The controversial contract awarded to a private firm by the Electoral Commission (EC) for the printing of the Statement of Polls and Declaration of Results Forms – popularly called Pink Sheets – during the crucial general elections almost a year ago, is resurfacing.
This is because a petitioner, who is seeking the removal of the EC chairperson, Charlotte Osei, has claimed that the EC boss put herself in a conflict of interest situation when she awarded the contract to Aerovote Security Printing (Ghana) Limited to print the pink sheets.
According to Douglas Seidu, who is a lawyer by profession, Ms Charlotte Osei, has strong business links with the Director of Aerovote and is interpreting that to mean a situation of conflict of interest and had ‘arranged’ the deal even before the procurement process opened.
“The respondent patently ignored a conflict of interest situation when she advocated, ensured and superintended over a contract that was awarded to Aerovote Security Printing (Ghana) Limited, whose Director used to be a client of Prime Attorneys, a company owned by the Respondent (EC Boss),” the lawyer said in his petition to President Akufo-Addo, which has since been forwarded to the Chief Justice for action.
“I have seen prior contractual correspondence between the respondent, Ms Tutua (Manager of Prime Attorneys) and the Director of Aerovote Security Printing (Ghana) Limited that suggests that the respondent arranged the contract at the blind side of the EC at a time when the procurement process had not begun,” part of the petition – a copy of which is in possession of DAILY GUIDE – reads.
Mr. Seidu is seeking the removal of Mrs. Charlotte Osei on grounds of breach of public procurement practices and provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 633) as amended, gross financial mismanagement, as well as conflict of interest.
It would be recalled that in the heat of the election processes, there was public outcry over the award of the pink sheets contract to Aerovote, which some critics claimed it was inflated when the GH¢7.2 million price was revealed by the commission.
At that time, the contention was that some local companies were said to be willing to execute the same contract for less but the EC allegedly ignored them and gave it to Aerovote, although Mrs. Charlotte Osei had variously insisted that her outfit wanted a value-for-money transaction.
The actual tender at the opening was GH¢8.95 million, which the EC announced Aerovote – a company that was bankrupt as at 2013 but relocated to Ghana sometime in November 2015 – as the winner; but by the time it reached the public, the amount had changed to GH¢7.2 million.
When the then opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) raised issues about the propriety of Aerovote’s contractual obligations, the Communications Director at the EC, Eric Kofi Dzakpasu, issued a statement condemning the NPP for raising what he deemed ‘false’ alarm.
“It is false that Aerovote was awarded a contract worth US$8.95 million for the printing of the Statement of Polls and Declaration of Results Forms. The contract awarded to Aerovote by the Commission is way below US$2 million in value (GH¢7.2 million),” he said among other things in the statement.
The EC, at the time, did not appear to explain to the public how it ended up with GH¢7.2 million as the contract sum, after Aerovote had quoted GH¢8.9 million at the opening of the actual tender.
According to the procurement rules, any transaction worth more than GH¢1 million should automatically go through the Central Tender Board for concurrent approval, but in this pink sheet contract, which the EC says cost the taxpayer GH¢7.2 million, it does not appear that that rule was followed.
The EC boss, in a controversial letter to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) in September 2016 asking the authority to re-open the process and admit Aerovote to be part of the process, had laid emphasis on the issue of value-for-money as her basis for getting the company in.
Curiously, the EC as far back as October 2015 had written to PPA about the procurement of electoral materials, including the pink sheets, and had presented a list excluding Aerovote, as the companies that were going to be part of the processes.
However, eyebrows were raised in September 2016 – one clear year after the submission of the list of companies – when Mrs Charlotte Osei wrote again to the PPA asking the authority to include Aerovote in the process.
A source told DAILY GUIDE last year that he believed that as at October 2015 when the EC boss was writing to the PPA to submit the list of companies to be engaged in the tendering process, Aerovote was not even registered in Ghana.
The source further said that Aerovote’s selection appears to be in conflict with the procurement laws because the tender laws say that every participating company must have two years’ account (balance) sheet but that cannot be said to have been done.
The EC boss clarified the issues on BBC in the heat of the election campaign in 2016 when she put up a spirited defence for Aerovote, saying, “The company has always printed them (pink sheets) for us and has now relocated to Ghana which made their pricing better for us.
“This time, we did not have to bear the high freight charges that we would have had to bear and also the time for shipping.”
By William Yaw Owusu