A former Special Assistant to the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development between 2001 and 2003, Mr Larry Attafuah, is demanding ¢50 billion from the ministry as compensation for damages to his reputation.
His demand follows evidence given by officials of the ministry at the sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament to the effect that he was responsible for the acquisition of 117 vehicles at a total cost of ¢14.39 billion but whose covering documents could not be traced.
Mr Attafuah denied the allegation and cautioned in a letter written by his legal advisors to the ministry that if it failed to make good the compensation being demanded, he would advise himself.
This was made known on Wednesday when he appeared before the committee to respond to the allegations made against him by the ministry last week.
The Chief Director of the ministry, Mr. D.A. Nyankamawu, confirmed receipt of the demand letter from Mr. Attafuah, and pointed out that the ministry had referred the matter to the Attorney-General for advice.
Mr Attafuah's demand for compensation generated debate at the sitting, with some members of the committee arguing that witnesses who gave evidence before the committee could not be sued because they were covered by the immunity accorded Parliament.
The Minority Leader, Mr Alban Bagbin, said suing witnesses who appeared before the committee would stifle free speech and so “we should not encourage that”.
Mr. Bram Larbi, counsel for Mr. Attafuah, however, contended that the immunity clause did not give anybody the prerogative to malign people and just walk away with it.
He said in any case, the test of the case resided in the court.
Some members of the committee later sought to impress upon Mr Attafuah not to pursue any suit against the ministry but his lawyer told journalists at the sitting, “We are looking at the options and we will advise ourselves.”
According to the Auditor-General's Report for 2004, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development paid a total of ¢14.39 billion to Auto Parts Ltd between February and April 2003 for the purchase of 117 double-cabin Nissan pick-up 4WD for use by district chief executives (DCEs).
However, management could not produce the allocation list for the vehicles and copies of the letters communicating the transfer of ownership of the vehicles to the assemblies involved upon request by auditors, and when officials of the ministry appeared before the PAC to answer that query, they pointed accusing fingers at Mr Attafuah.
According to Mr Attafuah, he had been extremely troubled when he heard his name on the airwaves, accused of being responsible for the 117 vehicles and being castigated by discussants on radio programmes.
He said it was unfortunate that the ministry did not even contact him before making those allegations against him, adding that he had sought audience with committee to clear his name.
Armed with copious documents to support his mission of exoneration, Mr Attafuah sought to convince the committee that his hands were clean.
He said when the need arose to buy the vehicles, the ministry wrote to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to release money for that purpose, after which it contacted the Ghana Supply Company to organise a tender for the supply of the vehicles, which was won by Auto Parts.
Mr Attafuah said subsequently, the ministry wrote to Auto Parts to alter the number of vehicles from 117 to 110 Nissan pick-ups for the DCEs, three Nissan Patrols for the minister and his two deputies, and two Nissan X-Range for the two special assistants.
According to him; officials of all the 110 districts went to Auto Parts to sign for their vehicles. He tendered the waybills covering the vehicles to support his claim.
Responding to the issues raised by Mr Attafuah, the Chief Director of the ministry said he had not even known that some of the vehicles had been traded off until Mr Attafuah's disclosure.
He said the earlier evidence given by officials of the ministry to the committee was not meant to malign Mr Attafuah but insisted that information gathered indicated that he (Attafuah) had distributed the vehicles.
Officials of the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines also appeared before the committee to answer audit queries raised against the ministry in the 2004 and 2005 Auditor-General's Report.
The queries centred on the lack of documentation on fuel usage amounting to ¢694.1 million, the misappropriation of revenue amounting to ¢1.17 billion, the non-payment of concession rent to the tune of ¢935.6 million and the indebtedness of timber companies to the tune of ¢1.68 billion.