The former Minister of Transportation, Dr Richard Anane, was yesterday absolved of any wrongdoing after the Accra Fast Track High Court quashed the decision of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) against him.
The commission, in its ruling, had found Dr Anane guilty of perjury, abuse of power and conflict of interest and recommended that he be removed from office for abusing his office.
Furthermore, the commission recommended, among other things, that Dr Anane should apologise to Parliament for lying under oath and also render another apology to the government for bringing its name into disrepute.
The commission, however, dismissed charges of corruption against Dr Anane but found him guilty of lying under oath, after he had told a panel constituted by CHRAJ that he had remitted $30,000 to his mistress.
In a prior testimony to the parliamentary Appointments Committee during his vetting for the position of Roads and Transport Minister in 2005, the former minister had told members that he had only remitted $10,000 to his mistress.
Following the commission's report and public agitation, Dr Anane honourably resigned his post before he could be sacked by the President.
On September 22, 2006, he, however, filed a motion at the court for an order of certiorari to quash the CHRAJ decision because the commission, in purporting to deal with him, lacked jurisdiction and, therefore, acted in breach of the 1992 Constitution, Act 546, the CHRAJ Act 1993 and Constitutional Instrument (CI) 7.
The court declared as null and void the commission's action, since it was totally without jurisdiction and in breach of natural justice.
After the one-hour ruling, Dr Anane's wife kissed him and placed a piece of white calico around his neck as he congratulated his solicitors and sympathisers who had filled the courtroom.
In its ruling, the court, presided over by Mr Justice Paul Baffoe-Bonnie, an Appeal Court judge with additional responsibility as a High Court judge, said the commission was an inferior investigative body without inherent power and so its action was a wrong assumption of jurisdiction.
Consequently, it ordered that the September 15, 2006 decision and subsequent recommendations against Dr Anane be removed from the register of the commission.
According to the court, certain articles of the 1992 Constitution, such as Article 230 and Act 456, as well as CI 7, were binding on the commission to require an identifiable complainant who should lodge a complaint, either in writing or orally.
“The clear and unambiguous provision of CI 7 is that a complaint made in a newspaper article will not be a basis for investigations by the CHRAJ,” the court ruled, and added that Dr Anane was entitled to a declaration that it was mandatory for the commission to receive a petition or complaint from an identifiable complainant before proceeding with any investigation.
According to the court, “the commission, being an inferior body, is supposed to work within the confines of the law and should not behave like an octopus spreading its tentacles here and there because it has limited powers”.
It said the fact that the commission had in 1995 investigated some ministers of state based on newspaper articles did not make an unlawful act lawful.
“If an error has been done with impunity in the past, it does not have to be entertained and nobody can make what is unlawful lawful,” the court ruled, saying that the commission's power to investigate was only activated when a complaint was lodged by an identifiable person.
It said for the commission to state that Dr Anane abused his office was a wrong assumption of power and should not be countenanced by the Constitution of the land.
Regarding the commission's decision relating to perjury, the court ruled that what it should have done, after realising inconsistencies in Dr Anane's statement to Parliament and the commission, was to refer to them, not to offer sanctions as it did.
“The commission made a statement of fact, but saying that the applicant perjured and offering a sanction was a strange occurrence. What makes it strange is that Dr Anane was not made to understand that he was being investigated for perjury and given a hearing,” the court held.
The court stated that it was not Dr Anane's case which CHRAJ did not have power to investigate but the manner in which it was done, saying it was not for nothing that Parliament set out an elaborate provision on the functions and procedures for the commission's work.
It said the commission was not permitted to go against that provision with impunity or allowed to roam the highways to catch anybody, adding that if it found the provision cumbersome and could not sit idle, it should sanction an amendment.
It did not award costs.
Mr J. K.. Agyemang, lead counsel for Dr Anane, had earlier argued that the jurisdiction and mandate of CHRAJ as an inferior investigative body were clearly set but the commission failed to observe both constitutional and statutory provisions which specified its functions and arrogated to itself what had not been prescribed.
He said Article 230 of the Constitution, Act 456 and CI7, for example, directed what had to be done by way of procedure on receiving complaints and the investigation of any such complaint.
Counsel said by those provisions, a complaint was vital to the commission's work and ought to be made, either in writing or orally, to the national office of CHRAJ or its representative at the district level.
“It expects somebody to make a complaint to the commission or its representative in any of the regional or district offices and where a complaint is made in writing, it shall be signed by the complainant or his agent,” he stated.
Mr Agyemang further stated that where a complaint was made orally, the person to whom it was made should reduce it into writing before the complainant and a CHRAJ official appended their signatures to it.
In the instant case, counsel said there had been no complaint or complainant and said if the commission could make its complaint and investigate it, Parliament would not have elaborated on its functions.
He said for CHRAJ to state that it did not require any complaint to undertake its investigation offended the clear provisions in CI 7 and Act 456, giving the commission room to rely on newspaper reports and anonymous complaints or people who hid behind the scenes to lodge spurious complaints.
Story by Stephen Sah