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08.11.2003 Feature Article

These Embezzlements Are Troubling

These Embezzlements Are Troubling
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It was recently reported in the news that the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) of the Government of Ghana has been found to have misappropriated C9.6 billion (READ). Preliminary investigations have revealed that a Headquarters storekeeper may have stolen the money. An accounting system which provides that only one person, the store keeper, has knowledge of how many applicants have physically dropped by and paid to receive licenses, pay taxes or register their vehicles, lends itself easily to severe financial malfeasance and abuse. For an embezzlement of this nature to occur, I am tempted to assume that one of two things happened to make it possible. ASSUMPTION 1: The accounting system that the DVLA office operates is probably outmoded. A store keeper receives checks from the Accountant Generals Department and payments that are received from the public are probably kept in a safe somewhere in the office for several months during which little or no internal auditing is done. No other way may be found to cross reference the money that flows in with how many people may have made payments. Which means therefore that in the mean time that a store keeper is engaged in his devious tricks until his nefarious activities are exposed, it is not easy to discover what is going on. I am only making assumptions at this point; but if this theory is correct and this is was what happened at the DVLA then the accounting system they operate is indeed obsolete, and needs to be revamped. A modern accounting and administrative system would ensure that as soon as the applicants walked in to request drivers licenses or pay taxes/registration fees, they would all register at the reception. They would write down their names in designated columns in a log book, including date and time. Not only that, but they would also log in what type of license they are there to pay for and receive. On their way out the applicants would log in again, indicating whether or not they received their licenses. So lets say a Motor Cycle license costs C500,000, a Regular License, C600,000, a Commercial Vehicle License, C700,000, and a license to operate Earth moving vehicles, C800,000. In the same way, there would be designated charges for every make, model, and age of vehicle registered, and applicants should be made to log all related information at different sections of the office. Even a casual look at the reception log book would reveal how many people received licenses for the different categories of licenses that are issued at the office; or how many people paid automobile taxes or registration fees. A simple arithmetic would give you exactly how much the office has collected on any given day. Not only that, but the license issuing officers would also log every applicant into their books at the time they give out the licenses, indicating when an applicant is refused a license. In countries where the office takes its own pictures of drivers, a log is maintained even at the point where the applicant is photographed. Next comes when the applicant actually pays the fee charged for the license, automobile tax, or registration fees; obviously, the individual receipts issued would indicate how much money was collected on any given day. Lets say at 3 or 4 o'clock, the license office closes to the public and begins to take stock of the day's business. A supervisor picks up the reception log book, goes to the license officer, tax officer and registration officer to collect their log books, and if there is a photography Department, takes their log book as well. It would be stupid for any store keeper to try to doctor his figures, because the supervisor knows by now how much money the office has raked in even before he goes for the duplicates of receipts issued to the public. When he/she puts all three or four sets of data together, there should be a match. If not, he should find where the discrepancy exists before the office closes for the day. Afterwards, all money collected that day should be sent to the bank and none of it kept in a safe at the premises of the office. Such a system would ensure sound bookkeeping and administrative efficiency, at the same time as eliminating the temptation and opportunity to misappropriate state funds. I want to assume that this is not the system in place at the DVLC, which is why it was so easy for a store keeper to steal so much money; and which is even more bizarre, why it took anyone so long to discover the theft since it had been going on for a long time. Are we Ghanaians that inefficient? Most civil or public service organizations in Ghana continue to operate the old decaying accounting system that the country inherited from the British government at the time of independence. I cannot understand why past governments have done nothing to revamp this system and modernize it to reflect changing circumstances. I have heard it said many times that the shortage of qualified accountants in the public sector has stymied our governments' efforts to streamline public service accounting procedures. Nothing can be farther from the truth than that. It does not take a team of professional accountants to establish an efficient and workable accounting system. All it takes is an imaginative team of intelligent and hard working people, fired by the virtues of good work ethics and patriotism. We could, hypothetically, fire all the accounting personnel at the DVLA and replace them with a fresh crop of intelligent SSS graduates who have no formal training in accountancy. If we kept a proper log of the inflow and outflow of applicants, something similar to the paradigm I have outlined above, we could infuse common sense and sanity into the financial affairs of the DVLA, and many other state enterprises for that matter. Of course if an organization deals with formulating and executing fiscal policy and/or dealing with a multifaceted accounting procedure, I could understand the need for qualified accountants. But no complex accounting procedures are done at the DVLA; their job is mainly the collection, counting and putting away of money the office charges the public for licenses, taxes and automobile registration. If the above hypothesis is right then the Ministry of Transport and Communication, or whichever sector ministry oversees the work of the DVLA, should put a new and modern accounting system in place that would address the financial impropriety that is going on right now within that outfit. If on the other hand, such a system is already in place, and yet we are seeing this kind of embezzlement then a second theory might help to explain this occurrence. ASSUMPTION 2: A high degree of collusion, connivance and complicity among the staff of the DVLA could have led to this spate of financial embezzlements that has rocked the outfit. I was agonizing over this particular DVLA embezzlement, and others like it, with a compatriot just last night; and he was emphatic that there must be a big racket involved in any such embezzlement. He was sure that since such misappropriation is usually a result of systemic problems in an organization, whoever are supposed to offer strict supervision are themselves often involved in the act; and so having compromised their integrity, they lack the moral authority to be vigilant. If such was the case, I suppose the police would not find it difficult at all to establish the perpetrators and hand them over to state prosecutors for justice. We are a very poor nation that is heavily indebted to other nations and overseas lending institutions! And we may get poorer if corruption is not controlled. Even as the government's sources of revenue keep dwindling as a result of a declining economy, it is sad to note that corruption and greed are siphoning away a lot more potential revenue to the state. Of course, the socio-economic situation in Ghana is harsh and unbearable! Granted. Salaries and wages that are paid to workers in the public sector are pathetic. Granted. Unlike their counterparts who live in developed lands, Ghanaian workers have little or no access to credit facilities to cushion them against the difficulties of life. Thus, in Ghana, to put it jokingly, "WO HO KYERE WO A NA AKYERE WO PAA", meaning that there is no respite or escape for you in Ghana when you find yourself in dire financial straits. Consequently, as citizens struggle to make ends meet, they find themselves driven to points of desperation, which is the reason for so much corruption and embezzlement of state funds. All of that is granted. Nevertheless, it would be a lame excuse to say that because workers can't make ends meet, the looting of state coffers should continue! Something ought to be done about it, and soon too, before the whole country caves in. B.K. Obeng-Diawuoh Bardstown, Kentucky, USA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

B.K. Obeng-Diawuoh
B.K. Obeng-Diawuoh, © 2003

The author has 16 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: BKObengDiawuoh

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