It has been revealed that former Deputy Minister of Finance under President John Dramani Mahama’s government, Cassiel Ato Forson, was the person who ‘approved’ the payment for the 30 ambulances, which have been described as unfit for the purpose for which they were imported.
On August 7, 2014, Mr Ato Forson signed a letter requesting the “Ministry of Finance to urgently establish the letters of credit (LC) for the supply of 50 ambulances amounting to €3,950,000, representing part of a contract sum, while arrangements are being made to perfect and sign the agreement.”
On August12, 2014, he again signed another letter authorizing “the release of the sum of GH¢806,688.75 to the Minister for Health to enable him to pay for the bank charges covering the establishment of letters of credit for the supply of 50 Mercedes Ambulances and related services.”
At least three years after signing that letter of credit, the former Deputy Finance Minister could not say if the monies he signed for had been released for the ambulances, which the manufacturers say could at best be used for commercial transport known as ‘trotro’ in local parlance.
The sole-sourcing contract was said to have been awarded during the tenure of Alban S.K. Bagbin as Minister of Health, to an aide of former National Security Advisor, Brigadier General Joseph Nunoo-Mensah (Rtd), called Richard Dzakpa, in 2010.
Dzakpa, who is believed to have no expertise in the procurement of sensitive health equipment, was said to have purchased the Benz ambulances from Dubai instead of Germany, where the vehicles in question are manufactured.
However, the ambulances have been found not to be fit for the purpose for which they were acquired, although Ghana paid a whopping €2.4 million for the transaction.
Even though at cabinet meeting the previous government insisted that it wouldn’t pay for the buses, it ended up paying the money without knowing the recipient.
That has generated heated debate, with the current Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyamang-Manu, referring the matter to the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) for investigations.
According to the Health Minister, even though it had been established that 30 ambulances supplied by Big Sea Ltd were not fit for the purpose, an amount of €2.4 million had been disbursed from the consolidated fund to pay for the vehicles.
Describing the ambulances as “sprinter buses fitted with kitchen panels,” Mr Agyamang-Manu said he had intelligence that the €2.4 million had been paid even though there was no supporting documentation at the Ministries of Health and Finance to prove this.
Mr Ato Forson, NDC Member of Parliament (MP) for Ajumako-Enyan-Essiam in the Central Region, has admitted signing the two separate letters, authorizing the establishment of letters of credit in 2014 for the supply of 50 Mercedes Benz ambulances.
His admission came with an explanation that those letters he signed in themselves did not mean that the cost of the ambulances had to be paid, even though the letters of credit were a guarantee that once the vehicles arrived in the country, the government of Ghana was going to make payment to the company that imported them.
According to him, the letters of credit were only to be enforced if the conditions in the contract for the supply of the said ambulances – which include specifications, time of arrival, inspection, among others – had been met.
Mr. Ato Forson, commenting on the issue for the first time yesterday, could not tell if the Ministry of Health, on whose behalf he signed the letters of credit, made the payment without ensuring that the conditions outlined in the contract had been met.
It is unclear whether the authorities at the time inspected the ambulances to ensure that their physical appearances met the conditions as spelt out in the contract before doling out the cash.
By Melvin Tarlue