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Ernest Thompson and 4 others charged with causing financial loss

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson

Five persons, including a former Director-General of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Mr Ernest Thompson, have been arraigned for causing financial loss of more than $14.8m to the state.

The financial loss was in respect of the controversial SSNIT Operational Business Suite (OBS) project.

The four other accused are John Hagan Mensah, a former IT Manager at SSNIT; Juliet Hassana Kramer, the CEO of Perfect Business Systems (PBS); Caleb Kwaku Afaglo, a former Head of Management Information Systems (MIS) at SSNIT, and Peter Hayibor, the lawyer for SSNIT.

In June 2010, SSNIT initiated the $34m OBS project to use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to revamp its operations to enable it to provide a state-of-the-art pension administration system in the country.

It is the case of the Attorney-General (A-G) that between September 2013 and September 2016, the five accused persons engaged in various illegalities that caused financial loss to the state in relation to the said project.

The contract sum, the A-G argued, also ballooned from $34m to over $66m, even though the OBS system failed to perform efficiently as the project contract had envisaged.


Charges

The five were dragged to court yesterday and slapped with 29 different charges.

All of them were charged with various counts of conspiracy to wilfully cause financial loss to the state and wilfully causing financial loss to the state.

Thompson and Kramer were separately slapped with three counts of contravening the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663), while Kramer and Afaglo were also charged with defrauding by false pretence.

Afaglo is alleged to have secured his employment at SSNIT with fake certificates and was, accordingly, charged with various counts of possession of forged documents and uttering forged documents.

On their appearance before the Accra High Court yesterday, all the accused persons pleaded not guilty to all the charges levelled against them.

The five were separately represented by five lawyers — Mr Abednego Tetteh Mensah for Thompson; Mr Annis Mojhtar Mohayiewen for Mensah;

Mr Thaddeus Sory for Kramer; Mr George Bernard Shaw for Afaglo, and Mr Oliver Atsu Abada for Hayibor, while the prosecution was done by a team of state attorneys, led by the A-G, Ms Gloria Afua Akuffo.

Bail

After the various submissions by the defence lawyers, the accused persons were granted self-recognisance bail by the court.

The defence lawyers had argued that their clients were law-abiding citizens and would not abscond when granted bail but would be ever ready to appear before the court to defend themselves.

Ms Akuffo did not oppose the bail application but urged the court to attach appropriate conditions that would compel the accused to appear before the court for the trial.

The court, presided over by Mr Justice Henry Kwofi, a justice of the Court of Appeal with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, granted the accused self-recognisance bail but added that the bail could be varied as the trial progressed.

Hearing continues on October 17, 2018 when the Judiciary returns from its legal vacation.

Facts

The facts, as presented by Ms Akuffo, were that in June 2010, SSNIT commenced the OBS project, which is a software meant to revolutionise the operations of the trust through ICT.

She explained that the objective of the project was to automate all of SSNIT’s core processes in the administration of pension and “integrate all internal systems, as well as external stakeholders of SSNIT’’.

According to her, SSNIT, through an advertisement, invited companies to engage in competitive bidding for the project contract.

“Although an entity described as Perfect Business System Limited (PBS) did not participate in the bidding, on November 15, 2012 the contract was awarded jointly to Silverlake, a Malaysian Information Technology (IT) solutions provider, and PBS as a consortium at a contract sum of $34,011,914.21,’’ she said.

The A-G said contrary to the terms of the contract, Thompson, Kramer and Afaglo played various roles which made SSNIT to make payments to PBS for items which were already covered in the contract sum.

“This ballooned the contract sum of $34,001,914.21 to $66,783,148 through what was termed variously as ‘change orders’ and ‘variations’.

“The so-called variations or change orders were carried out at the instance of A1 (Thompson), A2 (Mensah), A3 (Kramer) and A4 (Afaglo) and authorised by A1 (Thompson), even though some of the payments were above his threshold as director-general and contrary to the Public Procurement Act,’’ she said.

More alleged infractions

Ms Akuffo further stated that on January 15, 2016, SSNIT entered into an agreement with the consortium executing the project for maintenance works on the project for three years at the sum of $2,570,976.41 per annum.

According to her, although the maintenance and warranty agreement was executed in 2016, “payment started in September 1, 2014 when no such service had been rendered at the time’’.

“Investigations established that although the OBS system was not performing as efficiently as contracted for, A1 (Thompson) gave authorisation for various payments which culminated in the losses.

“Investigations also indicated that PBS, purportedly represented by A3 (Kramer), is a non-existent company,’’ she said.
According to the A-G, investigations also revealed that Afaglo “relied on certificates purporting to be educational certificates he did not possess’’ to gain employment at SSNIT as its General Manager for MIS on October 1, 2015.
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