A War of words featuring the trading of accusations and denials is raging between the Auditor-General, Mr Edward Dua-Agyeman, and the Executive Secretary of the Energy Commission, Mr Kofi Asante, over allegations of financial impropriety levelled against the latter.
Whereas Mr Asante denies any guilt in the findings of the Auditor-General's Report on investigations into allegations made against him, Mr Dua-Agyeman insists that Mr Asante has questions to answer in respect of the allegations.
In an eight-page response to the Auditor-General's Report, dated May 4, 2006 and addressed to the Chief of Staff and Minister of Presidential Affairs, Mr Kwadwo Mpiani, Mr Asante described the audit report as selective and misleading.
“The Auditor-General must have expected to find a sheaf of the commission's cheques and payments made in favour of the Executive Secretary for his personal benefit.
Since he found nothing of the sort, and could not have found any wrongdoing, misappropriation of funds, acts of corruption, mismanagement or abuse of power, the Auditor-General ignores the evidence, documentary or otherwise, and proceeds to make findings which cannot stand scrutiny,” he accused the Auditor-General.
“The bias and partisan zealotry shown are unworthy of the high office of Auditor-General,” he added.
In a five-page reply to Mr Asante's response, dated May 12, 2006, also addressed to the Chief of Staff, Mr Dua-Agyeman indicated that Mr Asante's response to the audit report contained falsehoods, misstatements and statements attacking the person of the Auditor-General.
“The audit conclusions upon which we based our recommendations were backed by hard evidence,” Mr Dua-Agyeman maintained, and resolved that “any public funds which have been misapplied or improperly disbursed will be pursued and retrieved”.
“This is without prejudice to any legal action that may be taken against the individuals concerned,” he added.
Mr Asante said throughout the forensic investigation from May to December 2005, the investigation officer never spoke to him nor questioned him on any matter until December 12 and 13, 2005, after the report had been completed when he appeared before a team of the Audit Service to respond to some parts of the report.
Unfortunately, the Auditor-General did not honour a promise that the final report would reflect his responses.
He said he had now been given a copy of the Auditor-General's report, dated December 30, 2005, and his response was meant to clear his name from any wrongdoing, to set the records straight and to correct the selective responses that the Auditor-General attributed to him in the report.
Replying, Mr Dua-Agyeman said Mr Asante's copy of the report was delivered to the Energy Commission on February 14, 2006, to be forwarded to him, adding that evidential information from the commission indicated that the report was delivered to him on that same date.
Mr Asante alleged in his response that the Auditor-General, in his interim report to the President, dated April 29, 2005, stated, “The workers are said to be accusing the Executive Secretary of having inflated the cost of the building to benefit Col Takyi because they both hail from MAMPONG and the chairman of the commission is the MAMPONGHENE.”
“That statement is libellous. I do not hail from Mampong. I am not even an Asante, if that will set at rest the creeping mindset of seeing every activity in ethnic colours,” he remarked.
The Auditor-General admitted that a report was submitted to the President on April 29, 2005 on two points of allegations forwarded to him initially but denied making any ethnic statement in the report and, therefore, described Mr Asante's allegation as a personal attack on him (Auditor-General).
“I would like to strongly deny making the statement attributed to me by Mr Asante in paragraph 4 of his letter.
I find that statement outrageous and I am challenging Mr Asante to produce my report which contains the said statement,” Mr Dua-Agyeman stated.
Commenting on the audit report with respect to the leasing of the Frema House by the Energy Commission, Mr Asante said the finding that the leasing of that building involved “unauthorised completion of private property from government funds” was not correct.
According to him, Frema House was a completed building at the time the Energy Commission decided, at its eighth regular meeting on October 10, 2002, to rent the property as office accommodation for its staff of more than 70.
Mr Asante said the lease of Frema House was intended to be a long lease of 15 to 20 years, with an option to buy if the landlord decided to sell it, adding that before the lease was signed, the chairman and members of the commission had taken turns to view the property.
He said the property consisted of three separate bays of three floors, with each bay having its own entrance, and in order to provide one single interconnecting unit of office from the top to the ground level, the commission decided to carry out, at its own expense, architectural refitting and configuration for its own purposes.
The Auditor-General, however, stood by his findings and insisted that Mr Asante spent “colossal public funds, amounting to ¢7.6 billion, to complete a private property between November 2002 and March 2003”, adding that the ¢7.6 billion was separate from the lease rent of ¢7.47 billion which Mr Asante paid on the same property.
He maintained that as of October 2002 when the Energy Commission spotted the Frema House, the building was incomplete, alleging that on October 9, 2002, Col K.A. Takyi, in a hand-written note to the executive secretary, requested for two years' lease rent advance to enable him to “complete the office space in two months”.
Mr Dua-Agyeman added that the main contractor, Messrs S. Tetteh and Associates, had, in a separate letter to the Auditor-General, indicated the extent to which the building was incomplete.
He said while the cost was being incurred, the lease rent was being paid simultaneously, although there was no lease agreement, adding that in spite of the huge completion cost, the last two instalments of the lease rent, totalling ¢6.7 billion, were paid in March and June 2003 without any consideration of recovering any portion of the funds used in completing the building, adding that but for the concern of the senior staff, the amount would have been lost to the state.
Mr Asante disagreed with the Auditor-General's argument of recovering the funds. “How any person could ask the landlord to bear the cost of the refitting works beats the imagination.
The real worry should be restoring the property to its original state if the landlord were to bring the lease to an end,” he argued.