The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, has insisted that the decision by Dr. Casiel Ato Forson, a former Deputy Minister of Finance under the erstwhile John Mahama government, to write to the Bank of Ghana (BoG) authorising the establishment of Letters of Credit (LCs) which led to the importation of defective ambulances breached the terms of the contract between the Government of Ghana and Big Sea General Trading Limited, a Dubai-based company.
The minister further reiterated that the Ministry of Health at the time did not approve the payments to be made under the contract, as there are no documents at the ministry to confirm the approval.
Again, Mr. Agyeman-Manu told the court that he is not aware of claims that it was the Controller and Accountant-General that wrote to the Bank of Ghana to establish the Letters of Credit which formed the basis of payment of money to Big Sea, adding that the letter by the Controller and Accountant-General was in reference to an earlier one written by Dr. Ato Forson asking for the establishment of the LCs.
The minister, who is the prosecution’s fourth witness, was responding to questions while under cross-examination by Dr Abdul Basit Aziz Bamba, counsel for Ato Forson, who is on trial together with Sylvester Anemana, a former Chief Director at the Ministry of Health, as well as private businessman, Richard Jakpa, for allegedly wilfully causing financial loss of €2.37 million to the state.
Counsel for Ato Forson suggested to the witness that his client did not authorise payment under the contract, but Agyeman-Manu disagreed with him and referred to letters written by Dr. Ato Forson requesting for the establishment of LCs, adding that the means of payment for the transaction was by LCs, so requesting for LCs to be established means authorising payment, re-echoing his position when he was led in evidence-in-chief by the Attorney General, Godfred Yeboah Dame.
Counsel then suggested to the witness that there is correspondence from the Ministry of Health that the ministry had taken delivery of the ambulances contrary to his evidence that the state rejected the ambulances.
Mr. Agyeman-Manu, however, rejected the assertion and told the court that letters written by previous Ministers of Health indicated that the ambulances imported were not fit for purpose, and had refused to take custody of them. He added that to the best of his knowledge, Big Sea in its letters promised to rectify the defects but that has not been done.
The minister also told the court that former Minister of Health, Alex Segbefia, in one of his letters had indicated that Big Sea had imported 30 ambulances which did not meet the specifications stipulated in the contract and, therefore, ordered the suspension of further payment until the matter was resolved in court.
Dr. Aziz Bamba suggested that in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time, the contract between government and Big Sea was valid, and they will be challenged to put up a defence if the company decided to take legal action, and the witness agreed.
Mr. Agyeman-Manu, however, disagreed with the lawyer that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are bound by the legal opinions of the Attorney General by indicating that the MDAs only take the advice of the AG and in this particular case, the then Minister of Health, Sherry Ayittey, wrote back to say that her ministry did not have funds to pay for the transaction and, therefore, could not execute same.
Counsel for Ato Forson suggested that the BoG invited the Ministry of Health to approve payment for the transaction but Mr. Agyeman-Manu replied that, the document referred to by counsel is rather an invitation by BoG for Ministry of Health to come and inspect shipping documents received by them.