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05.05.2005 General News

Workers Chase 2 ex-Ministers

By Chronicle

AGGRIEVED WORKERS of the Songhor Salt Project, (SSP) producers of the 'white gold' have descended on two former ministers to refund monies they borrowed from the SSP.

Mrs. Cecilia Bannerman, former Minister of Mines, and her deputy, Mr. Abdul Majeed, the workers claimed, collected money from SSP with the promise that they would refund it.

However, the paper learnt, the former ministers have failed to refund the money, and since they are no longer at the ministry under whose aegis they took the money, the workers fear they would not get their money back.

Chronicle gathered that at a meeting with the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of SSP and the union, the aggrieved workers' union accused Mrs. Bannerman and Mr. Majeed of failing to pay the loan which amounted to ¢100 million.

The union criticized the ministers, arguing that because of their inability to refund the loans they have deliberately failed to implement the recommendations of Messrs Baffour Awuah and Associates, chartered accountants and management consultants, who were engaged at a cost of about ¢300million to conduct a forensic audit into SSP activities.

Our information is that the audit allegedly implicated some of the current management in a scandal of misapplying funds.

Chronicle gathered that in November 2003, Mrs. Bannerman sent a request letter to the management of SSP asking for a loan for a trip to India to attend conference on salt and how to make the salt industry in Ghana bigger.

In the said letter, which was headlined “Subject to Repayment,” the former minister indicated that she had already sent a request letter to the Ministry of Finance for the funds but they had delayed to provide the money.

She said since the departure date was due the management of SSP should lend her $8,650 (about ¢79.5million) to make the trip.

She promised that as soon as the Ministry of Finance provided the funds she would not hesitate to refund the money.

Chronicle learnt that after fruitless persistent efforts by the management to retrieve the money from her, the management has decided to count it as a bad debt.

Chronicle gathered that, last year the deputy minister also borrowed ¢20million to enable him to go to Daboya Salt Mines in the Northern region to inspect the mines.

The paper further gathered that SSP immediately issued a cheque for ¢20,000,000 “since they could not object to order from above.”

It was revealed that during the tenure of the then Minister of Mines, Mr. Kwadwo Adjei Darko, the ministry was cash-strapped, so he appealed to SSP to help the ministry with some fuel to carry their day to day affairs for only a short period.

According to a source, unknown to the minister, the provision of fuel from SSP to the ministry had become a ritual.

The source said from 2001 SSP was providing the ministry with a monthly coupon for fuel, worth ¢10 million, through GOIL filling station.

Further, the source said, in 2002, the ministry directed that the coupons should be changed to cash, then later the ministry again directed that the government had increased the prices of fuel and, as such, the provision of fuel by SSP should be increased to as high as ¢20,000.

The source said when it came to the attention of the new minister then, Mrs. Bannerman on September10, last year, ordered the ministry to return the ¢200million worth of fuel they had collected from SSP.

In the face of the compelling evidence, the Interim Management Committee (IMC), led by Mr. Joseph William Biney, admitted that “It is true that we work under the ministry and at a point in time they requested that the approval from the Ministry of Finance, though it has been given, they have not got the release of the fund to buy the foreign exchange they wanted so they asked us to give them assistance subject to refunds.”

Mr. Biney noted that they were still pursuing for the refunds and that they had not dropped the issue, as claimed by the SSP workers' union.

Mr. Majeed told the Chronicle in an interview that the money that was borrowed from SSP was supposed to be refunded by his former ministry.

He said the more reason why he did not borrow the money from Daboya Salt Mines but from SSPs was that the trip was not only about salt but also employment.

He expressed shock that the ministry had not been able to refund the money he borrowed from SSP.

The Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Mines, Mr. Sarpong told the paper, “Yes the ministers borrowed the monies from SSP because their trips were urgent.”

Mr. Sarpong emphasized that the ministry was struggling to pay back the loan, but denied the ministry had declared the loan a bad debt.

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