A pressure group, OccupyGhana, and one of its directors have dragged a former Minister of Energy, Dr Joe Oteng-Adjei, to the High Court for keeping a state vehicle months after leaving office.
The group and its director, Mr Sydney Casely-Hayford, are asking the court to order the former minister to pay GH¢355,812 as special damages for what they termed “illegal and wrongful” use of the vehicle for a period of 222 days.
The plaintiffs, in a writ of summons filed on March 12, 2015, are seeking a declaration that Dr Oteng-Adjei’s keeping and use of the Lexus vehicle with registration number GC 5958-11 from July 16, 2014 to February 23, 2015 amounted to “conversion and detinue”.
The suit, which has joined the Attorney-General as the second defendant, is also seeking a declaration that the government of Ghana was negligent in not ensuring that Dr Oteng-Adjei returned the said Lexus vehicle upon leaving office as minister on July 16, 2014.
Another relief being sought by the plaintiffs is a declaration that the state and the people of Ghana were entitled to surcharge or otherwise be compensated for his wrongful and illegal use of the vehicle for the 222 days aside the orders directed at Dr Oteng-Adjei to pay to the government of Ghana the sum of GH¢355,812 as “special damages for his conversion of and detinue in respect of his wrongful and illegal keeping and use of Lexus Vehicle with registration number GC 5958-11, for the 222 days between 16th July 2014 to 23rd February 2015”.
The plaintiffs are further praying the court to direct the Attorney-General to recover the said amount.
Also sought by the plaintiffs is interest on the said amount from July 16, 2014 to February 23, 2015, as well as general damages and any other cost the court might deem fit.
Statement of claim
In their statement of claim, the plaintiffs said, among other things, that as citizens of Ghana, they had a duty under Article 41(f) of the Constitution "to protect and preserve public property and expose and combat misuse and waste of public funds and property".
It said at all times relevant and material to the action, Dr Oteng-Adjei was also under a similar duty to protect and preserve public property, and that any improper or unauthorised use or abuse or misuse of public property by him was a breach of the Constitution and of his duty to Ghana and the people of Ghana, including the plaintiffs.
It further stated that Dr Oteng-Adjei was also under an obligation under Article 41(d) of the Constitution to refrain from doing acts that were detrimental to the welfare of other persons, including the people of Ghana and the plaintiffs.
According to the statement, Dr Oteng-Adjei took or subscribed to the Oath of Allegiance under the Constitution before assuming office as minister, by which he swore to bear true faith and allegiance to Ghana, and preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.
In addition, it said the defendant further took or subscribed to the Oath of Ministers of State under the Constitution, by which he swore to uphold, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and to use the best of his judgement to advise for the good management of the public affairs of Ghana.
On the basis of the foregoing, Dr Oteng-Adjei, the statement said, was also under a constitutional duty involving the absolute, most abundant good faith and perfect candour, openness and honesty, and a legal duty to exercise skill, care and diligence as ordinarily careful and prudent men or women could reasonably be expected to exercise in similar circumstances.
It said as a minister, Dr Oteng-Adjei was entitled to the use of at least one official vehicle (a four-wheel drive), among other entitlements, and on account of his entitlements as a minister (then of Energy), assigned to himself, for official use and purposes, a Lexus LX 570 four-wheel drive vehicle with registration number GC 5958-11.
According to the statement, the vehicle was part of a fleet of project vehicles acquired by the Ministry of Energy with proceeds of a loan that was approved by Parliament, at the expense of the people of Ghana for a rural electrification project.
It said by Dr Oteng-Adjei’s own account in the media – when the President subsequently removed him from the Ministry of Energy and assigned him to the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology as the minister – he was allowed to take the vehicle with him for use as his official vehicle in that other ministry.
It said upon a ministerial reshuffle on July 16, 2014, the President removed Dr Oteng-Adjei from his position as minister, and thereby ceased to be a public officer.
The statement contended that when the defendant was removed from office as a minister, he neglected, failed or refused to return the vehicle to the government, but intentionally and wilfully kept possession of, detained and continuously used the vehicle for his private purposes.
The government, it further contended, also neglected or failed to demand the return of, or take any steps whatsoever to recover the vehicle from the defendant and it was only on February 23, 2015, and after a major media exposè about his wrongful and illegal conversion, detention and use of the vehicle, that he returned it to the government.
It said by simple arithmetic calculation, the vehicle was wrongfully and illegally kept, detained and used by the defendant for 222 days, adding that the conduct of the defendant in wrongfully and illegally detaining and using the vehicle amounted to a flagrant breach of his constitutional and legal obligations owed to Ghana and the people of Ghana.
Particulars of negligence
According to the statement, the government owes a general and constitutional duty of care towards the plaintiffs and the people of Ghana to secure, uphold and protect at all times the principles of probity and accountability, pursuant to which the government had an obligation under the Constitution and general law, to demand the immediate return of the vehicle by the defendant on his removal as a minister.
“The government breached its duty of care to the plaintiffs and the people of Ghana when it failed to demand the return of the vehicle or take any appropriate steps to compel the defendant to return the vehicle,” the statement contended, pointing out that “the plaintiffs and the people of Ghana have sustained damages as a result of the breach of this duty by the government, which deprived them of their interest in, possession of, access to and use of the vehicle”.
It maintained that notwithstanding the government’s negligence or complicity, Ghana and the people of Ghana were entitled to be restituted and compensated by the defendant for his conversion of, and detinue with respect to the vehicle.
“By the open commercial vehicle rental rates available as of the date of filing this suit, a Lexus vehicle of the make and specification of the vehicle is rented at the cedi equivalent of Five Hundred United States Dollars (US$500) per day.
“For the period that the vehicle was wrongfully and illegally in the possession and use of the defendant, he is liable to pay an amount of Three Hundred and Fifty-Five Thousand, Eight Hundred and Twelve Ghana Cedis (GH¢355,812) to the government, for and on behalf of the people of Ghana,” the statement added.