The management of the Ministry of Information has said the GHC151,500 it has been directed by the Auditor General to refund was used to pay call centre operators and critical staff in the COVID period.
It will be recalled that during the height of the pandemic, the Information Ministry recalibrated the state-of-the-art National Information Contact Centre (NICC) as a 24/7 COVID-19 Call Centre and staffed it with personnel from the Ghana Health Service and emergency services.
It served as an information dissemination hub on COVID for the general public as they requested assistance and guidance in the fight. The centre also collated data on the national COVID-19 effort.
In its audit of COVID-19 transactions, the auditor general said the GHC151,500 was used on management and staff without approval in 2020 during the lockdown.
However, a response to the auditor general which was not captured in the final report said the staff of the ministry were “operating under stressful and high-risk environment” which led to over four officials contracting the deadly coronavirus.
“The fear of contracting the virus became a demotivating factor for officers to continue to give off their best under the circumstances. As you are aware, the ministry is in the business of providing relevant and timely information to save lives and as a result, we needed to motivate officers by way of small compensation for the risk they faced in working during the period of the pandemic,” the ministry’s response dated 14 December 2022 to the external auditors said.
“It would also be recalled that during the lockdown period, most staff of MDAs were made to sit at home as a way of curbing the spread of the disease whilst staff of the Ministry of Information were required to come to work by virtue of the special assignment given to the ministry by the President when he directed that the Ministry of Information should be the leader in risk communication and community engagement.
“Additionally, the ministry set up a 24-hour information desk at the digital centre, close to the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra where the general public was given the opportunity to call in and report COVID-19 related cases and also seek information in respect of the prevention and management of COVID-19 cases,” the memo continued.
“The centre also served as a link between critically ill COVID-19 patients and the ambulance service for quick pick-ups. Management needed to whip up the interest of the desk officers and the supervisors to ensure that the centre continues to provide services to the public 24 hours a day,” the memo concluded.