A former Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper, has testified that he authorised his deputy, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson, to write to the Bank of Ghana (BoG) and request that Letters of Credit (LCs) be set up in favour of Big Sea General Trading Ltd for the supply of 30 ambulances.
Giving his evidence-in-chief yesterday at the court presided over by Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe, a Court of Appeal judge sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, Mr Terkper said he gave the approval following the legal opinion from the Attorney-General and the Ministry’s Legal Unit.
“The letter to the Bank of Ghana requesting the setting up of the LC emanated from the Ministry of Finance and had my full authorisation,” he said.
The move, Mr Terkper said, was to avoid potential liability for the government in line with the then Attorney-General’s advice.
The Minority Leader, Dr Forson, together with Richard Jakpa, a private businessman, and Sylvester Anemana, a former Chief Director of the Ministry of Health, have been accused of allegedly causing a €2.37 million financial loss to the state in a deal to purchase ambulances for the state.
The three have pleaded not guilty to counts of wilfully causing financial loss to the state, abetment to wilfully cause financial loss to the state, contravention of the Public Procurement Act and intentionally misapplying public property.
It is the case of the Attorney-General that Dr Forson directed that the LCs should be charged to the budget of the Ministry of Health, contrary to the parliamentary approval on the funding for the supply of the ambulances.
In his testimony, Mr Terkper told the Court that he received an opinion from the Attorney-General in 2014 which said that failure to execute the contract with Big Sea could be a liability for the government.
Mr Terkper indicated that the A-G’s opinion to him was emphatic that “all governmental approvals had been obtained” for the contract and that the opinion was binding on all government agencies engaged in the transaction.
During cross-examination, the Attorney-General, Godfred Yeboah Dame, asked whether it was Mr Terkper’s case that payment for the ambulances were made in error.
Mr Terkper admitted that although the payment was made in error, it was so because the ministry at the time was under the impression that the Stanbic Bank Letters of Credit were still valid under the agreement approved by Parliament.
However, he said, it was only after the Debt Management Unit of the Ministry of Finance had drawn his attention to the fact that the Stanbic Bank’s Letters of Credit were no longer valid that the Finance Ministry decided to charge the Ministry of Health budget, contrary to what Parliament had approved.
“On the face of it, it may look contrary to what Parliament approved but it is important to understand the principle that all loans, including Letters of Credit, are ultimately charged to the capital budget of the ministry,” he said.
Asked why he did not disclose that he authorised Dr Forson to request the establishment of the LC during investigation by the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) during investigation, Mr Terkper said he did not have any documents from his Ministry at the time because he had left office and did not want to rely on his memory to answer case investigators.
The case will continue on Thursday, October 26, 2023.
Per the A-G’s facts accompanying the charge sheet, in 2009 while delivering the State of the Nation Address, the then President, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, indicated that new ambulances would be purchased to expand the operations of the National Ambulance Service.
Jakpa, who is a local representative of Big Sea General Trading Ltd, a company based in Dubai, subsequently approached the Ministry of Health with a proposal that he had arranged for finance from Stanbic Bank for the supply of 200 ambulances to the government.
Parliament approved the financing agreement between the government and Stanbic Bank.
According to the facts, on November 19, 2012, Dr Anemana wrote to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) seeking approval to engage Big Sea through single sourcing for the supply of the 200 ambulances.
They added that on August 7, 2014, Dr Forson wrote to the Bank of Ghana for Letters of Credit covering €3.95 million for the supply of 50 ambulances in favour of Big Sea.
The Letters of Credit were accordingly released to Big Sea.