Before a financial aid of USD$645,000 hit the account of the Ghana Red Cross Society (GRCS), Central Region, in June 2020, the balance of that account was GHS73.87. It was not enough to fill a first-aid box.
The account was blinking red and the financial burden had become a cross the Red Cross in that region had to bear, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak when it needed money to provide essential humanitarian services.
However, when funds were paid to the Red Cross Society in Ghana, some humanitarian workers decided to enrich themselves and ignore the plight of those in whose name the financial aid was sought and received.
In eight days, USD$500,000 out of the money was gone. The account was almost depleted—soon to blink red again. This was even before the Central Region branch of the Red Cross informed the national office as had been agreed.
The Ghana chapter has been in existence for over 50 years. With a network of 800 trained volunteers across the country, it solely relies on funding from individuals and organisations to provide the needed assistance.
It was for this reason that the Mastercard Foundation, a global non-governmental organisation focused on providing financial services to people, offered the Red Cross in Ghana funds when Covid-19 hit the world.
The $645,000 was to assist the Central, Ashanti, Volta, and Western regions of Ghana with Covid-19 prevention and mitigation activities.
How the money was dissipated
A tendering and procurement “committee” was set up to get suppliers to provide the necessary resources for the execution of the mandate of the project.
This became the beginning of a cesspool of corruption and manipulation. The committee was one person, the Central Regional Branch Manager of the Ghana Red Cross, John Ekow Aidoo. The “committee” awarded the contracts to five companies without any advertisement of the bid as required by the procurement laws of Ghana and the procedures of the organisation.
The companies—Shamana Hospitality Business, Elishnat Ventures, Willroser Fortune Enterprise, Kwadan Nkunim Enterprise, and Ludikof Enterprise—were handpicked and awarded the contracts.
Information The Fourth Estate obtained from the Registrar of Companies revealed that two of the companies were linked to the Central Regional Manager of the Ghana Red Cross, who was the sole member of the “committee” that awarded the contracts.
Shamana Hospitality Business was registered on March 27, 2020, the same period when discussions about the Mastercard Foundation project began.
The business, a sole proprietorship registered as a guest house, catering services, and tourism rental services, is in the name of Ernestina Amoako, the wife of the central regional manager, John Aidoo.
Elishnat Ventures was also registered on May 6, 2020, the same period when discussions were ongoing between the Mastercard Foundation and the GRCS to implement the project.
The company, registered as a general merchant and hardware rental services, is also in the name of Ernestina Amoako, the wife of the man who awarded the contract to the company.
Our search at the Registrar of Companies on two of the companies did not find any information on them.
Another anomaly about the procurement was that all five companies were paid in full even before they supplied any item.
They were subsequently made to refund part of the money they had received to the National Office of the Ghana Red Cross Society after a review.
All five companies did not supply all the items they were required to supply under the contract, according to the report of an investigative committee set up by the Red Cross Society of Ghana to look into the procurement anomalies.
Disciplinary committee’s findings on Dr. Asamoah Darko
A three-member disciplinary committee was set up to investigate these allegations and make recommendations regarding the concerns.
The Eastern Regional Manager of the GRCS, Emelia Diana Okai, served as the chairman of the disciplinary committee while Patrick Owusu, a council member at the headquarters of the GRCS, and the GRCS’ Northern Regional Manager, Shaibu Adams, served as members.
The disciplinary committee concluded that the companies purported to have been the covid-19 suppliers were linked to the Deputy Secretary General of the GRCS, Dr. Eric Asamoah Darko; The Central Regional Manager, John Aidoo; and the Ashanti Regional Manager, Michael Asante. They were the three members who handled the Covid-19 project funded by the Mastercard Foundation.
The committee also concluded that the procurement process was abused as only Mr. Aidoo supervised the distribution of contracts without any advertisement.
The suppliers who were contracted did not supply all the goods for which they were paid to supply and were still indebted to the GRC and were required to settle such debts.
It also concluded that the three members had misappropriated huge monies from the Mastercard funds through “fraud and deceit”.
The committee recommended the retrieval of the monies.
The disciplinary committee found Dr. Asamoah culpable of “deceit and fraud” and the “mastermind” behind the scheme.
He was said to have distributed GHS10,000 to each of the five suppliers as gifts.
He is also alleged to have given GHS250,000 to a “frontman” at the Jubilee house whom he claimed fronted the Mastercard Foundation contract.
He also paid GHS522,901 to suppliers who did not deliver such goods.
The committee also found that the three also spent GHS300,000 upon a directive by Dr. Asamoah Darko.
An excerpt of the report stated, “As a national executive, he should have known better. Rather, he outwitted the national executives and deceived them into sending the project to Cape Coast.”
The committee said when the national office of the GRCS was briefed on the huge withdrawals made from the Mastercard funds, it ordered that no further money should be withdrawn. Dr. Asamoah Darko, however, ignored these warnings and led the team to withdraw more funds from the account.
The disciplinary committee asked Dr. Asamoah Darko to refund GHS1,028,801 after he declared GHS192, 901 in his possession. The committee also recommended that he should pay the amount with 25% interest by May 15, 2021, and “be summarily dismissed”.
The Committee’s findings on John Aidoo
The disciplinary committee found the Central Regional Manager of GRCS, John Aidoo, guilty of misappropriation of funds. He was said to have connived with Dr. Asamoah Darko to pose as the originator of the Mastercard project and “allowed his region to be used as a conduit for all the dirty activities on the Mastercard”.
According to the investigative committee’s report, Mr. Aidoo partnered the regional treasurer, Esther Boafo, and “signed cheques covering huge sums of money for suppliers within a very short time.”
That was not all.
He also benefitted from a GHS10,000 that Mr. Asamoah directed him to withdraw to defray expenses made on behalf of the Mastercard project.
The committee directed him to refund the GHS10,000 cedis with 25% interest.
Committee’s findings on Michael Asante
The GRCS’ Ashanti regional chairman, Michael Asante, was found not culpable of engaging in any crime. The report stated that he refused to escort Dr. Asamoah Darko to deliver the GHS250,000 to the unnamed person at the Jubilee house.
The committee, however, said he connived with Dr. Asamoah Darko and Mr. Aidoo to form “the team” and served as the treasurer for the project at the initial stage but did not sign any cheque that implicated him.
The report said he benefited from GHS10,000, which Dr. Asamoah Darko distributed to the three members of the team to defray their costs and expenditure on the Mastercard foundation project.
Responses from “the Team”
More than a year after the recommendations, The Fourth Estate has learned that the monies have not been refunded.
On October 10, when The Fourth Estate contacted Dr. Asamoah Darko for his response, he confirmed that Mastercard gave the GRCS money for a project but denied any misappropriation.
He said, “USD$500,000? And I am still in Ghana. I would have traveled long ago. It is not true, but I find it difficult to comment on that since the case is at the court and we are still battling with it.”
Despite his claim that the case was in court, all the sources The Fourth Estate contacted at the Red Cross said it was still being investigated by the police CID.
Several attempts to reach Mr. Aidoo for his side of the story proved futile but his Facebook profile describes him as the “Former Regional Manager at Ghana Red Cross Society.” This suggests he is no more serving in that regard.
The Fourth Estate sent a message to him via Facebook Messenger but there has been no response as of the time of publication.
When The Fourth Estate reached out to Mr. Asante, he could not confirm or deny whether he took the GHS10,000 and whether or not he had refunded the 25% interest as directed by the disciplinary committee.
In a WhatsApp chat with The Fourth Estate, he stated, “Please, let me advise you here, make sure people don’t use you for their lost battle to create your own battle for you.”
He added, “I can’t continue with you again since you now turn [sic] a CID. It’s up to you to do whatever pleases you but you better take my advice. It will save you a lot.”
The year-long silence by the GRCS
On October 11, 2022, The Fourth Estate contacted the chairperson of the disciplinary committee set up to decide on the report produced by the investigative team. This was to find out whether the recommendations made concerning the individuals involved had been addressed.
The chairperson Emelia Diana Okae, told The Fourth Estate that there had been no update on the issue. However, she said before those decisions were taken, Dr. Asamoah Darko, the “mastermind” of the scandal said that he was guilty of all the allegations against him.
“He took on the GRCS personally and misappropriated funds meant for humanitarian activities. And, therefore, we decided based on certain bye-laws laid down, he was supposed to be dismissed. But regarding the refund, we have not been given feedback yet.”
She said the recommendations were based on a report made by the investigative team and an audit report.
“But when we read the report, we asked ourselves questions like ah, if all these reports or investigations have been done and recommendations like these have also been made, why are the people still in place or in service?” she added.
The Fourth Estate also reached out to Samuel Kofi Addo, the former Secretary General of the GRCS. He said heads of the various departments came together to develop the situational report that was given to the disciplinary committee to decide on.
“It was at the head of department meeting that we found out about what had gone wrong so we put together a team to investigate the matter and we compiled the situational report that was given to the disciplinary committee,” he said.
He added that before his retirement in June 2022, Mr. Asamoah Darko and Mr. Aidoo had been dismissed by the organisation for the diversion of funds while the Ashanti Regional Manager, Mr. Asante, resigned.
He also said at the time of his retirement, none of the people involved had refunded the monies they were tasked by the disciplinary committee to have misused.
Mr. Addo said the case was reported to the police in 2021.
“Since then, the police have taken over the matter but we wrote to the police for a status report but didn’t get it. That was because we were under pressure from the federation [the Swiss Red Cross] to produce an update,” Mr. Addo said.
The current president of the GRCS, Kwame Gyimah Kwafo, did not pick up calls from The Fourth Estate. He did not also respond to WhatsApp messages that were sent to him for his response to the issues.
Feedback from the Swiss Red Cross
In an email, The Fourth Estate requested information from the Swiss Red Cross (SRC) on the situation and the steps taken to address the issues.
In a response to The Fourth Estate email, the head of communication of the Swiss Red Cross, Katherina Schindler, said, the SRC had canceled all newly planned projects in Ghana.
The mail also stated that the SRC had stopped payments to the headquarters of the GRCS. It said it would rather transfer funds into the project in regions with direct monitoring.
This is despite the fact that the organization claims it did not find any irregularities in an audit of projects being undertaken.
“We are committed to thoroughly investigating the allegations you mention. Notwithstanding this, the SRC has had its projects audited as usual. No irregularities were found either in emergency aid projects or in long-term health projects,” the email said.
It added, “projects already underway for the benefit of the most vulnerable will continue. They should not suffer because of alleged misconduct on the part of senior figures”.
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