The Ministry of Finance has turned down a right to information request by The Fourth Estate for copies of contracts between the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) and Strategic Mobilisation Limited (SML).
According to the ministry, the contracts are exempt under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
“We are unable to grant access to a copy of the Upstream Petroleum Audit Contract signed in 2023 between this Ministry, Ghana Revenue Authority and the Service provider,” the ministry said in a letter to The Fourth Estate. “Our position is consistent with section 11 subsections (1)(b) and (c) of the RTI Act.”
Section 11, subsections (1)(b) and (c) of the RTI Act states: “Information which would reveal a trade secret, research, scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour related information supplied in confidence is exempt from disclosure if the disclosure of the information can reasonably be expected to:
“(b) Adversely affect negotiations with a third party.
“(c) Result in undue loss or gain to a person, a group, financial institution or any other body.”
The Fourth Estate submitted the RTI request on November 17, 2023, to the Ministry of Finance requesting information regarding the contracts between the government of Ghana and SML as part of an investigation into revenue assurance contracts.
Below are the specific pieces of information The Fourth Estate requested for:
- A copy of the Transaction Audit Contract signed on January 1, 2019.
- The Downstream Petroleum Audit Contracts signed on April 1, 2019 and October 3, 2019.
- A copy of the Upstream Petroleum Audit Contract signed in 2023.
- A copy of the contract for the SML NOVA-Mineral Resources Auditing and Security.
- A copy of the consolidated contract if the first four service agreements above have been consolidated by the parties.
- The monthly breakdown of the amount of money paid to SML Ghana for its services from 2019 up to October 2023.
- Reports from the agencies in the petroleum and mining sectors about losses in the downstream and upstream petroleum and mining sectors, if any.
- Any advice the Ministry of Finance and GRA received before entering into the contracts with SML and
- The considerations which informed the single source procurement decision for both the downstream and upstream revenue assurance contracts with SML Ghana.
The Information Officer failed to decide on the request within 14 days as required by law.
On December 28, 2023, The Fourth Estate sent an internal appeal to the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, in line with the RTI Act 989 section 31.
On Wednesday, January 10, 2024, the Ministry of Finance responded and said it does not have any direct information on losses in the petroleum or mining sector despite the claim that SML was contracted by the Ministry to conduct a monitoring and evaluation in these sectors to curb revenue losses in the sectors.
“We do not have direct information on purported Reports from Agencies in the Petroleum and Mining sectors about losses in the downstream, upstream and mining sectors,” the ministry’s letter said. “You may contact the institutions in the afore-mentioned sectors for any such reports.”
The Fourth Estate‘s investigation revealed how the GRA and the Ministry of Finance signed a deal with SML, an offshoot of a timber company in Ghana that gives the company up to GHS24 million a month.
The investigation also revealed that SML has been awarded an expanded consolidated contract worth nearly US$100 million a year for revenue assurance that will now include the upstream petroleum and gold mining sectors.
Our findings also showed that SML had made false claims that it was checking under-reporting, diversion and dilution in the country’s downstream petroleum sector. When The Fourth Estate team pointed the false claims out to the company, Managing Director, Christian Tetteh Sottie, admitted the company was not providing those services.
“Oh no, we are not involved in diversion. We are only at the depots. If the thing [petroleum product] is lifted, we don’t know if [it is diverted],” Mr Sottie said.