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High court orders Alex Segbefia and two others to testify in Ato Forson case

Cassiel Ato Forson, a former deputy finance minister

Cassiel Ato Forson, Minority Leader in Parliament

A high court in Accra, presided over by Justice Afia Serwaa Asare-Botwe, a Court of Appeal judge sitting with additional responsibility as a high court judge, has issued a witness summons to compel Alex Segbefia, a minister of health in the erstwhile John Evans Atta-Mills government, and two others to appear in court and testify on behalf of the Minority Leader, Cassiel Ato Forson.

Dr Abdul Basit Bamba, a lawyer for Forson, the first of three accused standing trial for wilfully causing financial loss to the state, applied to the court on Thursday 22 June 2023 for the witness summons to be issued because, he said, his client is unable to get the witnesses to come to court to testify voluntarily.

Grounds for application

Dr Bamba’s application was based on Section 58 of the Courts Acts 1993 (Act 459), which states that “in any proceedings, and at any stage of the proceedings, a court either on its own motion or on the application of any party, may summon any person to attend to give evidence, or to produce any document in his possession or excerpts from it subject to any enactment or rule of law”.

Summoned witnesses

The two other witnesses who have been summoned by the court in addition to Segbefia are Seidu Kotomah, a former controller and accountant general of Ghana and Patrick Nimo, a former chief director at the Ministry of Health.

Dr Basit Bamba also informed the court that Forson will also call Seth Terkper, a minister of finance in the John Mahama government, and Dr Alexander Mould, a former chief executive officer of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC).

However, he told the court, the two witnesses are out of the country but whenever they return, he will inform the court to make time for them to attend the court and testify voluntarily on behalf of Forson.

The court adjourned sitting to Thursday (29 June) for the first witness summoned, Alex Segbefia, to appear and testify.

Seidu Kotomah, the former controller and accountant general, will appear in court on the same day to testify after Segbefia has completed his testimony.

Defence opens

The Minority Leader and MP for Ajumako-Enyan-Esiam in the Central Region, Cassiel Ato Forson, opened his defence in the criminal case the state has preferred against him on charges of wilfully causing financial loss to the state.

Forson called his first defence witness, Henry Myles-Mills, the head of dispute resolution and litigation at Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd. Myles-Mills was subpoenaed by Forson’s lawyers to appear in court and testify.

The Minority Leader was expected to call his second witness today, 22 June. However, the counsel for Forson told Justice Afia Serwaa Asare-Botwe’s court that all efforts to get the next witness to come to court proved futile.

Charges

The three accused persons – Cassiel Ato Forson, Sylvester Anemana and Richard Jakpa – have been charged on five counts in total. These are:

Facts of the case

In the year 2009, the then president of the Republic of Ghana announced, in his annual message on the State of the Nation delivered to Parliament, that new ambulances would be procured to expand the existing fleet to enable many districts to be covered by the National Ambulance Service (NAS).

Following this speech, the Ministry of Health (MoH) initiated actions to acquire more of the vehicles. 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 to the government.

On 22 December 2011, cabinet endorsed an executive approval that had been granted for a joint memorandum submitted by the health minister and the deputy minister of finance and economic planning for the purchase of 200 ambulances for the NAS, out of a medium-term loan facility of €15.8 million, to be paid using a credit arrangement between Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd and the Government of Ghana through the Ministry of Finance.

By a joint memorandum dated 30 April 2012, the then minister of finance, Dr Kwabena Duffuor, and minister of health, Alban S K Bagbin, applied for parliamentary approval for the supply of 200 ambulances at a price of €15.8 million, to be paid using the planned-for credit arrangement involving Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd.

This memorandum to Parliament did not make reference to any role to be played in the transaction by either Big Sea General Trading Ltd (Big Sea), based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, or the agents for Big Sea, Jakpa at Business Ltd. Nor did it refer to the terms under which the ambulances would be procured or terms under which the two companies would be involved in the transaction.

On 1 November 2012, Parliament granted approval for the financing agreement between the Government of Ghana and Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd to procure the ambulances.

By a letter dated 19 November 2012, the second accused, who was then the chief director at the Ministry of Health, requested approval from the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) to engage Big Sea through a process of single-sourcing to supply the 200 ambulances.

The letter falsely stated that the reason for single-sourcing was that Big Sea had arranged funding for the project. By an agreement dated 19 December 2012, the Government of Ghana, represented by the Ministry of Health, then formally contracted Big Sea General Trading llc, based in Dubai, to supply 200 Mercedes Benz ambulances. The contract sum was €15,800,000, at a unit price of €79,000.

According to the terms of the contract, it was to become effective upon the signing of the contract by both parties and when all government and other approvals had been obtained by both.

The terms of delivery, according to the agreement, were that the first consignment of 25 vehicles would be delivered within 120 days of execution of the agreement. The outstanding 175 vehicles were to be delivered in batches of 25 every 30 days thereafter.

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, the first accused, Cassiel Ato Forson, wrote to the Bank of Ghana in his role as the then deputy minister of finance, “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”.

On 12 August 2014, the first accused 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 letters of credit (LCs) for the supply of 50 Mercedes Benz ambulances and related services.

Ato Forson 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 on 14 August 2014, authorising it to establish irrevocable, transferable LCs in the sum of €3.95 million in favour of Big Sea.

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.

The third accused, as the local representative of Big Sea, knowing that the company had not shipped ambulances, still arranged with his principal to supply the purported ambulances and contracted with Big Sea to charge a commission of 28.5% on the proceeds from supplying these 30 vehicles, purported to be ambulances, to the Government of Ghana.

By a letter dated 20 January 2016, the then minister of health, Alex Segbefia, informed Big Sea that the vehicles did not meet the specifications for an ambulance and were not fit for purpose. The minister requested inspection of a well-equipped ambulance vehicle that would meet specifications by 20 February 2016.

Following this, a team led by the chief executive officer of the National Ambulance Service proceeded to Dubai and carried out an inspection on 11 February 2016. After the visit to Dubai, Big Sea undertook to send a technical team to Ghana to rectify the defects. This has not been done.

Reporting by Wilberforce Asare in Accra

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