The full trial of former Director-General of Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Ernest Thompson and four others accused of causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GH¢66 million has officially begun at an Accra High Court.
The prosecution last Friday called its first witness in the trial which relates to the purchasing of an Operational Business Suite (OBS) to manage the data of SSNIT during the Mahama-led NDC administration.
The witness, Godson Kwadzo Ladzekpo, a long-serving employee of SSNIT, led in evidence by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, tendered a witness statement which was admitted as his evidence-in-chief.
He began reading the witness statement part of which clarified in detail the need for the purchase of the OBS which was initiated in 2010 and the methods used by the Trust in doing so.
He tendered in evidence documents relating to the purchase of the OBS, some of which included Tender document for the purchase, an Addendum on OBS tender, Tender evaluation report and a Functional Specification Document (FSD) without any objection from the defence lawyers.
They, however, opposed the tendering of a functional chain document which was submitted by Juliet Hassana Kramer, a businesswoman who is also on trial, to SSNIT, on the ground that it was not signed by any of the parties.
The objection was challenged by the DPP who insisted that the vendor who submitted the documents is aware that it lacked a signature page and so could not even have been signed.
“But this is what A3 (Mrs. Kramer) submitted to SSNIT and this is what SSNIT seeks to tender in court. On the basis of Section 51 of the Evidence Act, we say that it is a relevant document to assist in determining the charges levelled against the accused persons and on the basis of relevancy it must be admitted.”
She conceded that relevance evidence is affected by authenticity or authentication but proposed that, that goes to the weight that will be put on the document which the witness said was received in this condition – unsigned, without a signature page.
The court presided over by Justice Henry Anthony Kwofie, a Court of Appeal judge sitting as an additional High Court judge, then ruled that the document contained proprietary information bordering on confidentiality and is admissible.
He, however, noted that what weight would be attached to the document would be determined by the court.
The case has been adjourned to February 3, 2022 for the witness to continue reading his witness statement.
Meanwhile, defence lawyers have encouraged the prosecution to try to stick to their schedule of bringing witnesses before the court.
They raised the concern after the prosecution called a different witness other than the one they had previously informed the court they were bringing.
Samuel Codjoe, counsel for Mr. Thompson, who raised the concern, noted that they agree there was no law spelling out the mode of calling witnesses but throughout the Christmas period they were preparing for one Mary Nagetey, who the prosecution was going to call.
“Where you inform the court together with the defence that you are going to call a particular witness then as much as possible that witness should be called, more especially when we are dealing with witnesses who are tendering hundreds of pages of documentary evidence which require extensive preparation.”
He added that “the evidence of this witness (Mr. Ladzekpo) together with the exhibits run into over thousands of pages which require numerous consultations and meetings with my client. We are not raising this to ask for an adjournment but we want to bring this to the notice of the prosecution so that it doesn’t become the norm.
The DPP responded that they found out that Mrs. Nagetey would not be able to come last Friday, and in order not to delay the trial they prepared Mr. Ladzekpo knowing that they had done disclosure several months ahead.
“We made calls to all the accused persons except the first accused who we were unable to reach to inform them of the change and to enable them also prepare for the testimony of the PW1,” she added.
Justice Kwofie noted that he also took the trouble to read the witness statement of Mary Nagetey.
Apart from the ex-SSNIT boss, then General Manager of Management Information Systems at SSNIT, Caleb Kwaku Afaglo, then General Counsel of SSNIT, Peter Hayibor, as well as John Hagan Mensah, Information Technology Infrastructure Manager of SSNIT and Juliet Hassana Kramer are on trial.
The five are facing 29 counts of conspiracy, willfully causing financial loss to the Republic, defrauding by false pretences as well as the contravention of Public Procurement Act contrary to Section 92(2)(a) of the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663).
The charges generally related to payments made under the Operational Business Suite project which the prosecution said had already been paid for under the controversial OBS contract.
Per the new charges as signed by the DPP, the ex-SSNIT boss Ernest Thompson, John Hagan Mensah, Juliet Hassana Kramer, and Caleb Afaglo have been charged with 18 counts of willfully causing financial loss of $14,803,299.5 to the state between September 2013 and April 2016.
The charge sheet indicated that Ernest Thompson, John Hagan Mensah, Juliet Hassana Kramer and Caleb Afaglo between December 2015 and April 2016 caused a financial loss of $5,465,909.14 to the state by causing payment to be made under “Change Order 7 for the purchase of IBM advanced hardware (2 Enterprise Class IBM Power8 E870, 2 Clustered V9000 flash systems, 1 V9000 system for disaster) recovery for Operational Business Suite project when same had already been paid under the Operational Business Suite Contract.”
Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Kramer and Peter Hayibor are also facing a charge of willfully causing a financial loss of $5,141,905.66 to the state by back-dating the warranty and Service Level Agreement of the Operational Business Suite project between January and September 2016.
Again, Ernest Thompson, John Hagan Mensah and Juliet Hassana Kramer have been accused of willfully causing financial loss of $2,292,048.23 to the state when they caused payment to be made “under Change Order 2 for the upgrade of hardware for the Operational Business Suite project when same had already been paid under the Operational Business Suite contract.”
Change of Order
The three have also been accused of having between October 2013 and April 2014 causing financial loss of $1,079,334 to the state when they caused payments to be made under “Change Order 3 for digitisation of existing member records for the Operational Business Suite project when same had been already paid under the Operational Business Suite Contract.
Further charges indicate that Mr. Thompson, Mr. Mensah and Mrs. Kramer between June 2014 and January 2015, willfully caused financial loss of $100,895.70 to the state by causing payment to be made on invoice presented by Mrs. Kramer for the procurement of hardware related to member registration and re-registration exercises for the Operational Business Suite project when same had already been paid for under the Operational Business Suite Contract.
The three again are accused of having between August 2015 and September 2015 willfully causing financial loss of $502,227.00 to the state by causing payments to be made on invoice presented by Mrs. Kramer under Change Order B for the supply and installation of 45 Fujitsu Fi-6770 and Fi-6800 scanners for the Operational Business Suite project when same had already been paid for under the Operational Business Suite contract.
Perfect Business System
Juliet Hassana Kramer is also facing charges of having between October 2011 and May 2017 defrauding SSNIT of the sum of $66,783,148.08 under a contract to Perfect Business Systems (PBS) Limited, a non-existent company and Silverlake Structured Services by representing that she was the Chief Executive Officer of PBS and Silverlake, authorised to sign on behalf of Silverlake, the tenderer of the OBS contract.
Mr. Thompson is also facing a charge of contravening the PPA Act by approving the sum of $9,536,652.50 for “Change Request for the Operational Business Suite Project, an amount which is above the threshold of the head of the entity.”
Caleb Afaglo is facing charges of possession and altering of forged Bachelor of Science in Computer Studies from Georgia Institute of Technology.