Before Daniel Domelevo was appointed the Auditor-General of the Ghana Audit Service (GAS) in 2016, the Ghanaian public was more familiar with the annual ritual of submitting of audit reports to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament by the GAS and the drama of live TV shows of the sitting to question public officials on expenditures, including some bizarre, irrational and unexplained spending sprees. After that, not much happens – the monies embezzled or stolen are not recovered.
But then, when Domelevo was appointed, he decided to take the bull by the horn to ensure that public funds expended under any circumstances, were properly accounted for.
In this World Bank report on anti-corruption, the GAS was prominently featured as a good example of an agency fighting corruption and the wanton waste of public funds.
According to the report published on September 23, 2020, Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs), described as chief auditors of governments that play a pivotal role in ensuring transparency and accountability and whose effectiveness largely depends on their operational and financial independence, are also influenced by the external audit model they follow, the country context, and the association norms of behaviour.
The report titled; “Enhancing government effectiveness and transparency: The fight against corruption”, notes that the case study of Ghana is an interesting example of an overlapping or hybrid model of a Westminster type SAI equipped with sanction powers. It explains further that other Westminster type SAIs have established forensic audit functions, though the Westminster model is known to focus more on the supporting role of SAIs, targeting prevention of corruption rather than detection or sanction.
The report pinpoints the state of corruption in Ghana indicating that corruption perception has been a long-standing concern in the country.
“For instance, the Governance and Corruption Survey conducted by the Ghana Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD Ghana) in 2000 found that 75 per cent of the Ghanaian households surveyed regarded corruption as a serious national problem; 59 per cent of households saw corruption as a major problem in the private sector; and 86 per cent saw it as a major problem in the public sector,” it said.
It cited a survey in 2005 conducted by the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) which also showed that Ghanaians perceived corruption as equally serious, with 92.5 per cent of urban households in Southern Ghana citing corruption as prevalent in the country while 90 per cent of those surveyed considered it a serious problem.
Noting that some efforts have been made to address corruption, it points out that independent assessors find that the country has made little progress, as measured by global rankings in recent years.
“Amidst a growing perception of corruption amongst public officials, the public has become increasingly cynical about the government’s commitment and ability to effectively tackle corruption. In 2015, Ghana ranked 56th in the world on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (TI-CPI) but slipped quickly over the years to 80th place in 2019. Ghana’s position in the World Governance Indicator’s Control of Corruption measure has improved from 53rd place in 2015 to 49th place in 2017, before regressing to 53rd place in 2018,” the report noted.
The report highlighted the fact that corruption is perceived to exist in all branches of the Ghanaian government and has been a highly politicized issue since the country’s transition to a multiparty democracy in 1992.
It however acknowledged the efforts being made to tackle the problem.
“In 2017, the new government undertook several measures, introducing electronic services and digitization to reduce the human interface in the delivery of several public services, including the issuance of electronic passports. Ghana has several institutions to fight corruption, but they are fragmented and face persistent implementation challenges,” it said.
Besides the traditional law enforcement agencies such as the Ghana Police Service (GPS), the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and the courts, the other institutions established to curb corruption in Ghana are the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO), and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), the report said.
It nevertheless, states that many of these bodies struggle with issues that limit their ability to effectively perform their duties, such as a severe lack of resources.
Mentioning the CHRAJ as an example, it said, despite being the leading anti-corruption institution in Ghana, it does not have the power to prosecute, nor the required budget autonomy.
“Both the CHRAJ and EOCO have been reported to face interference from the executive, due to the structure of their boards and the appointment of directors and commissioners,” the report said.
Similarly, in his various writings and a public lecture given at the University of New York in January 2019, Mr Whittal, a Commissioner at CHRAJ, has consistently proposed the need to remove the appointment procedures from the executive: “the time has come to amend the laws on the appointment of the heads of state anti-corruption institutions—EOCO,CHRAJ and including the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC)—to wean them off excess control by the executive.”
On the GAS, the report said the accompanying foreword to the Ghana National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP) (2012- 2021) acknowledges that the absence of the GAS in developing the plan was a missed opportunity that the country could have pursued to better understand some of the core drivers of corruption in the country.
The GAS derives its mandate from Ghana’s Constitution. Articles 184, 187 and 286 of the 1992 Constitution established a broad mandate covering the activities for the Auditor General (AG), including to (i) audit the public accounts of Ghana and any other public office, (ii) take into custody the asset declarations of persons who hold public offices, (iii) determine and approve the form or manner in which public accounts are kept, (iv) submit audit reports, draw attention to irregularities, and make appropriate recommendations on the Ghanaian public accounts and the Central Bank’s statement of foreign exchange receipts and payments, and lastly (v) the AG may disallow any item of expenditure contrary to the law and impose a surcharge on the person responsible.
“While this entailed powerful and far-reaching authority for the AG, it was a common view that implementation of these powers was weak, and that audit reports produced by the GAS were reduced to mere “journalistic reports of events” with little real impact. Since the appointment of a new AG in December 2016, GAS’s core financial oversight role has gained renewed prominence, which has in turn enhanced its contribution to anti-corruption efforts,” the report said.
It then went on to list some of the achievements of the GAS under the new AG.
“Several key undertakings have contributed to GAS’s impact on financial integrity: Judicious use of disallowance and surcharge powers In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the AG be required to exercise its powers of disallowance and surcharge to commence the recovery of public funds that have been found to be illegally spent or lost through negligence or misconduct,” it noted.
These powers enable the AG to disallow any unlawful expenditure and impose a surcharge on the person(s) responsible. Anyone aggrieved by a disallowance or a surcharge can appeal to the High Court as provided for by Article 187(9) of the Constitution within 14 working days of the surcharge. To facilitate the process, particular courts were identified and assigned by the Chief Justice to hear these appeals, the report said.
Putting the actions of the new AG in context, the report said, “the refusal of previous AGs to exercise the disallowance and surcharge powers had resulted in a loss of almost GH¢2.5 billion worth of public funds through ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) alone from 2003 to 2014, and GH¢5 billion through public boards, corporations, and other statutory institutions between 2009 and 2014.
The new AG established a special task force to review all previous Audit Reports to reveal instances where the powers of disallowance and surcharge may be applied to recover lost public funds. Between June 2017 and November 2018, the GAS issued 112 surcharge certificates and returned a total amount of GH¢67.3 million ($12.2 million) back to government coffers. This achievement inspired other African SAIs to pass similar legislation on disallowances and surcharges. In 2019, the GAS stopped publishing special reports on disallowance and surcharge activity, and instead incorporated it in their usual audit reports to Parliament as a step towards establishing it as a fixed and regular part of the audit process.”
The report notes further, that Ghana’s persistent fiscal slippages were mainly driven by weaknesses in the public financial management (PFM) commitment control systems. In 2017, the AG worked closely with the World Bank and the IMF to undertake an audit of government payment arrears that had accumulated over the period 2013–2016.
The audit was to: (1) verify the types and amounts of arrears accumulated; (2) identify the root causes for the arrears; (3) limit the future accumulation of arrears; and (4) develop a coherent strategy for managing and clearing the existing stock of arrears. As part of the audit, all MDAs were required to submit their outstanding liabilities to GAS for validation, which was tediously undertaken by examining and cross-checking the supporting warrants, contract documents, invoices, procurement records, and other documentation. Bank statements of the respective MDAs were also checked to ensure that the liabilities were not already settled.
In prior years, such arrears were commonly settled and paid for without verification. The outcome of the audit revealed several corrupt practices and led to the recovery of substantial sums of money, strengthening of commitment controls and prosecution of offenders, the report noted.
“The total outstanding commitments submitted by the MDAs for verification of arrears amounted to GH¢11.3 billion ($2 billion), 51 per cent of which were rejected by the GAS as invalid arrears due to fraudulent reasons, such as double or triple payments to contractors for the same services rendered. The audit also revealed weak control mechanisms and poor record-keeping practices by the MDAs that facilitated corrupt activity. Internal auditors at the MDAs reported abuse and silencing through threats, transfers, or invitations to participate in corrupt schemes,” it added.
The report notes among other things that, the leadership of the AG himself has also been an important contributor to GAS’s impact, as he championed initiatives beyond the usual activity of GAS. The AG’s firm and untiring anti-corruption stance has led GAS to undertake interests that spill over into what a robust anti-corruption agency might pursue in other countries: Being a voice of reason in safeguarding the public purse. As a result of his public crusade and determined actions against corrupt officials, the AG has emerged as a strong figure in Ghana’s anti-corruption war.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi