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Speaker directs investigations into COVID-19 expenditure

BY: Samuel Duodu & Nana Konadu Agyeman
The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin
The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin

The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has directed two committees of Parliament to investigate the COVID-19 expenditure of the government.

They will also probe the receipt and application of COVID-19 funds by the government.

The committees, Finance and Health, will submit their report to the House in the first week of the next meeting of the House in October this year.

Mr Bagbin gave the directive on the floor of Parliament yesterday when the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, appeared before the House to give account of how COVID-19 funds had been expended.

The ruling by the Speaker was made after the Minority called for an ad-hoc committee to probe the utilisation of COVID-19 funds by the government.

Minority, Majority argue

While the Minority, led by its leader, Haruna Iddrisu, pushed for the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to probe COVID-19 expenditure, the Majority, led by its Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, argued that there were existing committees of Parliament that could be tasked to investigate the matter, instead of a special committee.

After the comments by both sides of the House, the Speaker said it had become necessary for further investigation and inquiry into how COVID-19 funds were utilised.

He said the Finance Minister only came to give the broad outline of the expenditure and, therefore, there was the need for Parliament to invite ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), as well as the COVID-19 Trust Fund, to come and give detail accounts on how the money they were given to combat the pandemic was spent.

Legal justification

The Speaker explained that the Finance Minister responded to calls by Parliament to give account of how the funds were utilised through a statement under Parliament's Standing Order 70.

While the Majority said the Auditor General would audit the accounts of all entities that received and applied COVID-19 funds, the Speaker said Article 103 (3) of the 1992 Constitution was not the same as the functions of the Auditor General.

He said there was a difference between investigation and inquiry into activities and administration of the MDAs and auditing conducted by the Auditor General.

"There is a difference and so we cannot say that because the Auditor General is going to audit the accounts of the MDAs on the COVID-19 expenditure, Parliament is disenabled from conducting an investigation and inquiry into the utilisation of COVID-19 funds," Mr Bagbin said.

On that score, he said, Parliament had a mandate to probe the utilisation of the funds

Why no special committee

On the Minority's calls for an ad-hoc committee to be set up by Parliament to investigate the matter, Mr Bagbin said there were already committees of Parliament with the capacity to do so and, therefore, there was no need to set up a special committee for that purpose.

He said the fact that some lives were lost due to the pandemic did not mean that no work had been done in the country.

"Some work has been done, but that does not justify that we should not perform our functions of ensuring that the money was utilised efficiently, effectively and economically," he said.

"It is very important for us to do that to allay the fears of the Ghanaian people," he added.

Mr Bagbin said it was in the interest of the Finance Minister, the Finance Ministry and the government that they constantly informed the people about the taxes and revenue generated on their behalf.

He said there was no witch-hunt in those matters, saying they constituted one of the effective tools for good governance.