Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Judgment debt - Public officials must be held accountable

July 24, 2012 (Front page) Three senior lawyers have advocated the prosecution of persons who contribute to huge judgement debts against the public purse. The economy is currently reeling under a heavy burden of judgement debt claims which have hit the $2 billion mark and still counting. The President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Mr Frank W. K. Beecham, Mr. Vonny Kulendi and Mr Chris A. Ackummey are among Ghanaians calling for accountability and holding accountable those culpable for the huge judgement debts on the taxpayer. In an interview with the Daily Graphic, the GBA President said a way to deal with the issue was to hold persons responsible for the debts accountable. “We have to look at every case on its merit and decide whether or not the offenders have done their job well. If, for instance, it is a state attorney who has not done his job well, we should discipline him,” he said. According to him, the GBA could not take a position on the matter because in each case lawyer representing the plaintiff and the defendant were members of the association and the same standard of professionalism and strict adherence to ethics was expected of them. Mr. Kulendi said the rising judgement debt claims were “a clear symptom of a deeper disease that results from elite politicians and technocrats who care very little, if at all, about the country and the people”. He said the canker also stemmed from lack of knowledge, competence and skill on the part of technocrats who negotiated on the country’s behalf. “Transactions that involve negotiations and conclusion of deals, contracts, lending, borrowing, and financial engineering require certain skill sets in order to be able to cut a value for money Deal for the people of Ghana,” Mr. Kulendi said. “Do our elites, technocrats and public sector leaders possess these critical skill sets for negotiating these transactions? Do they care to possess them?” he questioned. He said Ghana would continue to have an uneven bargain when multinationals and foreign companies came to the table with superior and sharper skills, proficiency and experience and know more than politicians, technocrats or public sector leaders who represent the state with no sense of nationalism. According to him, it got even sadder when politicians defended multinationals, adding that “the average Ghanaian approaches government business with levity and indifference. That is why, in the same marketplace, the government pays more than the ordinary Ghanaian for every single item”. The other issue he raised was that there was a sub-culture in Ghana in which people saw political and public office as the easiest means to self-enrichment. He, therefore, suggested the need for the country “to train, develop and equip our people with the critical skill set for the global marketplace. Otherwise, our leaders will never bring us value for money”. He further suggested the need for Ghanaians to examine themselves and change their attitude to life particularly and the business of the country as a whole. Mr Ackummey said so long as some individuals put their personal interest above that of the state and acted arbitrarily in terminating contracts, judgement debt accumulation would be inevitable because the aggrieved party would certainly go to court. He proposed the prosecution of persons who had caused avoidable judgement debts on the state coffers to serve as a deterrent. He said Ghanaians must look at the issue from a nationalistic point of view to save the country from further reeling under needless judgement debts. Ever since the payment of GH¢51.2 million in judgement debt to the businessman Alfred Agbesi Woyome was made public in December last year, a number of other judgement debts, have dominated public discourse. Eighty-six institutions and individuals benefited from such payments in 2010 alone. Among them were Balkan Energy Limtted (GH¢170,726), CP (GH¢ 180,0 12,982), African Automobile Limited (GH¢2,500,000), MS Rockshell International (GH¢7, 140,500), Latex Foam Limited (GH¢133,165), Novotel Limited (GH¢573,058) and Nene Yobo Asutsuare Sugar Factory (GH¢2,525,600). While the legal luminaries are calling for the prosecution of the people liable, some civil society organisations are clamouring for the setting up of a commission of inquiry into judgement debts. The Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA), the Forum for Governance and Justice (FGJ) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) have called for a nonpartisan national commission of inquiry to delve into the circumstances under which numerous judgement debts came about and how the settlements were arrived at. The institutions are of the view that apart from unraveling the problem, the commission of inquiry will also identify the systemic political governance failures that made the judgement debts possible and thereby make appropriate legal and policy recommendations to remedy the situation.

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