The Minister of Finance, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, has told Parliament that the “best place” to furnish the House with details on the cost of the President’s recent official travels outside the country is the office of National Security.
He said due to the national security implications, the air travel for the President, including the cost for the advance team, flight arrangements, security, accommodation, and air tickets, are coordinated operationally between the Office of Government Machinery and National Security Secretariat.
He said in line with the 2021 budget implementation instructions, the Ministry did not release any funds to the Chief of Staff specifically for the President’s recent trips to France, Belgium and South Africa.
According to him, the current practice is that the Ministry released quarterly funds to the heads of department including the Office of Government Machinery for all the operational activities of the Office.
“To facilitate the safe coordination of the President’s travels, domestic and foreign, the Office of Government Machinery and the National Security Secretariat work together to achieve this,” he stated.
National Security Minister is to provide answer
Answering a question on the floor of the House Wednesday, Mr Ofori-Atta said, “Mr Speaker, the Presidents’ domestic and international travels are matters to do with National Security.
“The National Security Minister is best placed to furnish this Honorable House with the details needed,” he stated.
He was responding to an urgent question filed by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament for North Tongu, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa.
He also sought to know if the transaction did not go through the Ghana Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), which was under the control of the Finance Minister, and thus was in a position to know the cost of travels by the President.
Responding, the Minister of Finance told the House that when the ministry gave its quarterly releases for goods and services, it did not include line items for the President’s travels.
“And so, we will not have those specific cost coming through the GIFMIS system. As I mentioned, with the operational work that is done between the Office of Government Machinery and the National Security services, those categorizations are not very clear to us because of the national security implication,” he said.
Responding to on the cost of air travel of the President using chartered flights between the period of 2013 and 2016, Mr Ofori-Atta said the Office of Government Machinery and the National Security were in the best position to provide such details.
‘Most disappointing response’
Reacting, Mr Ablakwa described the answer by the Finance Minister as the “most disappointing response indeed.”
He said the minister had communicated to the House that he needed more time to respond to his question which was admitted by the Speaker since June 1, 2021.
According to him, the question was once again admitted on the Order Paper on June 16, this year for the minister to respond to it on June 17, 2021.
However, he said on June 17, this year, the question was not featured on the Order Paper and when he enquired why it had been omitted, the Clerk-to-Parliament, Mr Cyril Kwabena Nsiah, and the Director of Table told him that the Finance Minister had requested for more time.
He, therefore, asked why the minister requested for more time when he knew that it was National Security that had to respond to the question.
Intervening, the Speaker, Mr Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin told the House that per the answer proffered by Mr Ofori-Atta, it was the National Security that had to provide details of the President’s travel costs.
Power to demand cost of travels
The NDC MP for Bolgatanga Central, Mr Isaac Adongo said the Finance Minister had the authority to query GIFMIS to demand any expenditures that was incurred during the President’s recent foreign travels.
“Mr Speaker, when you release money to any agency in bulk, expenditures from those money must go through an approval and a warrant process to meet expenditure for specific item line.
“And so, we are not asking for the bulk money you sent to the office of the President but the expenditures emanating from those money went through a budget approval process and warrants issued were committed to specific expenditure lines.
He added: “Once it is entered into the expenditure line, the minister sitting in his office is the only person in Ghana who can access that information at any level of detail. So for the minister to say that he needs to get his information from another ministry when with the press of the button you can query specific item called travel.”