Countdown begins... How we salvaged Graphic
Behind every move, there is a mover. Behind every event in history, there is a human face. Nothing happens until you make it happen. — David O. Oyedepo
Today many see the Graphic Communications Group Limited as a viable, strong and solidly liquid growing concern. What some do not know, including majority of the staff is that about a quarter of a century ago, the company was declared non-performing and placed under the Non-Performing Assets Recovery Trust (NPART). In 1993 the Graphic Corporation was enmeshed in what appeared to have been the greatest fraud in the history of the country.
When the count of the losses came to a close, about 780 million old Ghana cedis had been squandered by a number of staff either through stealing or under the guise of IOUs the beneficiaries knew they would never had paid back. The acting chief accountant and chief cashier were the architects of the fraud. On the day the police struck, one cashier had taken home 500,000 cedis. The fraud was diffused.
The acting chief accountant faced prosecution, the Chief Internal Auditor was dismissed while the chief cashier who initially escaped to Togo for fear of spiritual death was persuaded to return to Ghana, but he committed suicide and died in custody. Several other staff were summarily dismissed. The secretary to the Managing Director was made to refund IOUs he had taken and transferred. As it turned out, the company was a fat cow mulched by a few individuals.
The processes leading to the uncovering of the fraud were accidental. In 1992 the management of Graphic Corporation as it then was, decided to embrace best practice in the corporate world by accepting to draw up a corporate plan as a responsible organisation to guide it in the discharge of its obligations and more important halt the negative trend it was experiencing with its cash flows.
The corporate planning team was made up of four management personnel and three representatives of the workers. The management team comprised Mr Alphonse Hiagbe, the acting Chief Accountant, Mr. E.K. Baiden, Advertisement Manager, Mr S.K. Baiden, Chief Internal Auditor and Mr. Emmanuel Odametey, Production Manager.
On the workers’ side was Mr Edwin Nyaglamah, representing the Union, Mr John Tagoe representing the Accounts Department and Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, representing the senior staff association.
Within a matter of days, it became clear to Mr Tagoe and myself that something was wrong with the cash flow of the company. The management staff, influenced by Mr Hiagbe insisted that the basis of the plan was faulty. We suspected revenue leakage somewhere that needed to be tracked. The team went to the Riviera Beach Hotel close to the Arts Centre for three days to develop the five-year plan and draw up the budget.
After the second day our suspicion deepened. The team drew up five budget scenarios based on circulation figures, but even when we reduced circulation figures the profit margin was still high. The three of us from the union decided to do our own analysis and charged Mr Tagoe to study the cash flow trends for the past year. It was at this point that Mr Tagoe came up with what we considered as Eureka. He noticed differences between cash receipts and lodgments at the bank. He also realised that the accounts of the company had not been prepared for more than three years and there was no bank reconciliations. So no audit could have been conducted.
The information was discreetly passed on to the Managing Director, Mr Kofi Badu who called for a flash audit investigation. The auditors were convinced that there was widespread fraud. We resolved not to play any heroism and stayed back to avoid courting hatred.
Once Mr Badu was clear, he brought in the police. It was so sudden such that on the day the police struck, one of the cashiers, a certain Owusu took home 500,000 cedis and led the police to his house to retrieve the money.
It emerged that some management personnel and cashiers who knew that the acting Chief Accountant sometimes took home 1.5 million cedis, resorted to IOUs, sometimes approved on pieces of paper which they felt they would never repay. Those individuals whose IOUs were tracked were made to refund all the money they took.
A day before the police invaded the office, Mr Hiagbe applied for a loan of one million cedis to repair his vehicle. In court he explained that he gave the money to a Mallam to ensure that he was confirmed as the Chief Accountant.
Mr Hiagbe was convicted and jailed while some cashiers were dismissed. Later, I left for the National Media Commission and Mr Tagoe was rewarded with an appointment in London when Graphic acquired West Africa.