After 23 years of selfless and dedicated service to Ghana which saw him supervise six elections, former chair of the Electoral Commission Dr Kwadwo Afari Gyan was left 13 months without a penny when he left office.
The Controller and Accountant General’s Department ceased paying the monthly salary of the former EC chair in June 2015 and also delayed paying his gratuities due to what officials of the department say were bureaucratic processes which had to be followed.
Several calls, visits to the Comptroller by officials of the Electoral Commission and close family members to have Dr Afari-Gyan’s retirement benefits paid yielded no results for 12 months.
On the 13th month after retirement, the month on which Myjoyonline.com began investigations into why the retired statesman had not been paid, officials of the Comptroller and Accountant General’s Department paid the lump sum owed him with a promise to begin paying arrears of his pension in August 2016.
On June 16, 2015, Dr Kwadwo Afari- Gyan bid farewell to his compatriots at the Electoral Commission where he had served for 23 years as deputy Electoral Commissioner and later as Commissioner.
Per Article 44 (2) Dr Afari Gyan was entitled to the same conditions of service as the justice of a Court of Appeal. He was an Article 71 office holder and deserved a treatment in retirement similar to how the state will treat, the president, a minister, a parliamentarian or judge in a superior court.
At the very least, he was entitled to a lump sum payment shortly after retirement. Then, he should have been paid all his unpaid salaries which he didn’t receive after going on retirement. But none of those entitlements were paid him for 13 months.
The retired EC Chairman, through relatives and officials of the Electoral Commission had chased officials of the Comptroller to have the entitlements paid but to no avail.
Sources close to Dr Afari Gyan, who did not want to be named admitted to Myjoyonline.com that the lack of payment was taking a heavy toll on the finances of the retired statesman.
He needed the money to put finishing touches to his uncompleted Haatso residence and to take care of the day-to-day expenses.
But as a statesman who did not want his situation to be made public, he chose to suffer in silence for 13 months. Within that period, Dr Afari Gyan spent most of his time at his farm.
Sources at the Electoral Commission also said officials were frustrated by the delays in the payment of Dr Afari Gyan’s benefits.
A deputy commissioner on July 22, 2016, in a text message said: ” I am seriously working on it. Please help if possible.”
In a joint interview with the Controller and Accountant General, Mr Seidu Kotomah and the Director of Pensions, Mrs Elizabeth Osei, with the PRO looking on, the officials conceded there were delays in paying Dr Afari Gyan’s entitlements.
They also admitted that for 13 months Dr Afari Gyan received nothing because they had to conduct the necessary due diligence and partly because of delays at the Finance Ministry where approval had to come from before the money would be paid.
“It is unfortunate that is has taken such a long period. I do not want to hold brief for anybody and I do not want to pass the back to anybody. It is unfortunate. It is something that we have realised as not acceptable and we have commenced measures to address this and shorten the processes that are leading to this long period of waiting for one’s pension,” Mr Kotomah explained.
Mrs Osei attributed the delays to a modified rule in 2015 which required that all gratuities that exceeded a certain threshold had to be taken to the Finance Ministry for certification and payment.
“The decision to seek clearance from the Ministry Finance was taken some time 2015 so there must have been a transitional period that is likely to have slowed things down a little. That is why you see Afari Gyan’s issue running into the ensuing year. Ordinarily it would not have been so,” she explained.
According to Mr Kotomah it would ordinarily have taken 90 days for due diligence to be done and monies paid if the gratuity was below the threshold but given that Dr Afari Gyan’s document had to be taken to the Finance Ministry, it took more 270 days from the day his file was received from the Electoral Commission.
Recounting the trail of events leading to the payment, Mr Kotomah said Dr Afari Gyan’s documents were received from the Electoral Commission in August 2015, three months after he had retired; the documents were forwarded to the Finance Ministry in March 2016 for validation, after which they returned to the Comptroller in June 2016 and the lump sum payment done at the tail end of July 2016.
Mr Kotomah said they have taken internal measures to ensure the turnaround time for the payment of gratuities is reduced drastically.
“It is something that we are conscious of. We have taken steps to restructure the place. We have moved staff about to make sure that we bring efficiency. The processes that are in place, we have also reviewed them. For instance from next month we will stop sending the above threshold documents to Finance because that also adds to the delay.
“We believe that if we put these measures in place from our side, we would address the issue to an appreciable level,” he promised.
Mr Kotomah was quick to advise other institutions to feed the Controller General’s Department with information about retirees early enough for the processes to begin. He regretted that in most case some institutions submit the documents late only for the beneficiaries to blame Controller for delays.
When he was asked if Afari Gyan will be paid an interest to compensate for the number of months his entitlements remained unpaid, Mr Kontomah said he was not in the position to determine that.