An angry First Lady, Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo, has written to the Chief of Staff, Frema Osei Opare, indicating a full refund of all allowances paid to her since her husband came into office as President of the Republic in 2017.
The letter, sighted by The Herald dated Tuesday, July 13, 2021 and signed by one Shirley Laryea (Mrs) –Office of the First Lady said, "I am directed to forward, herewith, a Consolidated Bank Ghana Limited cheque number 000002 for an amount of GH¢899,097.84 (Eight Hundred and Ninety-Nine Thousand Ninety-Seven Ghana cedis Eighty-Four pesewas) being the full refund for monies received from 7th January 2017 to date as allowances given to Her Excellency the First Lady of the Republic".
However, the inadequate evidence provided by the First Lady in her letter as proof of the refund, has left many doubtful as to whether, the monies have truly been returned into the state coffers.
Many believe, the mere cheque number; 00002 given by the Office of the First Lady, is not enough evidence to show the money was returned, but rather compelling evidences like, deposit slip, transfer details from the bank or a photo of the signed cheque among others, should have been provided to draw the curtains down on the matter.
For many, the decision by handlers of the First Lady, to withhold convincing details from the public, instead of releasing them to silence critics, is causing more harm to her office and leaving room for mistrust among many.
Mrs. Akufo-Addo, it would be recalled on Monday, July 12, announced that due to the "extremely negative opinions" which have laced conversations on her allowances, she was refunding every pesewa.
In her communique, she indicated that she will not receive any monies that have been allocated to be paid to her pursuant to recommendations of the Professor Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu Committee, which was tasked in 2019 to review emoluments of Article 71 office holders.
According to her, she found the public criticism against her "distasteful, seeking to portray her as a venal, self-serving and self-centered woman who does not care about the plight of ordinary Ghanaian".
But in less than 24 hours after the first letter, her office wrote to the Chief of Staff to present the cheque number for the full refund of the monies.
"As disclosed by the statement issued on 12th of July, 2021 Her Excellency the First Lady of the Republic, is refunding the amount stated above and also takes this opportunity to decline any allowances to be paid to her in the future," the letter noted.
It stressed that, "Her Excellency, the First Lady remains committed to her role as First Lady and is devoted to her charity work championing the wellbeing of women and children in Ghana," adding, "Please accept Madam, the assurances of our highest consideration".
A copy of the letter was sent to the Chief Director of the Presidency.
Rebecca Akufo-Addo and the Second Lady, Semira Bawumia, are angry at Ghanaians, saying they won't accept the controversial emoluments approved for them by Parliament, as well as attempt to elevate them to the status of cabinet ministers.
In separate statements issued by the two on Monday and yesterday, they indicated that they were no longer interested in the payments from the state and promised to refund all allowances paid to them since 2017.
Rebecca Akufo-Addo, in particular mentioned that she is returning an amount of GHS899, 097.84, to state coffers, because "public discussion has been laced with some extremely negative opinions, in some cases, which she finds distasteful, seeking to portray her as a venal, self-serving and self-centered woman who does not care about the plight of the ordinary Ghanaian".
Samira Bawumia, on the other hand, did not mention how much she has paid so far, but stated that she is in consultation with the Vice President, to refund all allowances paid to her since 2017, and will not accept any monies allocated to her pursuant to the recommendations of the Prof. Yaa Ntiamoa-Baid-led committee, as approved by Parliament on 6th January 2021."
Parliament approved a recommendation by a five member committee which was set up in June 2019 by President Akufo-Addo, to determine his salary and allowances, that of the vice-president, justices of the Superior Courts and Parliament.
However, public sentiment was irked when it was discovered that First and Second ladies, have also been included in the recommendations, and they were to receive salaries equivalent to cabinet ministers.
It is clear from the tone of their statements that the two ladies are bowing to public backlash against the Professor Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu committee on the salaries and other gratuities of Article 71 officeholders.
Rebecca Akufo-Addo's position was captured in a statement signed by Korkor Bleboo, the Director of Communications at the Office of the First Lady.
"The First Lady, in consultation with the President of the Republic, has decided to refund all the monies paid to her as allowances from the date of the President's assumption of office, i.e., from January 2017 to date, amounting to GHS899, 097.84."
"The First Lady has also decided not to accept any monies that have been allocated to be paid to her, pursuant to the recommendations of the Ntiamoa-Baidu committee, as approved by Parliament. She is doing this as a purely personal decision, without prejudice to the rights of others, and not to undermine the propriety of the process undertaken by Parliament."
In the statement, Mrs. Akufo-Addo's Director of Communications argued that the First Lady did not request to be paid any allowance and that "she only received that which existed and [was] attached to her status, albeit informally."
According to the statement, the wife of the president took the decision because the discussions that greeted the announcement of the allowance payments have been laced with some extremely negative opinions, which she finds distasteful as such commentaries only seek "to portray her as a venal, self-seeking and self-centered woman, who does not care about the plight of the ordinary Ghanaian."
On her part, "the Second Lady, H.E. Samira Bawumia in consultation with H.E. the Vice President, will refund all allowances paid to her since 2017, and will not accept any monies allocated to her pursuant to the recommendations of the Prof. Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu led committee, as approved by Parliament on 6th January 2021," a statement signed by Kwame Twum, Senior Aide to the Second Lady announced.
The government has come under fire after it came to the fore that a recommendation for the First and Second Ladies to receive monthly salaries had already been approved by Parliament.
Ghanaians were further livid because it was disclosed that the First and Second Ladies will be receiving salaries equivalent to cabinet ministers.
The recommendations were made by the five-member Professor Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu committee set up in June 2019 by President Nana Akufo-Addo to make recommendations on the salaries and other gratuities of Article 71 officeholders.
Two suits have already been filed at the Supreme Court to challenge the payments.
The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), as well as the Alliance for Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA), have also served notice of going to court over the same issue.
Former President, John Dramani Mahama, had earlier voiced out his opposition to the way the Akufo-Addo government is handling emoluments for spouses of sitting and former Presidents and Vice Presidents.
In a statement, Mr Mahama suggested that the Akufo-Addo government is attempting to "sneak the First and Second Ladies into the article 71 office holders' group", saying "This is clearly problematic."
Mr Mahama, argued further that the new emoluments are tantamount to altering an entrenched clause in the Constitution without due process.
"Article 71 is an entrenched clause in the 1992 Constitution, and nothing short of a referendum can be used to amend or vary that clause as per article 290 of the Constitution," he explained.
"The Committee, and indeed the government, cannot use a short-cut to circumvent well laid-out constitutional rules," added.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC), also rejected the Ntiamoa-Baidu Committee's recommendation for wives of Presidents and Vice Presidents to be paid monthly salaries.
The group insisted that the spouses have not been assigned any specific roles in the constitution and "therefore, they are not qualified to receive salaries from the public purse."