Former Finance Minister, Seth Terkper has conceded there are no records that show he authorized Dr. Casiel Ato Forson to request the Bank of Ghana to establish Letters of Credit (LCs) as payment for the importation of ambulances in 2014.
The LCs were for the benefit of Big Sea General Trading Limited, a Dubai-based company that supplied defective ambulances to Ghana, resulting in what has become known as the Ato Forson Fake Ambulances Scandal.
Seth Terkper made the ‘no records’ concession under cross-examination by Attorney General Godfred Dame, in a case made against Dr. Ato Forson for causing financial loss to the state.
The prosecution’s case is that Dr. Forson, the current Minority Leader in Parliament ignored the terms of the contract governing payments for the ambulances. However, the former Deputy Minister of Finance maintains he is not guilty of willfully causing financial loss because he acted on the instruction of his then Minister, Hon. Seth Terkper.
In his witness statement to the court, Hon. Terkper insisted he had indeed given full authorization to Dr. Forson to request the LCs to be established by the Bank of Ghana in favor of Big Sea Trading.
He indicated that he based his instruction to Dr. Forson on the opinion of the then Attorney General, that the government would be liable if Big Sea Trading Ltd initiated any legal action against the state because all governmental approvals had been obtained and that the contract was binding on all government agencies.
He further said the AG’s opinion had prompted a meeting at which he instructed Dr. Forson to act in the routine delegated role as the Deputy Minister in charge of the Budget.
However, under cross examination from the Attorney General Godfred Yeboah Dame, Seth Terkper conceded that there were no records or documents that showed any authorization or instruction from him to Dr. Forson to request the LCs in favor of the Dubai based supplier.
“Yes, my Lady, on the face of it there are no records that show that I authorized him” Terkper said. “However, we decided at a meeting that the Deputy Minister, Dr Ato Forson should go ahead and act the way he did.” Lawyers for Dr. Forson have not produced minutes of any meeting backing Mr. Terkper’s claim, since the trial began.
Payments made in error
Mr. Tekper was adamant the LCs despite being established by the Bank of Ghana and mentioned as the only payment instrument for the ambulances automatically meant that the ambulances had been paid for because there conditions to be met.
“LCs do not mean payment because they always come with conditions. In this case the beneficiary government outfit, the Ministry of Health needed to comply with certain things before the payment. That is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance. I would say that because the conditions were not followed, the payments for the ambulances were made in error”.
Legal advice ignored
Godfred Dame established that both Seth Terkper and Dr Ato Forson failed to comply with the advice of their Ministry’s Legal Department as well as the Attorney General Department.
“Mr. Terkper, I suggest to you that you failed to comply with your own legal department’s advice which was to pursue the loan approved by parliament and arranged by Stanbic Bank. You did not do it. In fact, there was no loan.
“This was the approved instrument by parliament for the acquisition of the ambulances. You say you relied on the advice of the Attorney General to proceed with payments but the Attorney General said you should comply with the terms of the contract.
“One of those terms was to take delivery of the ambulances before payment was effected. The other was to establish the LCs after signing the contract for the ambulances. Mr. Terkper, you did not do any of these, the Attorney General emphatically put it to Seth Terkper.
“My lady, it is important to understand the circumstances. The advice by my legal department was in 2012. When we were considering this decision in 2014, we realized that we could not activate the Stanbic loan.
“So, we took a decision to charge it to the Ministry of Health’s account. I value the Attorney General’s advice and therefore when he asked us to comply, we did.
“We could not undertake the pre-shipment inspection because we had already breached that provision. Time was against us,” the former Finance Minister said in his answer.
“Mr. Terkper, what do you understand by pay only after you receive the goods and was this done? The Attorney General asked.
No, my lady,” Seth Terkper responded.
The court presided over by Justice Afia Serwaa Asare Botwe, a judge of the Court of Appeal sitting as an additional High Court judge took notice of the former Minister’s evasive answers and lack of directness in answering questions.
Attorney General Godfred Dame sought to nail Mr Terkper on payment for the ambulances which he (Terkper) said had been put in abeyance once they received reports that the vehicles were defective but Dame insisted otherwise.
“Mr. Terkper, you know, a second payment was made for the ambulances. The claim that the payments were put in abeyance cannot be correct. It also cannot be correct that the Ministry of Finance after issuing LCs for the ambulances had no further responsibility to check for compliance before allowing payments and that the Health Ministry was entrusted with all that responsibility, the Attorney General quizzed..
Seth Terkper however insisted that it was the responsibility of the Health Ministry to pay for the ambulances and not the Finance Ministry, even though, they halted the payments immediately they realized there were issues with the quality of the ambulances.
Dr. Forson has been charged with two counts of causing financial loss to the state. The other officials also standing trial are Dr. Sylvester Anemana, a former Chief Director of the Ministry of Health and Businessman Richard Jakpa, an agent of Big Sea Trading limited in Dubai.
In 2014, Ghana paid €2.37 million euros for 30 out of a total 200 ambulances but all were found to be critically defective and not fit for purpose. The prosecution’s case is that financial loss was occasioned by Dr. Forson because he authorized payment for the vehicles without paying heed to the terms of the contract.
The contract stipulated that a pre-inspection of the ambulances was to be carried out in Dubai, a contract was also to be signed for the payment of every batch of 50 ambulances and payment was to be effected only after Ghana had taken delivery of the vehicles. Under cross examination, the Attorney General established that none of the terms above were complied with by Dr. Ato Forson.
Reporting by Wilberforce Asare in Accra
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