The New Crusading GUIDE continues with its serialization of the report of the ad hoc committee on the motion of censure moved by the minority in Parliament against the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori- Atta.
Today, the paper directs its radar on the ‘GROUND TWO’ of the motion, in which the proponents(minority) accused the Minister of Finance of “Unconstitutional Withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund in Blatant Contravention of Article 178 of the 1992 Constitution Supposedly for the Construction of the President’s Cathedral,” and the response from the minister:
REPORT OF THE AD HOC COMMITTEE ON THE MOTION OF CENSURE AGAINST THE HON MINISTER RESPONSIBLE FOR FINANCE, MR. KEN OFORI-ATTA
Unconstitutional Withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund in Blatant Contravention of Article 178 of the 1992 Constitution Supposedly for the Construction of the President’s Cathedral
*35. The Proponents stated that the Minister for Finance, through a warrant dated 29th October 2020, had disbursed an amount of GH¢142,762,500 equivalent of US$25,000,000 at an exchange rate of Gh¢5,71 to a dollar as seed money to the National Cathedral Secretariat towards the construction of the President’s Cathedral without parliamentary approval and in clear breach of Article 178 of the Constitution.
*36. Article 178 of the Constitution states that:
“(1) No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund except –
- to meet expenditure that is charged on that Fund by this Constitution or by an Act of Parliament; or
- where the issue of those moneys has been authorized –
- by an Appropriation Act; or
- by a supplementary estimate approved by resolution of Parliament passed for the purpose; or
- by an Act of Parliament enacted under article 179 of this Constitution; or
- by rules or regulations made under an Act of Parliament in respect of trust moneys paid into the Consolidated Fund
(2) No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund, other than the Consolidated Fund and the Contingency Fund, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorized by or under the authority of an Act of Parliament.”
*37. The Proponents questioned the Finance Minister’s mandate in granting a warrant for withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund to meet payment for the construction of the Cathedral. In their view, the disbursement was a blatant contravention of Article 178 of the 1992 Constitution and, therefore, unconstitutional.
*38, The Proponents of the Motion stated that they are not against the construction of a National Cathedral if that is the wish of the President of the Republic to honour his God. However, what they are against is the use of public resources for such a project without parliamentary approval.
*39. This was the submission of Hon. Haruna Iddrisu;
“Mr. Chairman, we have grounds but I will take just two of it and yield the floor to Dr. Ato Forson. I would like to start with the National Cathedral. Ghana is a much-respected religious country, where there is co-existence between both Muslims and Christians alike. Nobody is against the President promising and honouring God with the Cathedral for the expression of the Christian faith but when public resources are used for that purpose, it needs us to call into question – I just gave the Clerk to the Committee a warrant signed by the Hon. Minister for Finance for some amount for the Cathedral and that is what you are holding. I would tender it in evidence and say that we are aware that by warrant signed by Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta, Minister 29th October, 2022 an expenditure of Gh¢142,762,500.00 was allocated for the construction of the Cathedral.” (Verbatim Report on Proceedings of Tuesday, 15th November 2022 at pages 29 & 30).
*40. The Proponents further informed the Committee that the National Cathedral project lacks transparency and accountability. According to them, the total cost of the project, procurement, fund raising efforts are all matters that have been shrouded in secrecy.
*41. They indicated that although issues relating to the cost of project had been raised in Parliament, they are yet to receive appropriate responses. The Proponents drew attention of the Committee to the Parliamentary Debates of Wednesday 28th November 2018 in which the issue concerning the National Cathedral was raised by Dr. Dominic A. Ayine as follows:
“Mr. Speaker, I have reviewed the Budget Statement itself and there is no statement whatsoever which relates to the National Cathedral. In other worlds, there has been no request for any estimate to be approved by this House for its construction.
Mr. Speaker, a number of critical questions may be asked at this point in time because he Hon. Minister for Finance mentioned it but it is not contained in the Budget Statement. I would want to ask four critical questions about this budget statement. Mr. Speaker, the first one is what is the value of the land to be provided? I am aware that 21 town houses that were built to house our judges would be demolished for purposes of the construction of the National Cathedral. Mr. Speaker another critical question is, what is the cost of running the secretariat for the entire duration of the construction of the National Cathedral? That has neither been stated in the statement of the Hon. Minister for Finance before the House nor in the Budget Statement. How much is the seed money to be provided by the State and is it stated as a line item in this year’s Budget Statement? There is no line item with respect to the construction of the National Cathedral, Mr. Speaker, so this is a critical issue of accountability because the Hon. Minister for Finance cannot purport on our behalf make money available for the construction of the National Cathedral without the approval of Parliament. That would be against the grain of Article 174 of the Construction of the Republic of Ghana. If any money is allocated as seed money for the construction of the National Cathedral, that would be unconstitutional, “(Parliamentary Debates, Wednesday 28th November 2018, Col. 2893-2894)
*42. On whether Hon, Minister for Finance can utilize the Contingency Fund for the construction of the National Cathedral, the witness informed the Committee that he is unaware that the Contingency Fund, in particular, can be used for such a project.
*43. According to Dr. Forson, the Constitution clearly defines how the Contingency Fund can be used. For the Hon. Minister responsible for Finance to be able to use the Contingency Fund, he would need the approval of the Finance Committee of Parliament. He noted that in 2020, the Hon. Minister for Finance appeared before Parliament and got approval under the constitutional requirement on the Contingency Fund to fund COVID-19 expenditures. He stated that he was unaware that the Ministry of Finance appeared before Parliament and got approval under the constitutional requirement on the Contingency Fund to fund COVID-19 expenditures. He stated that he was unaware that the Ministry of Finance brought a request before the Finance Committee for approval for expenditure on the National Cathedral.
RESPONSE OF THE MINISTER:
*44. In his response to Ground Two, the Minister stated that expenditures in respect of the National Cathedral were made from the Contingency Vote under other Government Obligations, which Parliament approved in the 2019 Budget.
*45. The Minister noted that in the budget preparation process, the practice has been to provide indicative figures that have not been fully costed at the time of the presentation to Parliament, while provision is made for a Contingency Vote to cater for unforeseen expenditures.
*46. He indicated that funds were drawn from the Contingency Vote to finance the Black Stars’ participation at the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and the same has been done for 2022. The following were the submissions of the Minister before the Committee on Friday, 18th November 2022;
“Hon Co-chairs, in preparing the Annual Budget, the practice is that provisions are made for indicative expenditures that have not been fully costed at the time of the Budget presentation. Provisions are made in the Contingency Vote to cater for such expenditures. For example, in 2014, there was no specific allocation in the 2014 Budget for Ghana’s participation in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Cabinet of President John Mahama in March 2014 at the time approved then, some $9.622 million for that tournament, including that amount which was flown to Brazil in a private jet for the players. A more current example is Ghana’s participation in Qatar. The Black Stars qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, way after the 2022 Budget was presented on 16th November 2021 and was approved by Parliament. No specific amount was thus budgeted for it. But through the Contingency Vote, we have been able to provide funds legitimately for the team to participate in the competition. Expenditures in respect of the National Cathedral were made from the Contingency Vote under Other Government Obligations Vote as has been the practice before my tenure”. (Verbatim Report on Proceedings of Friday, 18th November 2022 at page 13).
*47. The Minister stated that the National Cathedral is 100 percent owned by the State, and it is not the President’s Cathedral as described by the Proponents. The Minister stated that the Attorney-General issued an opinion on 6th January 2022, that the National Cathedral is a state-owned company limited by guarantee under the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board.
*48. On the Proponents’ claims about lack of transparency in the project, the Minister stated that the policy direction and updates of the National Cathedral have been publicly presented over the years through Budget presentations in Parliament and other media engagements. The following is the submission of the Minister;
“Hon. Co-chair, the policy direction and updates of the National Cathedral have been publicly presented over the years through the National Budget Statement and Economic Policy presented to Parliament. In paragraph 158 of my Budget speech on the 2019 Budget Statement and Economic Policy announced on the Floor of Parliament. Government‘s vision for the National Cathedral as well as the commitment to facilitate the construction by providing the land, the Secretariat and seed money. The subject was part of the policy approval of the Budget after the extensive debate. Subsequently, regular updates on the progress of the construction of the National Cathedral have been provided to Parliament and the Nation. These include 2020 Budget Statement and Economic Policy, paragraph 385, which announced the establishment of the Board of Trustees and Secretariat of the Cathedral. Mid-year review of the 2020 Budget Statement, paragraph 279, which provided an update on the ground-breaking ceremony held on 5th March 2020 to mark the formal commencement of the construction phase of the project. Mr. Chairman 2021 Budget Statement and Economic Policy paragraph 113(2) and 113(4) which informs the House of the letter of intent signed on 25th November, 2020 between the National Cathedral of Ghana Trustees on 8th February 2021. The Mid-Year review of the 2021 Budget Statement paragraphs 354 and 355 which announced the expansion of the cathedral project to include a Bible Museum of Africa and Biblical gardens as well as the establishment of the GH¢100.00 a month ‘Ketewa biara nsua’ club in line with the original plan to encourage as many donors as possible to contribute towards the establishment of this national emolument”. (Verbatim Report on Proceedings of Friday, 18th November 2022 at pages 14 & 15).
*49. The Hon. Minister insisted that all the payments made for the National Cathedral were lawful and from the Contingency Vote under the Other Government Obligations.
*50. In response to a question on whether the Minister received parliamentary approval for the withdrawal of monies for the cathedral project, Mr. Ofori-Atta stated that “We certainly did receive Parliamentary approval for whatever we did with our Contingency Vote, and that is what I went through do that”.
*51. The Minister agreed to furnish the Committee with information on total amount spent by Government on the National Cathedral. This was the response of the Minister;
“Dr. Agyeman-Rawlings: Mr. Cochairman, am I to take it that I would not be given a response to my question? Because as a House of records. I could mention a figure that I have. Would the Ministry be in a position to corroborate this by providing us with document afterwards?
Mr. Harmmond: I think that is a better approach. If you got a document concerning something just like Hon. Ablakwa did and you would want to flash it at him and seek clarification, then we would have no difficulty with that.
Dr. Agyeman-Rawlings: Based on the total number that I have so far, the amount that the Government of Ghana has spent so far on the Cathedral is GH¢199 million. Is that correct? And would the Ministry be in a position to furnish the Committee with the figures to either corroborate or otherwise, the amount of money Government of Ghana has spent on the Cathedral to date?
Mr. Ofori-Atta; Cochairman we would be able to do so in due course”, (Verbatim Report on Proceedings of Friday, 18th November 2022 at page 68)
*52. The Committee, pursuant to the above agreement, formally requested for the said information and the Minister duly complied. The total amount spent between 2019 and March 2022 was Gh¢339,003,064.86.