Speaker tasks joint c’ttee to investigate COVID-19 expenditure

A parliamentary joint committee of Finance and Health has been tasked to investigate and inquire into the receipt and utilisation of funds received for the purpose of combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee is expected to present its report in the first week of October when the House returns from recess to commence the third meeting of the session.

Mr Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, the Speaker of Parliament, who gave the directive in Parliament, yesterday, said there were gray areas in the accounting and utilisation of the funds which needed to be investigated by the House.

His directive follows the presence of the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, at Parliament to account on how GH¢18.19 billion was spent in combating the respiratory disease.

According to Mr Ofori-Atta, government has been candid and consistent in accounting for the receipts and utilisation of the monies; adding that “all programmed, mobilised and utilised funds have been duly reported on.”

Giving a breakdown of the utilisation, Mr Ofori-Atta said the programmed expenditure for the years 2020 and 2021 amounted to GH¢15.7 billion out of which GH¢12.036 billion was utilised.

Out of the amount, he said, GH¢11.162 billion was expended to provide support to households, supply equipment and provide relief to health workers, health infrastructure, security, operations, evacuations, quarantine and coordination, economic relief, stabilisation and revitalisation and COVID-19 complementary releases in 2020.

But the Minority caucus, which had been calling for the minister to account for CCOVID-19 funds, said there was inconsistency in the figures provided by the Finance Minister and President Akufo-Addo in his message on the state of the nation on March, 30, 2022.

The Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu said whilst the president earlier said GH¢17.7 billion has been spent on the pandemic since 2020, the Finance Minister of Finance was reporting GH¢12 billion was spent; and asked “who should we believe? The president or the minister”.

“Further the president said in his message that it took an unbudgeted GH¢1.9 billion to ensure that our children and teaching staff went back to school but the minister is reporting GH¢1.119 billion. Another discrepancy,” the Tamale South MP, observed.

“So Mr Speaker, for us, a probe and an open public inquiry into Covid expenditure beyond the headline numbers of the Minister of Finance is inevitable and an imperative. We are not looking for headline figures. We need the expenditure returns detailed on every amount spent,” he submitted.

The Majority Leader, watering down the need for the request of the Minority, said the minister’s responsibility was to make allocations for expenditures to ministries, departments and agencies and not how same is spent.

“How the expenditures are incurred, Mr Speaker, is not the responsibility of the Minister of Finance to give account to this House. That is why I am saying this invitation to the minister is misplaced,” the Suame MP said.

To him, the various committees of the House are clothed to inquire into the expenditure outlines of the various agencies and not a separate adhoc committee. 

Giving his ruling, Mr Bagbin said he was persuaded that there were existing committees to conduct the investigation as “there are gaps that we need to throw light on”.

One important area of accounting which was missing, the Speaker noted was the COVID-19 Trust Fund which the minister excluded in his accounting.

“We need to go beyond the minister and get in touch with the Trust to unearth [how much the Trust has accrued and how same was spent]. So therefore there is the need for further investigation.

“It is with this that I direct that the Committee of Finance ably supported by Health to investigate and inquire into the total receipt referred to as COVID-19 funds and how those funds were applied for the betterment of the people of this country,” the speaker directed.

BY JULIUS YAO PETETSI

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