Contentious Cash for Seats Hearing Begins: Major Highlights of First Hearing


Background

On December 15 2017, Citifmonline.com reported Hon. Mubarak Muntaka alleging that the Ministry of Trade and Industry charged expatriate businesspersons “between US$25,000 and US$100,000 to offer them seats close to the President” at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards; a claim subsequently supported by his colleague Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa. According to Hon. Muntaka, levies and collections at the awards event were not approved by Parliament and the Trade and Industry Ministry did not account for these monies in their internally generated funds (IGFs).

The Ministry denied any direct involvement in the awards event, only to later indicate that it played a facilitation role and that GHS2,667,215 was accrued from the GEBA event.

Hon. Muntaka petitioned the Speaker in this regard, and in compliance with Article 112(3) of the national constitution and Order 38(1) of Parliament, the Speaker recalled MPs from recess for emergency sitting on Friday 5 January, 2018. Following proceedings, the Speaker established an ad-hoc or a special committee in accordance with Order 191, to investigate claims of extortion at the GEBA event, inquire into other related allegations and report findings before official reconvening of MPs on January 23, 2018.

Summary of First Hearing

First witness [lasted for 2hrs 04mins]

In his opening statement and answers to questions, Hon. Mubarak Muntaka [First witness] said:

  • MPs play an oversight role on government agencies. Thus he found it wise to raise this issue;

  • When he first raised the issue, a Deputy Minister of Trade, Mr. Ahomka-Lindsey said he was not aware of any collection of levies and other monies at the GEBA event and that this was news to him (Mr. Ahomka-Lindsey);

  • On Kasapa FM, another Deputy Minister of Trade Hon. Carlos Ahinkorah (MP, Tema West) whose signature was on the communique to the expatriates listing specific amounts to paid relative to seating proximity to the President at the event, denied the allegations that the Ministry collected monies from the expatriates and that funds collected were to support the Millennium Excellence Awards, he (Hon. Muntaka) became very worried;

  • He found accounts from the Ministry and event organizers confusing because (a) Paragraph 5 (of an exhibit he supplied to the Committee)says “the Ministry (of Trade and Industry) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Millennium Excellence Foundation to ensure the event was at no cost to the taxpayer”, (b) the Ministry has issued two conflicting statements - one saying they had nothing to do with what happened (levies and collections); another saying they raised GHS2.7m. (c) The third paragraph of the communique states, “The President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the Government and people of Ghana will for the first time recognize and honour the “TITANS of INDUSTRY”...”, juxtaposed against government claim that neither His Excellency or any official at the Presidency was directly or remotely connected to the said event raises a big confusion to him as an MP.

Hon. Dominic Ayine (Committee member) asked Hon. Muntaka to explain why Ghanaians should be concerned about this matter. In his response, Hon. Muntaka stated that an avenue was created for people to have an exclusive dinner with the President. It is important to look into the matter and establish beyond reasonable doubt that nothing untoward happened, and as representatives of Ghanaians, MPs have to check Executive conduct. He added, “I don’t believe that there was no expenditure incurred by the taxpayer because cars were fueled, receipts (were) given by public officials”.

Hon. Yaw Buaben Asamoah (Committee member) asked the first witness why he wrote to the Speaker to recall House members (MPs) to discuss the matter which subsequently resulted in the formation of the committee (the committee member was of the view that this matter could have been raised and dealt with during debate of the 2018 budget). In his response, the witness said raising the matter at the time could have disrupted the order of business, to which the committee member dissented “when democracy hands you the right to recall Parliament, it’s not a free range right, it is circumscribed”.

Hon. James Klutse Avedzi (Committee member) asked the first witness if he knows the sharing formula between the Ministry of Trade and Millennium Excellence Awards. The witness responded unfavorably.

Hon. Mark Assibey-Yeboah (Committee member) asked the first witness whether there is still a vexatious matter at hand particularly when the President of Millennium Excellence Foundation has publicly said that the word “President” in the communique was referring to him and not the President of Ghana, and also when the Presidency has concluded that there was no case of wrongdoing by the Trade Ministry. The witness said he found these events “ridiculous and just because the Presidency has put this matter to rest does not mean we (Parliament) should”.

[Want more details? You can watch first witness accounts here: http://bit.ly/2AQVXfG or read tweets here: http://bit.ly/2muyHA9]

Second witness [lasted for 3hrs 27mins 25secs]

In his opening statement and answers to questions, Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa [Second witness] said:

  • The main issues we (the minority) have highlighted is not only about sitting with the President, but also the exclusive private dinner for two. However, the 17th December 2017 statement clearly sought to justify and defend the collection of monies;

  • In the audio they (minority) have supplied to the committee, it was clearly captured that the Chairman of Interplast Group of Companies paid US$100,000;

  • Deputy Minister Carlos Kingsley Ahenkorah told Joy FM they (the Ministry) only served as a conduit and all monies have been transferred to the Millennium Excellence Foundation. Paragraph 6 of his Minister’s letter states otherwise;

  • We (minority) believe the presidential table was reserved for the President of Ghana, NOT President of Millennium Excellence Foundation;

  • It is the view of the Minority that sections of the Public Financial Management Act (PFMA) have been breached. It is thus their considered view that withholding tax must be paid;

  • The idea of paying to sit with the President for exclusive dinner opens a public office holder to corruption. Under no circumstances should this be entertained at all;

  • This is the only fundraising he has seen where one has to walk to Room 308 to see Mr. Ayamga;

  • Presidential time should be priceless. We cannot put a value to presidential time and access. We should not. Nobody should pay to have an exclusive private dinner with the President.

[Want more details? You can watch second witness accounts here: http://bit.ly/2ASn5Lq or read tweets here: http://bit.ly/2muyHA9]

Committee members:

Hon. Kwasi Ameyaw-Cheremeh (MP, Sunyani East) - Chairperson 
Hon. Yaw Buaben Asamoa (MP, Adentan) - Member 
Hon. Dr. Dominic Akurintinga Ayine (MP, Bolgatanga) - Member 
Hon. James Klutse Avedzi (MP, Ketu North) - Member 
Hon. Dr. Mark Assibey-Yeboah (MP, New Juaben South) - Member

First hearing witnesses:

Hon. Mubarak Muntaka (MP, Asawase) - First witness 
Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa (MP, North Tongu) - Second witness

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