A FORMER Deputy Minister of Finance under the John Dramani Mahama administration, Dr. Cassiel Ato Forson, and two other individuals have been charged by the Office of the Attorney General for allegedly willfully causing financial loss of €2.37 million to the state in a deal to purchase some 200 ambulances for the health sector between 2014 and 2016.
Dr. Forson, who is the sitting Member of Parliament for Ajumako-Enyan-Esiam in the Central Region, and a Ranking Member on the Finance Committee of Parliament, has been charged along side Sylvester Anemana, a former Chief Director of the Ministry of Health as well as businessman, Richard Jakpa.
The three have been charged with five counts of willfully causing financial loss to the state, abetment to willfully cause financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act and intentionally misapplying public property.
The offences relate to the purchase of what court documents describe as defective vehicles which were not originally manufactured to function as ambulances and hence could not be converted for such a purpose.
Per the charge sheet, Dr. Ato Forson and Richard Jakpa are each facing one count of willfully causing financial loss to the Republic while Sylvester Anemana is charged with one count of abetment of willfully causing financial loss to the Republic.
Dr. Forson is again facing another count of intentionally misapplying public property contrary to Section 1(2) of the Public Property Protection Act whilst Sylvester Anemana is also facing another count of contravention of the Public Procurement Act.
Per the brief facts of the charges that have been filed in court, late President Evans Atta Mills while delivering the State of the Nation Address in 2009, indicated that new ambulances would be purchased to expand the services of the National Ambulance Service to cover districts in the country.
According to court documents, following the State of the Nation Address, the Ministry of Health (MOH) initiated action to acquire more ambulances, and Jakpa, using his business, Jakpa At Business Limited, approached the Ministry of Health with a proposal that he had arranged for finance from Stanbic Bank for the supply of 200 ambulances to the government.
It said on December 22, 2011, Cabinet endorsed an Executive Approval that had been granted for a joint memorandum submitted by the Minister for Health and the Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning for the purchase of 200 ambulances out of a medium term loan facility of €15.8 million to be paid out of a credit arrangement between Stanbic Bank Ghana Limited and Government of Ghana through the Ministry of Finance.
“By a joint memorandum dated 30th April, 2012, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Kwabena Duffuor, and the Minister of Health, Alban S.K Bagbin, applied for Parliamentary approval for the supply of 200 ambulances at a price of €15,800,000 to be paid out of a credit arrangement between Stanbic Bank and the Government of Ghana through the Ministry of Finance. This memorandum to Parliament did not make reference to any role to be played by either Big Sea General Trading Limited (Big Sea), Dubai, or the agents for Big Sea, Jakpa At Business Limited in the transaction,” the brief facts noted.
The facts also state that the memorandum of understanding did not also refer to the terms under which the ambulances would be procured or the terms under which the two companies would be involved in the transaction.
The facts also state that Parliament on November 1, 2012, granted approval for the financing agreement between the government and Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd. for the procurement of the 200 ambulances.
It said on November 19, 2012, Mr. Anemana, who was the Chief Director at the Ministry of Health, wrote to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) seeking approval to engage Big Sea to supply the 200 ambulances through single-sourcing.
It said the letter to the PPA falsely indicated that the reason for the single-sourcing was because Big Sea had arranged for funding for the project.
GoG/Big Sea Contract
According to the facts, by an agreement dated December 19, 2012, the Ministry of Health formally contracted Big Sea General Trading based in Dubai, for the supply of 200 Mercedes Benz ambulances. The contract sum was €15.8 million at a unit price of €79,000.
According to the terms of the contract, the contract was to become effective upon the signature of both parties of the contract and when all government and other approvals had been obtained by both parties.
“The terms of the delivery, as per the agreement, were that the first consignment of 25 vehicles should be delivered within 120 days of the execution of the agreement. The outstanding 175 vehicles were to be delivered in batches of 25 every 30 days thereafter,” the facts said.
It said per the terms of the agreement, advance payment was prohibited and the payment for the purchase price was to be done by raising an irrevocable and transferable letter of credit from government’s bankers for the supplier of the ambulances.
It was also agreed that upon delivery of every 50 ambulances, 25 per cent of the purchase price was to be paid through confirmed Letters of Credit on sight of goods opened in favour of the supplier upon the submission of a number of documents specified in the agreement.
Letters of Credit
The facts disclosed that on August 7, 2014, Dr. Ato Forson wrote to the Bank of Ghana urgently requesting to establish the Letters of Credit for the supply of 50 ambulances amounting to €950,000, representing 25 per cent of the contract sum while arrangement were being made to perfect and sign the loan agreement in favour of Big Sea.
On August 12, 2014, Dr. Forson then wrote to the Controller and Accountant-General authorising the release of GH¢806,688.75 to the Minister for Health to enable him pay the bank charges covering the establishment of Letters of Credit (LCs) for the supply of 50 Mercedes Benz ambulances and related services.
“He further directed that the LCs should be charged to the budget of the Ministry of Health contrary to the Parliamentary approval on the funding for the supply of the ambulances. The Controller and Accountant-General, on the authority of the letter dated 7th and 12th August 2014, written by the first accused (Dr. Forson), wrote to the Bank of Ghana on 14th August 2014, authorising it to establish an irrevocable transferable Letters of Credit in the sum of €3,950,000 in favour of Big Sea ,” the facts added.
The facts state that a consignment of 10 ambulances which was shipped from Dubai on October 22, 2014, arrived on December 16, 2014, and a post-delivery inspection of the first batch of 10 ambulances revealed that some were without any medical equipment in them while other fundamental defects included defects on the body of the vehicles and the patient compartment of the ambulances. Such defects were brought to the attention of Big Sea by a letter dated February 11, 2015.
It also indicated that Big Sea, in its reply, acknowledged the defects on the vehicles but indicated that it proceeded to ship the vehicles when it received the LCs but promised to send its technicians to fix all issues relating to the defects and train Ghanaian staff before handing over the ambulances.
“The third batch of 10 vehicles was shipped on February 12, 2015. By this time, the second batch had already arrived at the Tema Port. All the 30 ambulances had the same fundamental defects. A further inspection by Silver Star Auto Limited at the request of the Ministry of Health disclosed that the vehicles were not originally built as ambulances, and were therefore not fit to be converted for that purpose. A total amount of €2,370,000 was paid for the 30 vehicles,” the facts added.
It also stated that Jakpa, “knowing that Big Sea had not shipped ambulances, still arranged with his principal to supply the purported ambulances and contracted Big Sea to charge a commission of 28.5% on proceeds of the supply of these vehicles purported to be ambulances to the Government of Ghana.”
It said by a letter dated January 20, 2016, the then Minister of Health, Alex Segbefia, informed Big Sea that the vehicles did not meet ambulances specifications and were not fit for purpose. He also requested for an inspection of a well-equipped ambulance vehicle that meets specification by February 20, 2016.
“Following this, a team led by the CEO of the National Ambulance Services proceeded to Dubai and held an inspection on 11th February, 2016. After the visit to Dubai, Big Sea undertook to send a technical team to rectify the defects. This has not been done,” the brief facts added.