Dysfunctional Executive Oversight and Accountability in Ghana (5)

Dysfunctional Executive Oversight and Accountability in Ghana (5)

“[T]here is no authority on earth so inherently worthy of respect, or invested with a right so sacred, that I would want to let it act without oversight or rule without impediment” - Alexis de Tocqueville .

1. Introduction

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In the past three decades Ghana has made a lot of progress in democratic governance reflecting in successful eight elections and alternations of power between the two main political parties. However, most Ghanaian academics and politicians have observed that Parliament in the Fourth Republic has not been effective in discharging oversight over the Executive, despite its extensive powers of scrutiny and oversight enshrined in the 1992 Constitution. This has raised a lot of public concerns at a time of increasing public expenditure and debt situation, reported at the end of December 2020 of GH¢100 billion and GH¢292 billion (76% of GDP), respectively. It is now globally established that the effectiveness with which a legislative organ performs its oversight function is a major determinant of government accountability.

Significantly, in April 2021, the current Speaker of the Eight Parliament of the Fourth Republic, Mr Alban Bagbin, revived the debate when he lamented on an “unsurprisingly low” Parliament's current rating in oversight of the Executive. He continued to explain that “Parliament and its Committees lack the needed support and assistance to perform their oversight functions” due to persistent underfunding by successive governments in the Fourth Republic. Consequently, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament that is charged with oversight and financial scrutiny is also inadequately funded. The PAC uses public sector audit conducted by the Auditor-General (A-G) as an important tool in the discharge of its duties, as auditing is an essential part of the process of accountability for public money and the governance of public services (ACCA,2016). Related to Parliament's funding is the financial independence of the Auditor General (A-G). If the A-G is not adequately funded this will have serious implications for PAC's work as it relies on the A-G's report to carry out its important function of financial scrutiny and oversight. Besides, the link between Parliament and A-G is precarious and is almost limited to the submission of audit reports for consideration by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament. Currently, best practice requires Auditor-Generals to be accountable to Public Accounts Committees of Parliament. They carry out work on behalf of parliament, and their budgets and performance are set and scrutinized by Parliament. This is why the International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI) recommend that the relationship between Supreme Auditors and Parliaments should be well established by the Constitution.

Most academics and political commentators also blame the Constitutional design and partisan attitudes of Members of Parliament (MPs) as the primary reasons for the weak oversight and accountability situation. According to the Majority Leader, Mr Kyei Mensah Bonsu, “this is the time for reset for us [Ghanaian citizenry], there can be no better time to take a better look at the Constitution.”

Introducing more insight, Nana Professor S K B Asante who played a major role in the drafting of the 1992 Constitution argues that the problems emanate from the Political Culture and not the Constitution as Ghanaian politicians prefer an Executive with strong powers. Without appropriate checks and balances and oversight, Ghana's culture of high power distance and collectivism may be susceptible to corruption, patronage and clientelism. In 1996 the head of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, found the “cancer of corruption” as the major impediment to the economic development of poor countries. In high power distance cultures, power holders are entitled to privileges and there is high respect for persons in authority (Hofstede, 2001) as they are “considered are sacred” (Sarpong, 1976). Moreover, in high collective cultures, the concern is for the group rather than the individual, which manifests in close long term commitment to the group like family or political party (Hofstede, 2001). Consequently, all decisions are expected take the interest of the in-group or political party into account.

This paper examines the issue of oversight and accountability by critically analysing the impact of Ghanaian Political Culture and 1992 Constitution on the effective performance of oversight functions by Parliament and the Auditor General.

2. Executive Oversight and its importance in Accountability and Sustainability of Democracy

It is well established that effective oversight of a country's Executive is a key determinant of accountability as it ensures that the government is held to account for its actions and fiscal policy decisions. Moreover, effective oversight allows the legislature to monitor both public service provision and value for money. Accountability refers to the process of holding to account, overseeing and keeping in check those entrusted with public responsibilities in fulfilment of their tasks or functions (Shedler et al., 1999). Therefore, oversight and accountability ensure the availability of information needed by the public to judge the performance of the government and public officials on how taxpayers' money is used, how well it is being spent, and the integrity of the overall system as the basis of public accountability. Effective oversight also ensures that policies announced by government and authorized by Parliament are delivered. As beautifully captured by John Stuart Mills, “[a] governing class not accountable to the people are sure, in the main, to sacrifice the people to the pursuit of separate interests and inclinations of their own.” Moreover, democracy remains elusive if those in power cannot be held accountable in public for their acts or omissions, for their decisions, their expenditure or policies.

Morlino (2010) identifies two types of accountability in democratic governance: electoral (or vertical) and inter-institutional (or horizontal) accountability. Electoral accountability is the most important, however, it is intermittent. It ensures that office holders are periodically called upon to account for their stewardship to the people. This can be achieved if the citizens acquire the skills to enable them to participate in governance. In Ghana, electoral accountability which reflected in split parliament following the 2020 elections, is effectively practised by the people (voters) every four years.

On the other hand, inter-institutional accountability which mainly comprises the oversight functions of Parliament and the Judiciary are performed on an ongoing basis and are more instrumental in providing voters with the requisite information they need to assess the performance of the government. The mandate of Parliament is to represent and protect the people of Ghana within the framework of the Constitution, deliberate on matters, inform the citizenry on salient issues, scrutinize financial matters, oversee the Executive and the governance institutions, as well as approve and ratify agreements.

Constitutional Mandate of Parliament

Article 103(3) of the 1992 Constitution charges Committees of Parliament with such functions, including the investigation and inquiry into the activities and administration of ministries and departments as Parliament may determine. Importantly, Chapter Thirteen of Ghana's 1992 Constitution (Finance) grants Parliament extensive powers in financial management of the country in the form of approval of budget and imposition of taxes under the authority of Act of Parliament. Furthermore, Parliament is expected under Articles 184(4) and 187(6) to debate the report of the Auditor General and appoint where necessary, in the public interest, a committee to deal with any matters arising from it..

It is worthy of note that in the year 2020, the total of revenue and grants realized were GH¢55.00 billion against a target of GH¢53.70 billion. However, the corresponding expenditure amounted to GH¢100 billion against a revised target of GH¢97 billion. The result was a deficit of 13.7 per cent of GDP, including financial sector clean-up which had to be financed. Ghana's debt position at the end of 2020 stood at GH¢292 bn (76 per cent of GDP) which at the going rate of GHS5.78 to US$, translates into US$50.52bn is quite alarming and requires the requisite attention of the citizenry.

Public sector audit conducted by the auditor general is an essential part of the process of accountability for public money and the governance of public services (ACCA,2016). ACCA's work on the public sector has highlighted that effective scrutiny or oversight by parliaments requires the provision of high-quality financial reports and accounting information as well as independent audit. Undoubtedly, the effectiveness of the above oversight functions of Parliament depends heavily on public sector auditing provided by the Auditor General.

Public Accounts Committee of Parliament

In Ghana, the Public Accounts Committee, considered the audit committee of parliament, is Parliament's most important committee in oversight and scrutiny as it helps to hold the government to account for its use of public funds and resources by examining the public accounts. It should be noted as then Leader of the Minority Party, the current Speaker, Mr Alban Bagbin, chaired the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament from 2001 to 2004.

In order to perform its oversight functions effectively, members of Parliament require objective and fact-based information about how well the government collects and spends public funds, that will enable them to assess governance and performance issues. In most cases this information is provided by a State Auditor (or Auditor General). Although the relationship between the Auditor General and PACs has evolved differently in the different jurisdictions, the work of the Auditor General is an essential element. Accountability academics and politicians like McGee, Stapenhurst et al. have observed that the committees´ relationship with the Auditor-General plays an important role in the performance of the committee's functions.

However, the current relationship between Parliament and the Auditor General as defined by the 1992 Constitution, seems limited to the submission of the A-G's report for Parliament's debate under Articles 187(2) and 184 of the Constitution. Moreover, the establishment of the A-G and the Audit Service as Public Officer and Public Service respectively by the 1992 Constitution means they are independent and distinct of Parliament. As a result, the collaboration is not given, it has indeed become more difficult, and therefore, does not augur well for effective collaboration in the preventive oversight..

Furthermore, Article 187(7)(a) prevents Parliament from requesting the A-G to conduct audit and investigations into other areas of irregularities not captured in the A-G's current mandate as it will be considered as direction or control of the A-G in the performance of his functions under the Constitution.

Consequently, the engagement between A-G and Parliament has been limited to the consideration of reports submitted by the A-G to Parliament with adverse effect on the capacity of Parliament to carry out its important Executive oversight function. This has created a gaping loophole which impacts adversely on the achievement of effective public financial accountability.

It is now normal and best practice globally for parliaments to appoint their auditor generals and board members of their Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) as pertains in most commonwealth countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and particularly in the United States. Currently, long-lasting improvements are also being made globally in National Audit Acts and Constitutions to enhance accountability and transparency in the management of public funds. The global trend is for the Auditor General to be associated with the legislature as an officer of Parliament and be both responsible and accountable to Parliament.

However, the constitutional arrangements governing the Office of the Auditor General in Ghana have not seen any significant improvements since the enactment of the 1969 Constitution, the relic of the 1992 Constitution, and the Audit Service Act 2000, Act 584.

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Constitutional Mandate of the Auditor General

The Office of the Auditor-General is one of the key institutions for oversight, accountability, monitoring and evaluation in the Ghanaian governance process.

Generally, the 1992 Constitution and the Audit Service Act 2000, Act 584 mandate the Auditor General of Ghana, to hold the Government accountable to Parliament by reporting significant issues in the use of public resources. Particularly, Article 187(2) of the Constitution requires the A-G to audit and report on public accounts of Ghana and the accounts of all public offices, and under Article 187(5) submit his or her report to Parliament within six months after the end of the immediately preceding financial year. In the report, the A-G is required to draw attention to any irregularities in the accounts audited and to any matter which in his opinion ought to be brought to the notice of Parliament for its debate and dealing with matters arising.

Additionally, section 13(e) of the Audit Service Act empowers the Auditor-General to ensure that programmes and activities in the public sector have been undertaken with due regard to economy, efficiency and effectiveness in relation to the resources utilised and results achieved.

In what is more fundamental to the fight against corruption, Article 187(7)(b) of the 1992 Constitution empowers the A-G to disallow any item of expenditure which is contrary to law and surcharge amount involved to the persons responsible for such item. Unfortunately, since its operationalization after the ruling of OccupyGhana versus A-G, the State has failed to collect the.

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When sufficiently independent and funded, the A-G's office could be a strong institution with the needed expertise and resources to assist Parliament and the citizenry in holding government accountable and managing the wealth of the nation. As by expressing objective opinion on whether public resources are being efficiently managed, the state auditor helps public organisations and instill confidence among citizens and stakeholders for political legitimacy.

Challenges of the current oversight and accountability mandates of Parliament and Auditor General.

The Parliament of Ghana has been criticized for its failure to emerge as a credible and effective check on presidential and executive power. A lot of factors including the following have been enumerated as causing a low rating of Parliament's oversight function:

1. Lack of technical support and resources attributed to Parliament's dependence on the Executive for budgetary appropriation. It is claimed that among the three arms of government, Parliament is the least resourced considering the citizen's great expectation.

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2. Substantive lack of interests of members of parliament in the oversight function.

3. Partisan attitudes of MPs to parliamentary proceedings; it is claimed that Speakers and the Chair of PAC may not be amenable to initiate deliberations over a report which comes from the administration for which he was a cabinet member.

4. The constitutional requirement for the President to appoint the majority of ministers from parliament, especially when there is a vast difference in the conditions of the MPs and the Ministers. Moreover, MPs are not equipped with the requisite human and material resources like the Ministers or other members of the Executive.

5. The principle of collective responsibility; the political culture may significantly play against an MP's oversight role when his or her party is in power due to collective responsibility and the respect for authority.

6. Enticement of ministerial appointments by Presidents.

It has been well argued that the political will of members of parliament (MP) is the single most important determinant of oversight effectiveness. However, in Ghana's current political system, other conflicting demands and incentives compete with MPs interest to carry out the oversight function. For instance, it is also being claimed by certain former MPs that politicians must do the executive bidding or risk being marginalized even as a member of parliament.

This explains why the focus of the international community in strengthening the oversight capacity of Parliament for years on success has not yielded the desired results. Pelizo and Stapenhurst (2012) suggest that the single most important factor in the shaping and reshaping of the structure of incentives that parliamentarians are confronted with is represented by voter demands. Consequently, more attention should be paid to the alignment of voter demands with incentives of parliamentarians to pave the way for oversight capacity. Voters should be made to demand good governance by signaling their support for oversight activities, and thereby signaling to parliamentarians that they will be electorally rewarded if they take some steps to satisfy their voter demands of effectively overseeing the executive and promoting good governance.

Interestingly, the results of the 2020 parliamentary elections confirmed changing voter demands reflecting in voters' sanctioning or rewarding of parliamentarians at the elections. This resulted in split parliament of 137 constituencies each for the two major political parties, NPP and NDC as well as the historical election of a Speaker from the party of the opposition. This outcome reflects increasing electoral accountability, albeit intermittent, in Ghana. It also demonstrates that Ghanaian voters are beginning to hold their parliamentarians accountable, at least once, every four years. It is hoped that the new voters' demand on parliamentarians will produce enough incentive or political will for Parliament to execute its oversight function effectively and play its key role in keeping government accountable. It appears that the most effective way to secure voters' demand for oversight and accountability is the sensitization of voters on the instrumentality of Parliament's oversight function to the control of corruption.

Late consideration and debate of Auditor-General's report by Parliament.

The main principles used in assessing the effectiveness of a country's public financial management, as outlined by Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA), are the timeliness of examination of audit reports by parliament; the extent of public hearings on key findings undertaken by parliament; issuance of recommended actions by parliament; and implementation by the executive, and systematic follow-up by parliament.

According to Mr Kan Dapaah, a chartered accountant and former chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, “a major challenge has been the unwillingness of the House leadership to lay reports of the Committee which are perceived to be embarrassing to the government in the house for debate. The result is that some reports are kept until after the four-year term of Parliament when, under the Standing Orders of Parliament, such reports can no longer be laid”.

This may explain why as at end of June 2020, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament had just completed four-day public hearings of A-G's reports on activities of state institutions for the year 2017/2018. In 2019, there were nineteen (19) sittings to consider the report of the A-Gs for 2016 financial year, while it could only conduct seven (7) public sittings in 2016 to consider the A-G's report and made a total of 13 recommendations involving retrieval of misappropriated public funds. It must be stressed that the late production and hearing of audit report on the financial statements within the statutory period of six months after the immediately preceding year, adversely impacts on the usefulness of the work of the Public Accounts Committee and consequently the oversight role of parliament. Besides, subsequent investigations to sanction the perpetrators of malfeasance always prove futile as most of them would have then left their positions.

The essence of the constitutional deadline of submitting A-G's report within six months on the financial year end, by the end of June, is to ensure that PAC can discuss the annual financial reports and the corresponding A-G's reports before commencement of the discussion on the next budget or economic policy. Best practice indicates that Parliamentary scrutiny of A-G's report on the annual financial report should preferably take place within three months of submission. As a result, the late reporting of audit findings and public hearings in Parliament prevent the citizenry from holding the government and public sector entities accountable for their stewardship.

Again, though PAC has a wide remit, it has faced inadequate and perennial funding problem. The budget for oversight in 2020 was estimated at GHS31,347,144. However, there is lot of opportunity to turn the tide in the Eighth Parliament of the Fourth Republic. Speaking at the inauguration of 8th Parliamentary Service Board of the Fourth Republic on 27 April 2021, the Speaker, Mr Alban Bagbin, lamented the “unsurprisingly low” Parliament's current rating in oversight of the Executive. He attributed the current situation to the fact that “Parliament and its Committees lack the needed support and assistance to perform their oversight functions.” As a result of persistent underfunding over the years caused by unilateral placement of ceiling on the budget appropriation for Parliament and the Judiciary by successive governments in the Fourth Republic. Thus, affecting their capacity to perform their oversight duties effectively and efficiently.

Citing the lack of fiscal space in 2021, the Executive Secretary of the President, in a letter to Parliament informed the House of the Executive's decision to ‘reduce their budget by over GHS190m and that of the Judiciary by over GHS70million'. Interestingly, the Speaker rejected the reduction of Parliament's budgetary allocation by the Executive in March 2021 on the basis that other “arms of government will also have to be strengthened to be able to perform their functions.” Realising the constitutional powers of Parliament, the Government yielded to the Speaker's pressure and backtracked on March 24 with the recommendation of GHS523 million in allocation for Parliament as against a request of GHS533 million.

3. Impact of Political Culture on Executive Oversight in Ghana

It has been established that political actions prevalent in countries are related to the ways in which their culture addresses fundamental issues including the relationship with authority, people and change (Inkeless and Levinson, 1969; Hofstede, 2001). Also, political scientists have been speculating as to the basic factors which may be common to all political systems and which, in their varying manifestations, determine the unique styles of political behavior within each (Greg and Banks, 1965). According to Forbes and Wield (2002), “Culture matters in consideration of success and failure in innovation as “it affects the policies that will work since practices need to accord with culture (p.154). Some have argued that certain Ghanaian cultural practices like the presentation of gifts to traditional rulers have been extended to the public service whereby the public present gifts to officials in order to secure their interests.

Hofstede's (2001) seminal work on national cultural value dimensions identified five value dimensions that correspond to the ways or ‘mental programming' with which social systems or countries solve their problems. Hofstede subsequently produced scores for countries on each of the following five dimensions:

• Power Distance (PDI), relates to the different solutions to the basic problem of human inequality;.

• Individualism (IDV) versus Collectivism (COL), relates to the integration of individuals into primary groups;.

• Uncertainty Avoidance, relates to the level of stress in a society in the face of an unknown future;.

• Masculinity versus Femininity, relates to the division of emotional roles between women and men;.

• Long Term versus Short Term Orientation, relates to the choice of focus for people's efforts: the future or the present and past..

Power Distance

Power Distance (PD) applies to the fundamental problem of human inequality and the translation of biological differences in strengths and talents into social difference in power (Hofstede, 1983). Power Distance correlated with Gregg and Banks (1965) analysis of political systems. It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by followers as much as by leaders. Pearson correlations showed that Power Distance is significantly and negatively related with political participation (r (42) = −.57, p ≤ .00 .

With scores of 35, 38, and 40, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States of America respectively occupy the lower rankings of power distance index. This indicates that they are societies where people expect relatively equitable distribution of power and believe that inequalities amongst people should be minimized. This points to the origination and development of democracy in the UK and the US as the quality of a democratic system depends on the system's ability to promote equality and protect freedoms. In these nations, corruption is rare and when scandals involving office holders are discovered they frequently end political careers.

By contrast, high power distance cultures expect and accept greater inequalities of power and a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place, power is usually based on tradition and power holders are entitled privileges. Older people are both respected and feared, and parents teach children obedience (Hofstede, 2005).

With scores of 80, both Ghana and Nigeria are high power distance cultures, meaning that their people expect and accept greater inequalities of power and a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place, and which needs no further justification. In Ghana, a person in authority “is considered to be sacred” (Sarpong, 1974). Other people are potential threat to one's power and can rarely be trusted (Hofstede, 2005). Due to the high the respect for authority and corresponding fewer checks and balances on the use of power, corruption scandals are frequent are they are mostly covered. This may explain why even though Article 35(8) of the 1992 Constitution enjoins the “State to take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and the abuse of power” not much has been done so far to eradicate or control corruption.

In a replication of Hofstede's study in Ghana, using regional level factor analysis from survey responses of matched customs officials, the derived factor of PDI correlated significantly with ‘confidence in the chieftaincy institution' (r=72, p ≤ .00), ‘relationship with employer' (r=74, p ≤ .00), and ‘people are born with unchangeable destiny given by God' (r=80, p ≤ .00) (Mensah, 2008). This study confirms the relevance and application of Hofstede's Power Distance dimension to Ghanaian situation of concentration of powers.

During a recent Personality Profile interview on Joy FM, the Chairman of the Committee of Experts that drafted the proposals for the 1992 Constitution, Professor Nana S K B Asante, revealed that there were suggestions made in the draft Constitution which could have imposed some limitations on excessive presidential powers, however, the checks and balances were removed when the proposals went to the Constituent Assembly. Interestingly, since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, most politicians tend to criticize the system when they are in the opposition, but they quickly forget about the problems as soon as their parties come back to power and they begin to enjoy the trappings of the ‘winner takes all' system. As Bishop Samuel Mensah aptly observes, absolute power vested in the winning party is stifling development and that the current duopoly of NPP and NDC and winner takes all syndrome which had over the years affected quality of leadership. (The Ghanaian Times, 2 June 2021).

Individualism/Collectivism.

This dimension addresses the fundamental degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. High Individualism “stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose and one is expected to look after one's family only”.

With scores of 89, 90 and 91, the UK, Australia and the US occupy the extreme end of the Individualism scale, indicating that they are highly individualistic and private people. Their children are taught from an early age to think for themselves and to find out what their unique purpose in life is and how they uniquely can contribute to society. Personal opinions are expected, and they practice one person one vote.

On the opposite side of the scale (low individualism) is Collectivism which “stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people's lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty” (Hofstede, 2001) and other in-groups are invariably opposed. Ghana occupies the lower end with of the ranking with a score of 15, indicating a collectivistic or low individualistic culture. The concern would be for the group rather than for the individual, and people define their identity by their relationship to others through group membership and strive for a sense of belonging (Schneider and Barsoux, 2003). In a collectivist culture, the individual or in this case a parliamentarian will invariably act according to the interest of the in-group, the political party or the government. Consequently, the parliamentarian's commitment to the interest of the constituency or oversight would be superseded by that of the political party or the government. The replication of Hofstede's study in Ghana confirmed the collectivistic culture in Ghana, the dimension correlated significantly with the statement “hard work does not generally bring success, it is more of luck and connections” (r=0.75, p ≤ .00) (Mensah, 2008).

As an experienced parliamentarian and minister, Honourable Kan Dapaah, beautifully observes, [t]he interests of political parties are deemed more important than the interests of the nation state, Ghana. The principal cause of this is the culture of exclusion and non-participation” and consequently, “Parliament is unable to check the President because the majority of Parliamentarians belong to his party.”

There is also a wide belief in group decisions and value standards differ for those who belong to groups. In political systems, opinions and votes are likely predetermined by in-group. This translates in ‘group thinking behaviours like ‘minority or opposition walk outs' or ‘majority approval or of policies' in Parliament. Currently, there is general impression that Parliament does not effectively carry out its important oversight role but rather engages in ‘rubber stamping' of ministerial appointments, budgets, and bills submitted by the Executive. In August 2020 Parliament approved the Agyapa Mineral Royalty Limited agreement with the government of Ghana despite a walkout by the Minority and amid public outcries.

Uncertainty Avoidance

The dimension of Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) reflects “the extent to which members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations” (Hofstede, 2001). High Uncertainty Avoidance cultures try to minimise the possibility of such situations by adhering to strict laws and rules for safety and security measures. There is high intolerance of deviant persons and ideas as what is different is considered dangerous.

The UK's low score of 35 on Uncertainty Avoidance indicates that the British are comfortable in ambiguous situations. There are generally not too many rules in British society, but those that are there are religiously adhered.

On the other hand, Ghana scores 65 on the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension, indicating that Ghanaians generally like to maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour, and innovation may be resisted. There is a great concern for security in life and a search for absolute truth and values that reflect high religiosity. Even though mostly unobeyed, there is high emotional need for rules and regulations.

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