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Prof Gatsi reignites calls for COVID-19 expenditure audit

BY: Ama Amankwah Baafi
Prof Gatsi reignites calls for COVID-19 expenditure audit
Prof. John Gatsi

An economist, Prof John Gatsi, has joined calls for an expenditure audit of the amount of GH¢17.7 billion, representing 4.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reported to have been spent by government to contain the COVID-19 pandemic from February 2020 to February 2022.

The spent amount represents 4.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

He said there was nothing like unbudgeted expenditure because the Public Financial Management Act (PFMA) and the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) did not allow unbudgeted expenditure to be incurred, especially to the volumes that the president mentioned when he presented the State of the Nation Address (SONA) to Parliament.

Commenting on the SONA in an interview with the Graphic Business, Prof Gatsi, who is also the Dean of the Business School at the University of Cape, recalled that Parliament at the break of COVID-19 met and prepared a budget meant to tackle COVID-19 and how to mobilise funds for that adding that, that expenditure was approved.

“You cannot glorify unbudgeted expenditure from February 2020 to February 2022. As long as that exercise took place that was an approval. There cannot be any unplanned and unbudgeted expenditure related to COVID-19.

“It was also approved as to the revenue sources to support COVID and so far, the amount mobilised for COVID expenditure were actually amount approved by parliament- $1 billon from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), $290 million from the Ghana Stabilisation Fund, and the rest.

“All those were approvals given by parliament so I don’t know where we are getting the term unbudgeted, unplanned expenditure from. We need a proper audit into this COVID-19 expenditure to ensure that the right thing was done,” he said.

Pandemic as a project

Prof Gatsi said it was important to treat the pandemic as a project that had been undertaken from 2020 up to 2022.

“How did we mobilise money? How did we disburse the money? Was it done in accordance with law? Those numbers that the president talked about only go to strengthen the call that we still need COVID-19 expenditure audit to ensure that there was transparency and the expenditures were actually incurred and they were incurred in the interest of managing the process,” he said.

SONA

President Akufo-Addo during the SONA quoted data from the Ministry of Finance which shows that the amount of GH¢17.7 billion spent in containing the pandemic since 2020 included unplanned expenditures such as the recruitment on a permanent basis of 58,191 healthcare professionals, and the payment of extra incentives to frontline health workers.

He said it also took an unbudgeted GH¢1.9 billion to ensure that Ghanaian children and teaching staff went back and stayed in school safely.

But Prof Gatsi described as ambiguous the unbudgeted GH¢1.9 billion to return children to school.

“What was that item for? We know that the government has stopped providing COVID-19 protective items to students for a very long time. That thing was done only once. So this issue of we incurred a debt of GH¢1.9 billion one doesn’t know what it is about. So, we need proper audit into this COVID-19 issues.

“I believe that is the only thing that will be able to convince us that the right thing was done,” he said.

He said it was important to go deeper into the issues as a country.

He said although the FRA says that during times of pandemic the Fiscal Responsibility Law should be suspended, it does not mean anything can be done.

“It only means that you are supposed to meet your deficit to five per cent. But at that time depending on the decisions you take and approved by parliament you may exceed that deficit in order to deal with the pandemic.

“It does not mean that you are not accountable. This misconception has created a lot of problem in terms of whether the expenditure we are talking about is proper or improper,” he said.

As to who should be responsible for such an audit, Prof Gatsi said at this point the ability of the Auditor General is not in doubt, adding that all that is needed is a COVID-19 expenditure audit.