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11.10.2004 General News

Deputy Minister Ofori-Atta Faces Extortion Charges

By Chronicle

Accra, Oct. 11, Chronicle -- DISCREET investigations at the Ministry of Manpower Development and Employment have revealed that the deputy minister, Dr. Mrs. Angela Ofori Atta and her secretary, one Agatha, are in the center of a controversy which borders on extortion of various sums of money.

The two are said to have collected monies from service providers under the Skills Training and Employment Placement (STEP) programme for which the government has voted c400 million from the HIPC Funds for monitoring.

The Chronicle has gathered that the STEP programme staff deducted 5% of the remuneration of the service providers at the alleged instance of the deputy minister, which deductions amounted to ¢380 million from ¢7.6 billion.

It is learnt that the government approved ¢8.2 billion for the programme, including a ¢400 million for monitoring.

Secretary Agatha allegedly extorted monies ranging between ¢200, 000 and ¢500, 000 before issuing cheques to service providers, instead of chits to cash monies at the treasury.

Mrs. Ofori Atta also allegedly instructed the staff to collect ¢500, 000 from the 16,000 trainees as commitment fee, which amounted to ¢75 million and which amount was paid to Agatha instead of the accountant of the programme. The commitment fees varied from one centre to the other.

The paper gathered that this money was collected with the pretext that it would be used to repair cars, including one with registration no. GR 4732J belonging to the STEP Secretariat but it has been revealed that the said cars were repaired at the cost of ¢7,475,000 out of ¢15,530.000 million left in the account of the programme under the first phase.

A document sighted by the paper indicated that on January 2, 2004, Action Motors in Accra repaired the car at ¢4, 810,000, which payment was effected with cheque No. 000326.

Action Motors was also paid ¢320, 000 for maintenance, with cheque No. 000328 on the same day. In all, about ¢36, 125,000 was expended on maintenance, according to a document available to The Chronicle.

All these payments were made from the previous account of ¢300 million, the paper gathered.

When the Minister, Mr Yaw Barimah got wind of the extortions in July 2004, he directed a director of the ministry, one Kyereh to suspend Agatha while investigations were conducted into the allegations leveled against her by some service providers.

The Chronicle is informed that with the backing of the deputy minister, the secretary has defied the suspension order. Rather, she stayed away from office while her boss was away in the Gambia last September.

Later, for fear of being exposed, the deputy minister is said to have quickly arranged and paid ¢2.1 million to the accountant of STEP as the remainder of the ¢75 million collected as commitment fees from service providers.

The deputy minister is also reported to have engaged consultants for the second phase of the programme and paid them $3000 every month, unknown to the sector minister. Technical men from the ministry were used under the first phase.

An attempt last July 29, 2004 by the deputy minister to refund monies extorted from the service providers by her secretary, backfired as they refused to take them back.

Reacting to the allegations, Mrs. Ofori Atta said she had used the 5% deductions for monitoring of the STEP programme.

Sector Minister, Yaw Barimah has denied knowledge of the said transactions at the ministry and assured that an audit would be ordered to probe the dealings there.

Officials are tight lipped over the issue described as "an open secret" at the ministry.

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