Even before the dust settles on the debate over the 2011 budget statement presented to Parliament by the Finance and Economic Planning Minister, Dr Kwabena Duffuor, over a week ago, issues have started emerging about the supposed austerity measures being put in place by government to salvage ordinary Ghanaians from their woes.
Though officials of the Ministries of Information and Finance are not forthcoming with details of a workshop put together by the two ministries to educate over 300 district and regional information officers and some NDC foot-soldiers on the budget, investigations conducted by Daily Guide indicate that government has spent well over ¢4billion of the taxpayer’s money on this workshop, mostly on hotel bills.
These include expenditure incurred on their hotel accommodation, food and per diem of the officers, supposed party foot-soldiers and spokespersons involved who were brought from all over the country during their three-day stay in Accra from Wednesday, November 17 to Saturday, November 20, 2010.
Investigations have revealed that the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning had initially budgeted for only 120 Information officers to be educated at the workshop but like the infamous Stan Dogbe ‘hampers’ scandal, the figure had to be changed for them to include Budget officers, cinema van commentators and party foot-soldiers who were branded as spokespersons.
The over 300 officers were distributed into five different hotels in the capital including the Mensvic Hotel, Protea (now PH Hotel), Angie Hill Hotel, all located at East Legon, Oak Plaza, Spintex Road and Travel Express. The workshop itself was a day’s event and was hosted at Grand Mensvic Hotel.
Checks conducted by Daily Guide revealed that the least that most of these hotels charge for a day’s stay including bed and breakfast was between $200 and $250 for their normal or standard rooms and charges not less than between $270 and $300 for their suites.
Most of these hotels also charge not less than $50 on meals each passing day.
Though it is not clear whether government was given any waivers or discounts by the hotels, it is estimated that it spent not less than $180,000 on their hotel bills alone, whilst it also spent over $45,000 on the meals for the three days that they stayed in Accra.
All put together, government is estimated to have expended $225,000 including workshop incidentals ,whilst it is said to have budgeted to spend GH¢200,000 on the education campaign on the 2011 budget as confirmed by Deputy Director of the Information Services Department in Charge of operations, Elvis Adanyina.
Head of Public Relations at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Cecilia Akwetey could not give specific details on the amount spent on the workshop organized for the Information officers since her outfit was yet to receive invoices covering the expenses from all the hotels.
Asked how much was spent on hotel, she said, “You can go and check from the hotels because if I tell you, you may not believe it.”
On the issue of how much was budgeted for the workshop, she had this to say, “What we budgeted for is…I cannot disclose that to you because we are not working with that again.
Initially, we budgeted for 120 officials but the Information people insisted that they wanted all the district information officers, all the cinema van commentators to participate so it went up to 300 plus. So whatever we did at first was nullified.”
For this reason, Ms. Akwetey, a former journalist, said the Ministry could only tell the amount involved when it received all the hotel bills by the end of this week, saying, “We are now collating whatever we did… so I can’t hazard any guess.”
Last year, Presidential aide Stanislav Xoese Dogbe collected GH¢169,000, the equivalent of ¢1.69 billion in a ‘Ghana Must Go Bag’ under the pretext of an intensive public education campaign for the 2010 budget.
However, the money ended up in a few pockets as Mr. Dogbe, who describes himself as a special aide to President Mills, said he used it to buy Christmas hampers for selected journalists and to influence articles published in the media. The then Information Services Department (ISD) Director, Nee Agiri Barnor, was kept in the dark about the money cashed for the so-called education campaign.
Nee Barnor has since been sacked from the ISD for allegedly leaking information about the ‘Dogbegate’ scandal to Daily Guide.