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20.02.2006 General News

Energy Comission Probe -Statement from A-G

By Statesman

STATEMENT ON THE AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORT ON INVSTIGATION INTO ALLEGATIONS AGAINST THE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY OF THE ENERGY COMMISSION

LIFTING THE COVER ON THE WORKINGS OF POWER IN PRESENT-DAY GHANA Kofi Asante

At the dead of the night of Friday, 6th May, 2005, an unknown messenger delivered at the gate of my home a letter dated 4th May, 2005 signed by the Minister of Energy, Professor Mike Oquaye, MP.

The letter ordered me as Member/Executive Secretary of the Ghana Energy Commission to step aside so that investigations could be carried out into allegations made against me by some staff of the Energy Commission. The letter did not specify the allegations.

On Wednesday, 11th May, 2005, I went to the Energy Commission, Frema House, Spintex Road, Accra to collect my books and other personal belongings. I was assaulted by some senior and middle ranking officials of the Commission allegedly on ministerial orders.

Subsequently, on Wednesday, 1st June, 2005, in answer to an urgent question put in Parliament by Dr Kwame Ampofo, MP, the ranking Member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Mines and Energy, the Minister of Energy, Professor Oquaye, accused me of “abuse of power” which he defined as “misuse, misapplication, undermining, misdirection, whatever.” The Minister was unable to explain, on further questioning by Honourable Members of Parliament, the conduct, act, or omission alleged to amount to abuse of power. The Minister was saved from further embarrassment by the Speaker. (See Parliamentary Debates, Official Report Fourth Series Vol. 50 No. 13, Wednesday 1st June 2005 Cols 423-433).

For months (May, 2005 – January, 2006), forensic investigation into the finances, administration and all aspects of the Energy Commission during my tenure as Executive Secretary (January, 2002 to May, 2005) has been conducted by the Audit Service, the Serious Fraud Office, and the Public Services Commission.

The Report of the Auditor-General on the allegations of corruption made against me clears me of any wrong doing, illegality, or moral turpitude. I stand tall. You cannot fault the Energy Commission for exercising its powers in determining its chief executive's Conditions of Service, including rent payment. Nor can you fault the chief executive when the Commission's Accounts Unit pays social security contribution (taxed) on the orders of an Internal Revenue Service Inspection team, especially when the chief executive has indicated in a memo that as a retired person he should not be paid social security. The Report has so strained every nerve to find fault that it puts a price tag of ¢1.3 billion on car “refrigerators” for fitted cooling boxes in two particular vehicles which are a normal fixture of that class of vehicles.

Any attempt to tar me with the brush of corruption has failed miserably. The attempt to use me as a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered at the shrine of the Ghanaian deity of Sleaze and Corruption in atonement has failed. I had no doubt in my mind that it would fail because I am incorruptible. It is fashionable today to be cynical about public servants generally. But, I belong to the class of the 1960s who were fired by the ideals of the Founding Fathers. We chose the public service not for money or privilege. We chose the public service to serve the nation.

I have done no wrong, absolutely nothing, during my tenure as Executive Secretary for three and a half difficult years at the Energy Commission to make any person, or group of persons, high or low, to call into question my integrity, honesty, and sense of purpose.

Since the manner of the making of the allegations; the lightning response of the government; and the lengthy forensic investigation are, or should be, matters of public interest and importance, a number of issues should be considered in public discussion, if only as a vital part of Ghanaian life in an open democratic society.

We must raise the lid on the workings of power in order to reaffirm, secure, and adhere to time-honoured principles in public administration and policy. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and children's children to examine critically all aspects of this saga and begin anew a much more transparent, even-handed, principled form of public administration. Four issues cry out for consideration.

First, to what extent are employees of a public institution allowed by virtue of their positions to secretly take official information, falsify the information so obtained, and publish in the media false accusations against the principal officer of the organisation? Should such employees not be held to account and punished? Apart from any remedy at law which the principal officer concerned might have, should Ghana not be concerned about employees engaging in conduct calculated to impugn the integrity of a chief executive on the basis of false accusations? This issue becomes even more urgent in light of the coming parliamentary consideration of a draft Whistleblowers' Bill. No one would quarrel with the idea of a bill of that kind in the national fight against official corruption. But as currently drafted, the Whistleblowers' Bill is a license for the conduct exhibited by the group of officials of the Energy Commission. We could do better.

The second issue is this, what sort of membership does Ghana need for its constitutional and statutory bodies and agencies? Should the membership of constitutional and statutory bodies be made up of persons of independent thought possessing the required knowledge, experience and expertise for the functions of the bodies on which they are called upon to serve? Should such persons have the courage to stand up to political leaders or ministers of state and offer unvarnished honest advice on matters of national importance? Or, do we want persons who regard their positions as nothing more than a sinecure and are anxious to replicate the conduct of the familiar civil servant in a “Yes, Minister” syndrome? Do we want see-no-evil, hear-no-evil bodies unwilling to speak, much less to act, in the national interest? As the chief executive of the Energy Commission, a state corporate body set up by Parliament to advise on energy matters, I provided the necessary independent evaluation of the terms and conditions of the West African Gas Pipeline Project. The WAGP proposals were critiqued in official memoranda and papers in relation to alternative set of terms, legal and financial structures which would ensure long-term sustainable supply of natural gas on the best possible terms and conditions for Ghana.

Consider for a minute, my critique of the terms of access to the pipeline. Under the WAGP terms, the pipeline could not be extended beyond Ghana's borders to Cote d'Ivoire. Also, Ghana could not use the pipeline if it found natural gas in its own territory. My critique was three fold: that on grounds of competitive sale of gas, Nigerian or Ivorian, and supply disruption of gas, the pipeline should be extended to Cote d'Ivoire; that there was the need to use the pipeline for indigenous gas, when found in commercial quantity; and that there was the need to use the pipeline gas to generate power from the 125 MW Power Barge at Effasu in addition to the Volta River Authority thermal power plants at Aboadze, Takoradi, the foundation customers of the pipeline gas.

Today, we are at sixes and sevens looking for an investor to construct a pipeline to source Ivorian gas, or the WAGP gas, for the Effasu power barge.

Which brings me to the third issue, leadership. Should the chief executive have the courage to provide the direction and leadership necessary for the achievement of the goals prescribed for the body that she/he leads?

Or, should the chief executive play safe by tolerating laziness, indiscipline and inefficiency among staff; look the other way when officials demand favours from the public for the performance of their duties; and condone a practice whereby senior officials give work to consultancies which they had themselves set up for fees?

As the chief executive of the Energy-Commission, I strained day and night to focus on practical results, making the Commission a results-oriented body corporate. In fulfillment of its mandate as the think-tank of the state for energy decision makers, the Commission has developed and elaborated a strategic national electricity plan for Ghana for the period 2005 to 2025. The Electricity Plan is grounded on the socio-economic goal of achieving a GDP per capita income of US$1,000 by 2015. It provides a road map for timely investment in power generation expansion; adequate and reliable supply of electricity; grid electricity extension to most parts of Ghana; and ensures national energy security within a framework of minimising the negative environmental impacts in the electricity supply chain.

I submitted the Electricity Plan to the Minister of Energy in May, 2005 for government consideration and parliamentary approval in conformity with the provisions of the Energy Commission Act, 1997 (Act 541). The Plan remains on ministerial shelves gathering dust. Just like other draft legislative instruments on technical rules of practice and standards of performance for electricity and natural gas public utilities. Perhaps the Minister is waiting for a nod from the World Bank and the donor community, our partners in development, before he acts on the Plan. The culture of dependency! Never mind that we shall be 50 years as a proud nation soon.

The fourth issue is governance. In this area, the question is whether the government of the day should itself be prepared to follow laid down procedures, rules and regulations in its dealings with a chief executive of a statutory body. Should it order a chief executive out of office and subject the officer to public ridicule and contempt merely on the strength of allegations made by staff? Should the Administration have no qualms about making false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of top persons in the public service its measuring rod? Surely, in an open democratic society, there must be a clear link between proper procedure and good governance.

It is difficult to believe that there is such an exaggerated concept of power that little or no effort is made to establish a prima facie case for action that harms and degrades. It is important that we keep reminding ourselves that governments come and go, and that institutions, constitutional and statutory bodies and agencies provide the bedrock of government.

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