ChaLoG accuses gov’t of inflating lockdown food expenditure

The Chamber for Local Governance (ChaLoG) has accused the government of not being truthful with the people of Ghana in relation to the total amount of money spent on feeding the “vulnerable” in society during the three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19.

Movement was restricted in Greater Kumasi, Accra and Tema for three weeks by the government during the period.

The Ministry of Gender and social protection was tasked by the government to distribute food to the poor during that time.

On 29 July 2020, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta clarified to Parliament that the government used GHS12 million to feed the vulnerable.

“It is truly unfortunate that an attempt has been made to politicise the issue of providing food for our brothers and sisters in need during the lockdown”, adding: “It is also unfortunate that the impression has been created that the total amount of GHS54 million was used for hot meals over the three-week lockdown period.”

Mr Ofori-Atta explained: “We estimated we would need an amount of approximately GHS40 million to provide hot meals to the vulnerable at GHS5 per pack during the lockdown period. However, we spent GHS12 million on hot meals including the cost of distribution.”

He noted that the “government budgeted GHS40.3 million for basic uncooked food items. We spent GHS42.2 million”.

“It is this GHS12 million spent on hot meals and the 42 million spent on uncooked food items that gave a total of GHS54 million as stated in the mid-year review”.

“The GHS12.1 million for hot meals served 150,000 people during the lockdown [period], including the cost of transportation and other operational cost.”

However, at a press conference in Accra on Tuesday, 11 August 2020, ChaLoG said there are “inconsistencies” in the pronouncements of government officials on the amount spent.

ChaLoG said it has noted “with deep concern”, the government’s “desperate” attempt, through the mid-year budget presented to Parliament by Mr Ofori-Atta, to understate the actual expenditure by coming out with GHS54.3 million as the cost incurred to feed the ‘vulnerable’ people within the MMDAs that were locked down.

ChaLoG also said Communication Director of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) told Ghanaians on 13 April 2020 that the government was spending GHS2 million daily under the social intervention programme on the hot meals that were being provided in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic at a cost of GHS5 for each pack of food for feeding over 400,000 people.

“It’s undoubtedly obvious to ChaLoG and, indeed, all discerning Ghanaians that the government is simply not being truthful to Ghanaians, as it spent in excess of GHS3.6 million (exclusive of cost of distribution) on one hot meal a day rather than the GHS 12.1 million that was reported as actual expenditure on one hot meal a day and cost of distribution.”

ChaLoG further continued that more serious is the “inflated figure of GHS 42.2 million” being the “purported expenditure for the distribution of uncooked or raw food items to 470,000 Households during the partial lockdown period”.

“Once again, the government is telling Ghanaians that on each household, it incurred an expenditure of GHS 89.79p. Displayed before us here were the exact items distributed to each of the 470,000 households, the items as you can see here are half olonka of local brown rice (GHS 9), half olonka of beans (GHS 9), half olonka of gari (GHS 6), ten sachets of tomato paste (GHS 10 @ GHS 1), one sachet of cooking oil (GHS 8), and four tins of sardine (GHS 12 @ GHS 3) totalling GHS 54. These are the prevailing retail market prices and not wholesale prices of food items that were distributed per household in the MMDAs that were locked down”.

“It is, once again, obvious that the government should have spent GHS 25,380,000 (GHS 54 * 470,000) and NOT GHS 42,200,000 as Ghanaians are being made to believe, because the reported amount spent on the distribution of uncooked food has been heavily inflated in excess of GHS16 million”.

ChaLoG has, therefore, indicated that “the government spent in excess of GHS 15.7 million but reported only GHS 12.1 million as expenditure for the sharing of one hot meal a day”.

Also, “the government inflated the unit cost of uncooked food items distributed to the 470,000 households in excess of GHS 16 million.”

ChaLoG added that it can “state authoritatively without any fear of equivocation that, the government is not being truthful with the people of this country pertaining to the overall amount of GHS54.3 million expenditure announced by the Finance Minister.

The chamber emphasised that it is, therefore, “convinced beyond reasonable doubt, from the aforementioned figures, that the government, from day one, purposed to fleece the good people of Ghana with these deliberate inconsistencies in churning out information and figures to simply just throw dust into our eyes, so as to have the leeway to perpetuate this level of wanton dissipation of the taxpayers’ hard-earned resources.”

ChaLoG, therefore, called on the Auditor-General’s Department, Parliament, political parties, civil society organisations and well-meaning Ghanaians “to rise up and demand strict accountability from the government relating to this obvious misuse of public funds under the cover of the Coronavirus pandemic.”

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