Ato Forson trial: Payment for ambulance contract was in error – Seth Terpker
A former Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper, has testified that payment for the ambulance deal for which former Deputy Minister of Finance, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson and two others have been accused of allegedly causing €2.37 million financial loss to the state, was made in error.
Under the cross-examination of the the Attorney-General in court on Thursday (Oct 19, 2023), Mr Terkper admitted that although the payment was made in error, it was so because the ministry at the time was under the impression that the Stanbic Bank letters of credit was still valid under the agreement approved by Parliament.
However, he said it was only after the Debt Management Unit of the Ministry of Finance had drawn his attention that the Stanbic Bank’s letters of credit were no longer valid that the Finance Ministry decided to charge the Ministry of Health budget, contrary to what parliament had approved.
He further told the court, presided over by Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe, a Court of Appeal judge sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court judge that, he authorised Dr Cassiel Aro Forson to set up the letters of credit against the budget allocation of the Ministry of Health.
“The letter to the Bank of Ghana requesting the setting up of the LC [letters of credit] emanated from the Ministry of Finance and had my full authorization,” he said.
The move, Mr Tekper said was to avoid potential liability for the government in line with the then Attorney-General’s advice.
“On the face of it, it may look contrary to what parliament approved but it is important to understand the principle that all loans including letters of credit are ultimately charged to the capital budget of the ministry” he said.
Ato Forson pleads not guilty in ambulance trial
The other accused persons in the case are Richard Jakpa, a private businessmanester Anemana, a former Chief Director of the Ministry of Health.
The three have pleaded not guilty to counts of willfully causing financial loss to the state, abetment to willfully causing financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act and intentionally misapplying public property.
Per the A-G’s facts accompanying the charge sheet, in 2009, while delivering the State of the Nation Address, the then President, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, indicated that new ambulances would be purchased to expand the operations of the National Ambulance Service.
Jakpa, who is a local representative of Big Sea General Trading Limited, a company based in Dubai, subsequently approached the Ministry of Health with a proposal that he had arranged for finance from Stanbic Bank for the supply of 200 ambulances to the government.
Parliament approved the financing agreement between the government and Stanbic Bank.
According to the facts, on November 19, 2012, Dr Anemana wrote to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) seeking approval to engage Big Sea through single sourcing for the supply of the 200 ambulances.
They added that on August 7, 2014, Dr Forson wrote to the Bank of Ghana for letters of credit covering €3.95 million for the supply of 50 ambulances in favour of Big Sea.
The letters of credit were accordingly released to Big Sea.
The facts said 30 ambulances were purchased at a sum of €2.37 million, but all were found not to have met the ambulance specifications and “not fit for purpose”.