Bagbin directs Finance & Health Committees to probe COVID-19 expenses

Bagbin directs Finance & Health Committees to probe COVID-19 expenses

The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, has tasked the Finance and Health committees of the house to expeditiously probe the utilization of COVID-19 funds.

It follows what he feels are discrepancies in the receipt and payment of COVID-19 monies as accounted for by the Finance Minister before the house on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

“Mr. Speaker, to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on businesses and households, ensure that economic activities recover and minimize job losses, the government mobilized GH¢18.19 billion out of the programmed GH¢19.3 billion in 2020 from various funding sources,” the Minister said.

“Mr. Speaker, for the years 2020 and 2021, the programmed expenditure amounted to GH¢15,763.48 million for the COVID-19-related expenditures out of which the actual utilization was GH¢12,036.41 million,” he added.

The Minority proposed the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to thoroughly look into the expenditure of the funds over concerns that the minister’s accounting was not thorough enough and in variance with some figures put across by some government officials.

The Speaker however upheld arguments by the Majority that there were a number of existing parliamentary committees empowered to undertake such an exercise.

“We need to go beyond the Minister and get in touch with the COVID-19 National Trust Fund to be able to unearth [the expenditure], and therefore there is the need for further investigation. With this, I direct that the Committee of Finance, ably supported by the committee on Health, should investigate and inquire into the total receipt [COVID-19 Funds] and how those funds were applied for the betterment of the people of this country.”

Arguments

Ajumako-Enyan-Esiam MP, Cassiel Ato Forson, said the various MDA heads and COVID entities needed to account in detail for how they spent the money because of the gaps in the Finance Minister’s statement.

“I cannot ask the Minister responsible for Finance to give me the details to the fact that they spent $100 million on nose masks and hand sanitizers,” Mr. Forson said.

Mr. Forson proposed the committee be chaired by a member of the Minority “so that we can go into the details and all of us will be able to get the facts as we need to.”

But the Deputy Majority Leader, Alexander Afenyo-Markin, pushed back against this call, saying the various committees in Parliament could scrutinize the expenditure.

He feels this situation is not exceptional enough to warrant an ad-hoc committee.

“Let us rely on the committees of Parliament. We don’t need a special committee. We don’t need an ad-hoc committee,” Mr. Afenyo-Markin argued.

Speaker Bagbin in giving his ruling said: “the Minister has given us the broad lines of the monies that have been released to the various Ministers, Departments, and Agencies in 2020 and 2021. Even if there are no COVID-19 now, we are still spending so there is expenditure. I am persuaded that there are a lot of gaps. Apart from the figures that our attention have been drowned to between what he said today and what has earlier been contained in documents.”

Minister’s account

Ken Ofori-Atta noted that GH¢ 12 billion was expended to mitigate the effect of the pandemic.

Under this, GH¢1.5 billion was disbursed under the Support to Households Programme, GH¢1 billion was allocated to health response-supplies equipment and relief for health workers, GH¢600 million was released to begin the construction across the country and a further GH¢763.92 million has been released to continue the construction of the 111 district hospitals.

The government also programmed GH¢875 million for security operations, evacuation of Ghanaians stranded abroad, and coordination of MMDAs’ sanitation and disinfection exercises.