHC806, 688.75 to the Minister of Health to enable him to pay the bank charges covering the establishment of LCs for the supply of 50 ambulances and related services.
He further directed that the LCs should be charged to the budget of the Ministry of Health, contrary to Parliament’s approval on the funding for the supply of the ambulances.
The Controller and Accountant General, on the authority of the letters dated 7 and 12 August 2014, written by the first accused, wrote to the Bank of Ghana, authorising it to establish irrevocable, transferable LCs in the sum of €3.95 million in favour of Big Sea.
Not fit for purpose
A consignment of ten ambulances, which was shipped from Dubai on 22 October 2014, arrived on 16 December 2014. Post-delivery inspection of the first batch of ten ambulances revealed that they had no medical equipment. Other fundamental defects included defects to the body of the vehicles and the patient compartment of the ambulances.
These defects were brought to the attention of Big Sea in a letter dated 11 February 2015, written by the second accused, Sylvester Anemana.
By a reply dated 19 February 2015, Big Sea acknowledged the defects to the vehicles but said that they proceeded to ship the vehicles when they received the LCs on 18 August 2014. The company also said that the second consignment of ten vehicles, with the same defects, had been shipped 51 days before the date of the letter from the ministry.
The company promised to send its technicians to fix all problems relating to the defects and train Ghanaian staff before handing over the ambulances.
The third batch of ten vehicles was shipped on 12 February 2015. By this time, the second batch had already arrived at Tema Port. All 30 ambulances bore the fundamental defects described.
A further inspection by Silver Star Auto Ltd at the request of the Ministry of Health showed that the vehicles were not originally built as ambulances, and were therefore not fit to be converted for such a purpose. In total, €2.37 million was paid for the 30 vehicles.