Investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas wants the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to investigate Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta for alleged conflict of interest – one of the seven grounds on which the minority caucus in parliament has filed a censure motion against President Nana Akufo-Addo’s cousin.
The petition also levels similar allegations against the recently-dismissed Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance, Mr Charles Adu Boahen, who was captured on an investigative piece by Mr Aremeyaw using Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia’s name to peddle influence.
CHRAJ Commissioner Joseph Whittal confirmed to the media that his office had received the petition.
“The allegations are that there is conflict of interest in terms of their official duties as public officers and the companies in which they have interest in terms of government bonds and, so, the case is going through the standard process of assessment in order to make sure that it meets procedural requirement under the Commission’s regulation as well as whether it is really within the mandate of the Commission”, Mr Whittal told Accra-based Joy News, adding: “Based on that, we will then decide what next steps to take”.
In June 2021, Bolgatanga Central MP Isaac Adongo alleged that Mr Ofori-Atta’s Databank and Mr Adu Boahen’s Black Star Brokerage,as transaction advisors to the ministry of finance, stood to make GHS210 million as managers of the government’s borrowing programme with an estimated GHS60-billion-a-year gross financing.
In a write-up, Mr Adongo said: “The fees to be shared by the transaction advisors of government borrowing programme, including Ken Ofori-Atta and Charles Adu Boahen’s companies is estimated at GHS210 million a year”.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) lawmaker said: “This is a clear conflict of interest. The minister for finance has made government borrowing his private business and benefitting each time Government borrows through Databank either as a book runner or co-manager of Eurobond issuance”.
“Ken Ofori-Atta’s Databank has now been joined by Charles Adu Boahen’s Blackstar Brokerage Limited to share the spoils. The combination of this deadly team is set to further engage in reckless borrowing as evidenced in the more than doubling of Ghana’s public debt from GHS120 billion at the beginning of 2017 to about GHS300 billion by the end of 2020. In addition to the about GHS180 billion increase in Ghana’s public debt, about GHS70 billion of the end 2016 debt of GHS120 billion were refinanced and in some instances re-profiled between 2017 and 2020”, Mr Adongo said at the time.
According to the opposition MP, it meant that a total of about GHS250 billion of the government’s borrowing programme “was carried out in the last four years with Ken Ofori-Atta’s Databank acting as his transaction advisors”.
“The accrued fees shared by the transaction advisors, including Databank, is estimated at 0.35% of the borrowing programme of the government. That is about GHS875 million fees paid by Ghana to these transaction advisors”.
“No wonder Ghana is bleeding from excessive reckless borrowing without any meaningful benefits to the suffering taxpayers”, he added.
However, Danquah Institute founder Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, at the time, denied the allegation.
He said in a tweet: “In 2020, Adongo lied that ALA took $2m in fees on gold monetisation work”.
“Now, he claims Databank $ Black Star stand to make over GHS210m in fees”, Mr Otchere-Darko noted.
“A big misleading lie!” he said.
“To generate GHS210m in fees, a bond market specialist would have to sell bonds worth over GHS42bn to investors!” he added.
Also, in 2018, Mr Adongo, in a letter titled: ‘Databank must be withdrawn as TA to Ministry of Finance,’ said industry watchers and well-meaning Ghanaians needed to be “concerned” about the development, “especially given the things that unfolded at the Ministry of Finance with regard to public bond issuance since the assumption into office of Mr Ofori-Atta”.
“It lends credence to growing disquiet in the financial sector that family and friends are having a better part of government-related businesses, not track record, competence and clout,” he stated.
According to him, Barclays Bank, Ghana, Standard Chartered Bank, Ghana and Strategic African Securities (SAS) used to be the book runners for the BoG.
However, he said Databank was used to nudge off SAS due to Mr Ofori-Atta’s interest in the investment bank he co-founded.
“It is disgusting to note that Databank, which is the baby of the current finance minister, is now a book runner at the Bank of Ghana (BoG). It is instructive to note that the presence of Databank in the transactions advisor team puts the minister of finance in a potential conflict of interest situation,” Mr Adongo said at the time.
During his vetting as a ministerial nominee in 2021, Mr Adu Boahen told parliament’s Appointment Committee: “As I mentioned earlier, I resigned from the board and the management of Black Star Brokerage in 2017. I have no role and do not participate in its business dealings”.
In addition to the several denials, the ministry of finance also issued a statement in which it said: “The selection of the Primary Dealers [PDs] and Bond Market Specialists [BMSs] is an automatic process based on market performance and historical secondary market trading activity which is publicly available and cannot be manipulated by the Ministry of Finance [MoF] or the Bank of Ghana [BoG]”.
“Since 1996, the ministry of finance, with the Bank of Ghana, has developed and implemented various policies which affect the issuance and trading of government of Ghana debt securities (treasuries and bonds). The ultimate objectives of these policies are to develop an efficient fixed income market, strengthen the capacity of local institutions and deepen financial intermediation”, the MoF statement noted.
It said Databank and Black Star Brokerage were two of some nine firms that had been selected by BoG/MoF as bond market specialists and not advisors to MoF.
When Mr Ofori-Atta appeared before parliament’s bipartisan committee to defend himself over the allegation and six others, he saidhe has always meant well for the people of Ghana ever since he became finance minister.
“Since the Akufo-Addo government came into office in 2017, everything we have sought to do was aimed at making the lives of the people better”, he testified on Friday, 18 November 2022, adding: “We have been focused on this vision to improve lives and in the first four years, our efforts were leading to a realisation of the vision”.
However, he said: “Today, I acknowledge our economy is facing difficulties and the people of Ghana are enduring hardships”.
“As the person [that] President AKufo-Addo has put in charge of this economy, I feel the pain personally, professionally and in my soul”, Mr Ofori-Atta noted.
“I see and feel the terrible impact of rising prices of goods and services on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Ghanaians, I feel the stress of running a business, but it is the strength and perseverance of the Ghanaian people that inspire me and my colleagues in government every morning”.
“That is what gives me the strength to press on and to find solutions and relief for Ghanaians to the myriad of problems that our country and the rest of the world are facing, especially since March 2020”.
“Co-chairs, let me use this opportunity to say to the Ghanaian people what I believe, with courage, every finance minister around the world, may wish to say to their people now: ‘I am truly sorry’”, he apologised.
Before his apology though, Mr Ofori-Atta took a swipe at the minority caucus for not being thorough with their allegations, after the committee excused him from testifying to and answering questions on grounds one and three over constitutional reasons.
“Co-chairs, it is a very difficult process and according to my understanding of parliamentary history, this might be the first censure of a minister, so, it must be very grace issues that we are having to address. It’s, therefore, unfortunate that in the co-chair’s submission of the two grounds that have been struck out, it sounds to me like there was not a thorough review of the grounds, as should have been, but to bring somebody for censure, would require that these things are done with absolute thoroughness but I’m pleased with the decision that has been made”, Mr Ofori-Atta noted.
The seven grounds for the censure motion are despicable conflict of interest by benefitting from Ghana’s economic crisis, unconstitutional withdrawals from the consolidated fund to build a national cathedral, illegal payment of oil revenues to an offshore account, deliberate and dishonest misreporting of economic data to parliament, fiscal recklessness leading to the crash of the Ghana cedi, alarming incompetence and frightening ineptitude resulting in the collapse of the Ghanaian economy and gross mismanagement of the Ghanaian economy, which has brought about untold hardships.