The sheer joy of writing a weekly column - I have two - is having the benefit of time to read, watch, listen widely to news that is published and broadcast, monitor social chatter, probe further for context as well as specifics to fill in the blanks, as much in my mind as is usually in the first report. After which, follow where the spirit leads, within the word limit set by the editor, delivered on deadline.
Waving a big red flag
On January 10, 2018, the Daily Graphic published a small notice on page two, for me, a big red flag. The notice stated baldly that the Office of the Auditor General has directed a probe of Internally Generated Funds (IGF) by the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) 'accumulated from January 1993 to December 2017'.
The special audit to be undertaken by a three-member team was to begin on January 15 and be completed in two weeks. The Daily Graphic attributed their source to a letter signed by the Deputy Auditor General, Mr Cornelius K. Normanyo, addressed to the Director General (DG) of the GBC.
Sirens, bells, whistles and catcalls set off, at least for me. Is it possible, even in Ghana that a behemoth like GBC has not been audited in any year over the 25 years of the 4th Republic? At the precise time that the notice was published, GBC was making the headlines for a clumsy attempt to impose court proceedings and fines for non-payment of the annual TV licence fee.
An action that subsequent to public outrage, was denied by its Board, the Ministry of Information, the National Media Commission and landed in the lap of the DG, Dr Kwame Akuffo Anoff.
Was the abrupt notice of the audit into their IGF simply fortuitous timing by the Ghana Audit Service (GAS), or evidence of a conspiracy theory? To pepper the soup, the GAS is now led by Mr Daniel Domelevo, appointed by the former government on the eve of their departure to speculation.
In declaring his intention to finally issue Disallow and Surcharge certifications for unapproved spending by publicly funded Ministries, Departments and Agencies, Mr Domelevo has for now, confounded scepticism.
Does it matter at all that Akuffo Anoff, who has since been unceremoniously fired - like Domelevo, a professional who had worked in his field for years - was appointed at the 11th hour?
The spirit moved me and I got to work. What I have come to understand is that authorised by Article 187 of the 1992 Constitution, the GAS is mandated to audit “all public accounts of Ghana and of all public offices including the courts, the central and local government administrations, of the universities and public institutions of like nature, of any public corporation or body or organisation established by an Act of Parliament.”
Statutory financial and compliance audits are done by sampling. Audits into performance or other risk and specific areas such as forensic, environmental and audits of computerised and electronic systems (remember the over-priced and non-functioning system of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust?) are undertaken either by staff of the GAS or by private sector companies contracted by them per the Public Procurement Act (PPA) for specific assignments.
In the dark
What I have not been able to establish after a week of calls and research are the following:
1. Since 1993, which private auditing firms have been approved under the PPA as service providers for the GSA for what tenure of time?
2. What audits have been outsourced to these firms to be delivered by when and to what effect? How do we evaluate if we got value for money delivered on time?
3. Has the GAS at any time in the Fourth Republic evaluated the performance of its service providers and found any of them? If so, what remedies were applied?
4. What is best practice for ensuring that a private company is experienced and resourced to perform an audit of what type of publicly funded organisation?
5. Is the list of private firms to whom the GAS has and continues to outsources work and the mandates they were provided a state secret. If so, why?
6. Specifically on GBC - Which firm(s) have delivered the mandatory and statutory audits of the state broadcaster, when? Was the issue of IGF ever flagged by anyone from the GAS or the service providers, if not, why not?
7. Is the Special audit underway now on the use of IGF by GBC, well after the fact, triggered by the public reaction against the threat of legal action for unpaid TV licence fees or was it a result of a considered risk assessment flagged by the GAS itself or its unknown auditors?
8. How many special audits are underway in which publicly funded organisations, what type of audits are they, when were they commissioned to be completed by when?
9. What were the findings of the audit into the SSNIT computerised system? As a rule, should all audit findings be shared with Parliament with the public notified where to access information and thus forestall conspiracy theories?
10. When will the GAS upload archival information as well as update its website? Or does that also require a special performance audit?
On the record
I can provide on the record the words of Mr Bernard Asare Conduah, Assistant Public Relations Officer of the GAS: "Any firm contracted to carry out an audit does so for and on behalf of the Auditor General. This is the position of the law.
As such they are not signatories to the Auditor General's Report. At best they contribute to the final report. Whatever responsibility that arises as a result of the work is placed at the doorstep of the Auditor General."
Mr Conduah informs me that on February 19, 2018, at 9a.m. at the Accra International Conference Centre, the GAS will hold an event, open to the public where presumably citizens can ask questions to which they will receive direct and specific answers.
The GAS as an institution has form when it comes to prevaricating. It took a series of determined advocacy and legal action by OccupyGhana to obtain a ruling compelling the Office of the Auditor General to do more than passively report financial irregularities.
The ruling required that prescriptive action - issuing certificates of Disallow and Surcharge - is required. I intend to participate in the forum - theme, speakers, agenda and format as yet unknown - with my 10 questions and a number of follow-ups.
The late Professor Adu-Boahen spoke powerfully to 'the culture of silence' in Ghana. Are we now wallowing in a culture of stalling that fuels unhelpful speculation? Do we need a Right to Information law and alongside this a re-tooling of publicly funded agencies to orient themselves and their communication strategies and managers? See me? A weekly columnist with questions to ask who may inadvertently be blathering for the lack of precise answers to specific questions. Hey, I met my deadline though.