MEMBERS OF the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament were yesterday divided in opinion when a former headmistress of Mfantsiman Girls Senior High School appeared before them to answer some questions concerning the embezzlement of GH¢9,200 (¢92 million) when she headed the school some years ago.
Mrs. Elizabeth Afredua Croffy, who headed the Saltpond-based school for 17 years, was summoned before the committee which started its second sitting yesterday to account for the said amount, which an audit report had found her culpable of embezzling.
The elderly ex-headmistress explained that she did not embezzle the amount as a Ghana Education Service and Audit Service joint committee of enquiry had sought to portray.
She rather used the money to buy canned fish on the open market for the students, she said.
The committee of enquiry however found her culpable on the grounds that other schools in the Cape Coast Municipality which also purchased the same kind of canned fish spent far lesser than what the former headmistress used. That meant she had inflated the figures, they concluded.
The committee therefore recommended that she be made to pay the money, which she agreed should be deducted from her end of service benefit, yet to be released.
Though Mrs. Croffy had earlier agreed to pay the money based on the recommendation of the enquiry committee, the Chairman of PAC and Member of Parliament for Upper West Akyem, Samuel Sallas-Mensah, gave her a second chance to clear her name and image.
It was apparently that offer given her which divided the Parliamentarians forming the committee. Their division was however not based on their political coloration, as is usually the case on the floor of Parliament when the House is in session.
Akua Sena Dansua defended the old lady and suggested that another committee be set up to re-investigate the matter as Mrs. Croffy's statement implied that she consented to the terms of the enquiry committee based on coercion.
Ms. Dansua was supported by E.T. Mensah and Benito Owusu-Bio, who called for a reversal of the earlier recommendation.
According to them, the prices of the same products with different brand names usually differed on the market.
E.T. Mensah, MP for Ningo Prampram, cited sardines of different brand names as typical examples of products attracting different prices, thereby making the former headmistress's case a genuine one.
The headmistress had stated that she bought her canned fish on the open market from a particular woman at Tema and that the committee of enquiry, if it really wanted to be fair to her, should have compared the prices of the products at Tema and not with Cape Coast schools, which bought the fish elsewhere.
Mrs. Croffy, who served as a teacher for 35 years, argued also that the type of canned fish she purchased for her students was of a superior quality.
Though the former school head's protagonists advanced strident arguments in her favour, other committee members such as Alex Kyeremeh of Techiman North were of the opinion that the issue should be considered dispassionately and not “with emotions.”
The debate would have taken longer than it did had the chairman not ruled that the recommendation of the enquiry committee be upheld so that the money would be deducted from Mrs. Croffy's pension.
The PAC recommended that a former employee of the Cape Coast School for the Deaf, Thomas Nkrumah, who bloated the school's payroll with “ghost” names whose salaries amounted to ¢57.5 million be prosecuted as soon as possible.
The Committee commended the school's new headmistress, Mrs. Barbara Ennin for retrieving the stolen money from Nkrumah.
Ten schools from the Brong Ahafo Region also appeared before the committee to answer questions on their audited accounts.
They were Dormaa, Sunyani, Wenchi, Berekum, Kintampo and Nkoranman Senior High Schools. The rest were Badu, Buase, Buoyem, Mim and Tuobodom Senior High Schools.
The Committee took exception to the way the Brong Ahafo School heads treated the letters it wrote to them to explain the findings against them.
Hon. Sallas-Mensah told them that had they responded to the letters written to them early this year, they probably would not have been invited to Accra to answer those questions as their cases were minor ones.
He consequently ruled that the heads from the region should bear their own costs of transportation without billing them to their respective schools since it was their own acts of omission that brought them to Accra.
The Brong Ahafo Regional Director of Education, Mrs. Akua Debrah, apologized on behalf of her subordinates and promised that they would abide by the committee's directive of footing their transportation bill.
By Sylvanus Nana Kumi