In spite of the financial constraints facing the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) Secretariat, some workers within it have turned the Programme into a gold mine, exploring all avenues to build a war chest.
Painstaking investigations conducted by The Chronicle into the Programme have revealed that a lot of the money supposedly paid to caterers who are believed to have been contracted by the GSFP end up in the pockets of some workers at the Secretariat.
These workers, the investigations established, either have close relations with those who control the purse, or those who formulate policies and programmes to run the Secretariat.
One strategy deployed to get their share of the money is to flood the payment file of caterers at a specific location with ghost names whose e-Zwitch accounts are directly operated by them.
This enables the beneficiary workers to withdraw the unearned payments to the detriment of the State. One particular location that caught the attention of The Chronicle is the Agona West Municipal Assembly, where one David Essandoh, a former Spokesperson for the then Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Cynthia Mamle Morrison, came up in this alleged malpractice.
Essandoh is still a worker at the GSFP Secretariat, where he is part of the Monitoring & Supervision Team. The young man is a resident of Swedru in the Agona West Constituency.
On the face of records available to The Chronicle, Essandoh allegedly flooded the payment files of caterers in three schools, namely Methodist A & B Primary Schools and Holy Quran A Primary School in Agona Swedru.
In the 1st, 2nd and 3rd quarters of the 2019/2020 academic year, Essandoh was allegedly paid GH¢183,435.00. The money was paid on three different occasions into e-Zwitch number 318829426-3 bearing the name David Essandoh.
Strikingly, he changed his name to beat the system. For instance, on the payment file, David Essandoh is captured as a Caterer with USN number 318829426-3. His name was captured again on the same Caterers’ file as David Essandoh with USN number 3188294263.
Surprising, the name David Essandoh was repeated on the Caterers’ payment file, thereby, making his name appear three times on the payment file with the same USN number. The three schools in question, The Chronicle investigations revealed, were not captured under the GSFP during the said period, and therefore, there was no contract between the GSFP and David Essandoh as a caterer for those schools.
There are others at the Secretariat believed to belong to this cartel who are having their names on the Caterers’ payment file and have ghost schools that they withdraw monies for no cooking done.
The Ghana Anti-Fraud Alert, a group made up of some private investigators, which The Chronicle came across as investigating the same issue, has written to the National Coordinator of the Ghana School Feeding Programme, demanding a probe into the operations of the state agency.
According to the group, no cooking was done in the aforementioned three schools during the 2019/2020 academic year to warrant the payment of GH¢183,435.00 to David Essandoh.
In their letter to Mrs. Gertrude Quashigah, dated Tuesday, July 12, 2022, and signed by the Head of Investigations, Desmond Opando Effeh, the group concluded that “David Essandoh was paid as a Caterer for these schools fraudulently, contrary to Section 16 of Act 29 of 1960.”
According to the group, Essandoh was able to allegedly defraud the accounts of the GSFP because of his relationship with the Secretariat as a worker.
Essandoh, the group further revealed, was still working at the GSFP Secretariat and sometimes takes part in the monitoring and supervision activities of the Secretariat, stressing that his continued working with the GSFP showed signs of condoning by the Coordinator of the GSFP, and as well undermining the President’s effort of fighting against corruption.
Worried about the occurrence, the group is demanding the immediate suspension of David Essandoh from working in any shape or form with the GSFP without pay.
They also want the Coordinator of the GSFP to report Mr. Essandoh to the police for an investigation into the matter. Should the Coordinator of the GSFP fail to grant their wish, the group noted that they would consider her to have sanctioned such alleged fraudulent activities at the Secretariat.
When The Chronicle contacted Essandoh for his reaction to the revelations on Saturday, July 23, 2022, at about 13:39 GMT, he was in a noisy environment and asked the reporter to call back in an hour’s time.
Since then, several calls to Essandoh weren’t attended to. Questions sent to him via his Whatsapp account have also not been answered, although he has viewed it.
When the reporter contacted the National Coordinator of the GSFP, Mrs. Gertrude Quashigah, on Sunday, August 7, 2022, to find out if she had received a petition from the Ghana Anti-Fraud Alert alleging fraud against Essandoh, she answered in the affirmative.
She also confirmed that Essandoh was worked as the Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection when Cynthia Morrison was the Minister.
Asked what steps she had initiated to recover the alleged fraudulently earned money from Essandoh, she said: “When I received the letter from the Ghana Anti-Fraud Alert about three weeks ago, I minuted it and sent it to all the various departmental heads, including the M & E Director, Accounts and HR, so that we meet this boy; so that he pays the money. So, he is aware that he has to refund the money, and he also knows that I will take the money.
I have also written to Essandoh to also appear before a Disciplinary Committee to tell us how he came about it,” she noted.
The National Coordinator of the GNSFP further revealed that her outfit was still studying the report filed by her monitoring team that uncovered the alleged wrongdoing during their monitoring exercise in the Central Region.
“We are assessing the report to determine whether he, indeed, cooked for the schools allocated to him or otherwise. But he knows that I will take the money from him, and as for that one, there is no two ways about it.
After taking the money, I will then write a report and send it to all the various places for them to know that Essandoh has paid the money, and if there is any punishment, we have to let him face the full rigours of the law,” she asserted.
Sounding so worried about the uncovered rot, Mrs. Quashigah noted that she was bent on ensuring that the matter got to its logical conclusion, including calling for Essandoh’s arrest if found guilty by the Disciplinary Committee.
For the past three years, Mrs. Quashigah has tirelessly been working on streamlining the GSFP to have an efficient system where issues of ghost names would be a thing of the past.
She told The Chronicle that the GSFP, since its inception about 18 years ago, had been using a manual system to validate claims that were submitted to her office. However, she was bent on changing the status quo by digitalising all their operations, believing that was the best way to go in ensuring an effective system, which could easily be monitored by any interested party, including the media.
“Digitalisation is long overdue. When I assumed office in 2019, I made a proposal for the GNSFP to be digitalised. You cannot get things correct using a manual system. I am committed to this project. In fact, we have almost paid for the software and contracted a contractor to do that. I am so happy that the Vice-President has also taken it up.
We will launch a pilot project in the Greater Accra Region to assess the 28 districts in the Region and see how all these information have been captured. We will then scale it up to cover the rest of the 15 regions when things go on as planned,” she concluded.
By Stephen Odoi-Larbi