Former Director General of SSNIT and four others plead not guilty to charges

Ernest Thompson

Ernest Thompson, former Director General of Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) and four others have appeared before an Accra High Court (Commercial Court) for wilfully causing financial loss to the state.

Thompson and his four accomplices are said to have caused a loss of over $ 66 million Operating Business Suite (OBS) contract which seek to provide a state -of-the-art pension administration system to the country and all have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The other accused persons are: John Hagan Mensah, an Information Technology (IT) Infrastructure manager of SSNIT and later Operational Business Suite (OBS) Project Manager, Juliet Hassana Kramer, Chief Executive Officer of Perfect Business System (PBS) and Silver lake Structured Service Limited, Caleb Kwaku Afaglo, former General Manager of Management Information Systems (MIS) at SSNIT and Peter Hayibor, Counsel of SSNIT.

The five have been variously charged with 29 counts of conspiracy, wilfully causing financial loss to the state and Contravention of the Public Procurement Act.

Afaglo has additionally been charged with defrauding by false pretences, possession of forged documents and uttering of forged documents.

They have been admitted to self-recognisance bail by the court presided over by Mr Justice Henry Anthony Kwoffie, a Court of Appeal Judge sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge.

The accused defence counsels made submissions for bail.

Mr Abednego Tetteh, Counsel for Thompson told the court that his client had actively worked for the past 40 years in public service and he would not abscond from the jurisdiction.

According to Mr Tetteh, his client who is a well known face in the media had at all times been reporting to the Economic and Organised Crime Organisation (EOCO) for the past one year and had always reported to them anytime he was required.

He said the under the contract, only five Portal Automated Machines were bought for the whole country adding that people would have travel long distances to use the machines.

Mr Tetteh said due the small number, there was the need to purchase about 50 more Portal Automated Machines to make them accessible to all.

Mr Annis Mogtari Mohayienn, who held the brief of Majub Rahman, said the only obligation on his client was to raise “a reasonable doubt” by pleading not guilty.

Mr Mohayienn said Mensah was a father and husband who would not run away from his titles if given self-recognisance bail.

In the case of Juliet, Mr Thaddeus Sory, said he was surprised that the prosecution is saying that she was a Chief Executive officer of a non-existent firm.

According to Mr Sory, Juliet and her firm are one of the largest tax paying entities in the country and wondered why when payment were made the money was not turned down because her firm did not exist.

Mr Bernard Shaw, counsel for Afaglo said his client had never missed his appointments at EOCO and officials at premises would attest to that.

Mr Oliver Atsu Amegah, counsel for Hayibor urged the court to admit his client to bail.

Narrating the facts Ms Gloria A. Akuffo, the Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Justice said in June 2010, SSNIT developed and Information Communication Technology (ICT) Strategic Plan to reflect current changes in its operational processes and conform with new trends in the ICT industry.

Ms Akuffo said the plan envisioned the development and implementation of new software solutions as Operational Business Suite (OBS) to provide a state of the art pension administration system on a turnkey basis for SSNIT.

The AG said SSNIT advertised for International Competitive Bidding in the media for the development and implementation of the project.

According to her although an entity described as Perfect Business Systems Limited (PBS) did not participate in the bidding in November 2012, the contract was awarded jointly to Silverlake, a Malaysian IT solutions provider and PBS purportedly as a consortium at a contract sum of $34,011,914 inclusive 14 per cent contingency and 17.5 per cent Value Added Tax.

She said the objective of the project was to automate all the core processes in the implementation and integrate all internal system as well as external stakeholders of SSNIT.

Ms Akuffo said contract which covered SSNIT head office and branch offices totalling 55 sites were to be completed within 18 months.

“The project included the supply and installation of hardware and software development, data conversion and migration as well as system integration of all components and maintenance support.”

Contrary to the terms of the contract, the AG said Thompson, Juliet and Afaglo caused payment to be made by SSNIT to PBS for items which were already covered by the contract sum thereby “ballooning” the contract of $ 34,011,914 to $ 66,783,148 through what was termed as variously as “Change Orders” and “Variations.”

The Minister of Justice recounted further that the so called Variation or Change of Order were carried out at the instance of Thompson, Mensah, Juliet and Afaglo.

She said Thompson authorised some payments which were above his threshold as Director General and contrary to the Public Procurement Act.

On January 15, 2016, Ms Akuffo said SSNIT entered into a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with the so-called consortium (PBS/Silverlake) represented by Juliet in the sum of $2,570,967 per annum for maintenance and warranty for three years.

The AG said although the maintenance and warranty agreement was executed in 2016, payment started from September 2014 when no service had been rendered at that time.

“The payments were made contrary to the terms of the OBS Contract and also the advice of Corporate Law Manager against the payment resulting in an unearned two years’ payment of $ 5,141,905.66 by SSNIT to the “Consortium” through Mensah.

Ms Akuffo said Hayibor witnessed the signing by Thompson in the SLA.

She said investigations established that OBS system did not perform as contracted and Thompson gave authorisation for the various payments resulting in the loss of those amounts.

Ms Akuffo said further investigations also revealed that Juliet purported represented a non-existent PBS company adding that she had no capacity to represent Silverlake.

In the case of Afaglo, the AG said in applying for employment at SSNIT, he submitted and relied on certificates purporting to be educational qualification he did not possess.

“Based on those fake certificates, he gained employment at SSNIT as the General Manager of MIS on October 1, 2015.”

She said Afaglo’s certificates which he claimed to have been obtained from Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Cincinnati were not genuine.

The case has been adjourned to October 17.

Source: GNA

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