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18.10.2004 General News

Deputy Minister Responds To Extortion Charges

By Angela L. Ofori-Atta

The Ministry of Manpower Development and Employment responds to the Chronicle's October 11 article captioned 'Deputy Minister Faces Extortion Charges'

The Ministry of Manpower Development and Employment (MMDE) strongly objects to the centre-spread Chronicle story of Monday, October 11, 2004, which carried the headline: DEPUTY MINISTER FACES EXTORTION CHARGES. The Ministry deems the poorly 'investigated' article to be injurious to the reputation of its Deputy Minister and believes such 'journalism' could only have been intended to unfairly cause maximum damage to the image of the STEP programme and the personalities involved. The Ministry is therefore demanding a full retraction and apology from the Chronicle.

The Ministry would wish to state categorically that neither the Deputy Minister in charge of the STEP programme, Dr. Mrs. Angela Ofori-Atta, nor any person connected with the programme “faces extortion charges,” as falsely stated in the Chronicle. Indeed, even though such an impression is given by the headline, the Chronicle reporter, Susan Roberta Abunu, could not support the body of her story with any evidence of the Deputy Minister's complicity in any such alleged act of criminality. Commitment Fees The Ministry wants it to be known that Dr. Mrs. Ofori-Atta has never “instructed” the staff of the programme “to collect ¢500,000 from the 16,000 trainees as commitment fee,” which was alleged to amount to “¢75 million and which amount was paid to [her secretary] Agatha instead of the accountant of the programme.” In fact, going by the Chronicle's figures, this would have amounted to an 'extortion' of ¢8,000,000,000 – the total cost of the STEP programme.

There is a ¢5,000 registration/commitment fee demanded of trainees of the STEP. This fee is not “varied from one center to the other,” as claimed in the Chronicle report. This commitment fee is collected by the training institution and paid to the Ministry when the institution submits the registration forms to signal its participation in the programme. In the pilot phase, the ¢5,000 commitment fee per trainee collected by the institutions was paid to co-coordinators, who in turn, paid it to the accountant in the Ministry. Thereafter, the institutions paid the commitment fee to the Secretary who forwarded the money to the accountant. As the system got more centralized, the institutions paid the commitment fee directly to the accountant. At no point was the Deputy Minister involved in these transactions. She has therefore never arranged to pay back any such money to the accountant as asserted by the Chronicle.

Also, contrary to the Chronicle's assertion, claims for payment from training institutions are processed through the treasury system, with no chits issued. Thereafter, institutions collect their checks from the Treasury or from the Ministry's accountant in accordance with the Finance Administrative Regulations(FAR). Consultants The Chronicle falsely stated that the Deputy Minister “is also reported to have engaged consultants for the second phase of the programme and paid them $3,000 every month, unknown to the sector minister.” The Ministry categorically states that there are no external consultants on the STEP programme, let alone any paid by the Ministry in dollars. The programme is run exclusively as an MMDE programme in conjunction with the Ministry's own departments and agencies. 5% Deduction The Deputy Minister has not requested any 5% deduction from any service provider, nor has the Ministry deducted any amount from any service provider, as stated by the Chronicle. Rather, between the pilot phase and the Second Phase of the STEP, the Ministry took a firm decision to increase the fees paid to institutions by almost 30 percent. This was in response to requests from the institutions about the need to keep up the quality of training. In consonance with this, the Ministry stepped up its monitoring programme and consequently adjusted the fees to the service providers to enable the Ministry to provide adequate logistic, administrative and monitoring support for the programme. Contrary to the allegations in the Chronicle, no monies have been deducted from the fees to the institutions once the amount to be paid was set by the co-coordinating team.

These allegations could easily have been verified by the reporter if she had been seeking the truth. Indeed, the Deputy Minister and the Public Relations Officer invited the reporter to the Ministry to compare payment claims made by the institutions with actual monies received as recorded in the vouchers. Amazingly, the reporter failed to avail herself and the public of this opportunity at verification, but rather went on to write on mere conjecture.

Records of such claims put up by the institutions and the fees paid to the institutions for each training programme are available from the public relations office of the Ministry and may be verified in the interest of the public. Vehicle Repairs An estimate of ¢7.5 million was agreed upon by the STEP team for the repair of the vehicle for the use of the STEP programme. However, the vehicle broke down soon thereafter, and the maintenance costs involved were going to be so high that the team decided not to use the vehicle for the long distance monitoring required but to allow the Ministry to use it for its work in Accra. The allegation by the Chronicle that the commitment fee was collected ostensibly to repair cars is therefore false. Suspension Contrary to the Chronicle story, to date, the Sector Minister has never directed that anybody be suspended, and therefore no suspension order has been violated.

The Chief Director, Mr. Addai Kyeremeh, has been investigating an allegation brought up by the proprietors of Arise and Shine Vocational School, Ohwinase Training Centre and Oasis of God Training Centre, that they gave two cheques of 500 000 cedis each, and cash of 200 000 cedis respectively to the Secretary. Immediately, the Ministry met with the proprietors of the three training institutions. It is expected that the necessary disciplinary action will be taken in accordance with the Civil Service Regulations and the law, as soon as the investigation is concluded. The Ministry deeply regrets this unfortunate incident between the Secretary and the proprietors of the three institutions.

During discussions with the Honourable Minister, the reporter was informed that an internal audit examination of the project was in progress, and she was asked to wait for a copy of the report which would enable her to write a factual story. Once again, the reporter did not avail herself of the opportunity, and wrote her story not based on verified information. The Ministry takes this opportunity to inform the public that they are welcome to the public relations office of the ministry where the claim forms of the institutions and vouchers indicating receipt of payment will be made available for comparison.

The Ministry finds it very unfortunate that the Deputy Minister's name is linked to any financial impropriety. She does not collect the commitment fees; she does not pay fees received to the Accountant; she has not hired consultants for the STEP; and she is not responsible for the repairs of vehicles in the Ministry. Again, the Deputy Minister is not responsible for disbursement of monies, and has never kept monies on account of the STEP, nor has she ever replaced monies allegedly taken from the STEP. She is there to ensure that the STEP programme is carefully planned, implemented and monitored.

The Ministry is very proud of the achievements so far made with the STEP programme in offering skills and job opportunities to thousands of people and is fully committed to further expanding this programme with all the diligence and efficiency required. Our doors are always open to any journalist who genuinely and professionally seeks information on the programme in order to inform the public. Facts about STEP The following facts are worth taking note of with respect to the STEP:

1. Last year, in its pilot phase, the STEP trained 3482 people

2. This year, it has put 14,500 through various artisan skills training

3. Another 6,000 have undergone training in vocational agriculture

4. 1,100 are in apprenticeship programmes nationwide

5. At least 5,000 are being set up in small enterprises through micro-credit facilities

6. The STEP is run in partnership with over 320 vocational and training institutions

7. The programme is run exclusively as an MMDE project in conjunction with its departments and agencies.

8. There is an official 5 000 cedis registration/commitment fee demanded of trainees of the STEP.

9. The financial procedures followed are those laid down for the use of all Ministries as the STEP is fully integrated into the activities of the Ministry

Public Relations Officer For Minister. The Editor, The Chronicle, Chronicle Media Ltd. Accra.

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