Muntaka Mubarak Mohammed has been covered – not cleared. Last night, Mr. Mubarak tendered in his resignation as Youth and Sports and President Mills gladly accepted it. That’s ironic considering that he resigned on the same day government issued a statement which suggested that he had been exonerated of allegations that he had made irregular and senseless expense claims. Government’s position is based on the report of a National Security Agency investigation into the allegations.
On one hand, the report stridently defends Mr. Mubarak. It even goes to the extent of asserting that a former director at the ministry, Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah, teamed up with Mr. Mubarak’s main accuser “to create problems for the minister”. “Mr. Adim Odoom [the accuser] typed his allegations on Dr. Owusu Ansah’s laptop in Dr. Owusu Ansah’s office,” the government statement says.
On the other hand, the report confirms some of the allegations that were made against Mr. Mubarak. For example, he actually made claims for diapers and mouthwash and took more per diem than he was due. He also has in his possession a government vehicle – the one his accuser claimed he had allocated to his wife and he also charged the state for flying his family from Accra to Kumasi.
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On all of these, the minister’s wrongs are incredibly blamed on his accusers. On the issue of per diem for example, the presidency takes the untenable position that the “amount was authorized by the Chief Director, Mr. Albert Anthony Ampong, but the Minister had no knowledge of what his per diem for the travel was supposed to be.”
On Mr. Mubarak’s decision to make the state pay for his family’s air fares from Accra to Kumasi the report states: “The Minister requested for he and his family to travel to Kumasi by air. The Chief Director endorsed the request by the Minister. The request was backed with a memo. The Chief Director did not advise the Minister that his family was not entitled to these tickets.”
The government therefore has taken the position that by failing to advise the minister, the chief director engaged in some wrongdoing. This is utter rubbish. In any case, why would government take the minister’s word that he wasn’t advised (or he didn’t know)? What if he was actually advised and he failed to heed wise counsel?
The reason is simple. Politicians have a way of covering their own. Government has been so embarrassed by this scandal it needed to make an example of someone. However, making an example of the man who should actually be punished will give fodder to the opposition and that’s the last thing the young administration needs. So they decided to pounce on the whistle blower (the hapless accountant) and the chief director of the ministry. They have been interdicted and the head of the civil service has been instructed to apply “appropriate sanctions against them”.
Meanwhile, the (former) minister – who illegally made claims for mouthwash and diapers – walks away with a mere reprimand and an order to refund the monies he forced the government to spend on his girlfriend during a trip to Germany.
“The President is dissatisfied with the conduct of the Minister in his decision to embark on the German trip with Ms. Edith Zinayela and in particular in his decision to apply for a visa for her in circumstances that amounted to a mis-description of her official position,” the government statement says. “The decision for the Ministry to pay for Ms. Zinayela’s visa fee was equally improper. It was an error of judgment on the part of the Minister from which it is hoped all other appointees will learn.”
I think “mis-description” amounts to fraud and on this score alone, Mr. Mubarak deserves to be punished. He should have been pushed out of office but he has simply been helped to jump off – just to save his face and save the government from further embarrassment, his grave misdeeds watered down to “an error of judgment”.
He should also be sanctioned for making those illegal expense claims – whether he knew or not. Last time I checked, innocence was not an excuse. Is it now an excuse under the NDC? So now anyone can take whatever they like and turn around to say that they were not aware of what they could or could not take?
Mr. Mubarak unwittingly (and very foolishly) gave the president an opportunity to show us that he (the president) is more serious about dealing with corruption than his predecessor did. That opportunity has been squandered and now public officials have even been given a couple of extra excuses to indulge themselves. With “I didn’t know” and “I wasn’t advised” and they can practically do anything they want.
The president has also silenced a good number of those who were getting ready to blow the whistle on corrupt officials by ordering that the (former) minister’s main accuser and the chief director of the ministry should be sanctioned.
It is, indeed, “outrageous” – as the presidency says – that the “Chief Director and the Principal Accountant, if they are to be believed, paid out sums of money as large as $10,000 on two separate occasions without any documentation and without any evidence whatsoever.”
But this should surprise no one. I am taking the position that Muntaka went to the ministry like a dictator, making demands left, right and centre without listening to anyone. It is possible that the monies were paid to him and he pompously refused to write receipts for them.
If I make payment to my boss from the company kitty and he refuses to give me a receipt, what do I do? I either shut the hell up or report to his superior. In this case, the accountant reported the case to the (former) minister’s superior and this is a crime for which he is interdicted, with the sceptre of sanctions looming over his head? The chief director confirms the accountant’s claims that he took monies to be given to the minister. It’s the minister who claims that he took no such monies. Once again, his word against his accusers. Reading the investigative the report, I want to stand behind the accusers. The decision to sanction Mr. Odoom for not taking receipts from the minister sound absurd to me.
It’s equally absurd that the president is annoyed with the chief director and the accountant for allowing the minister to make expense claims for monies he spent on mouthwash and diapers.
“The Chief Director or the Principal Accountant should have vetted the receipt and exempted items which were not allowable,” the presidency says. “Items like baby oil, baby food and mouth wash should have been disallowed even though they formed a seemingly insignificant part of the bill. The Minister on discovering that this amount had been refunded demanded to withdraw the receipt but the Principal Accountant Mr. Adim Odoom assured him that everything was in order and that he had paid the refund from the imprest which was normal.”
If I had been in the (former) minister’s shoes – as stupid as I am – I would have insisted on the right thing being done despite the accountant’s assurances that everything “was in order”. He didn’t do what he knew to be right. For this as well, he should have been punished and not let off the hook in such a manner.
So Mr. Mubarak has gotten a white-wash and whistle-blowing in this country has been dealt a terrible blow. Government’s handling of this matter will effectively force a lot prospective whistle-blowers – in the public service, especially – to tuck their whistles in their pockets. You dare not bring that whistle anywhere near your mouth. Otherwise, the dogs of national security will be set loose on you. They will intimidate you and turn around to accuse you of wrongdoing – for failing to advise your boss on what he can or cannot take or do. They will take your boss’ words over yours and leave you to rot under interdiction. If this is “probity and accountability” then I will have none of it!