Eight years after the callous demolition of a $5 million hotel at the Airport area in Accra on the order of then President Jerry John Rawlings, the matter has resurfaced with dire consequences for the state.
The Ghana government is being asked to pay $12 million compensation to Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim for Rawlings' atrocity in flattening the 67-room hotel in 1999.
The hotel was pulled down by the military under the watching eyes of city authorities.
Insiders then had intimated that the demolition was the result of political differences between the owner, Alhaji Yusif and Jerry Rawlings.
Owners of the Pier Hotel subsequently dragged the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) to court for wrongful action but only after the Rawlings-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) had left the political scene in the wake of their electoral defeat in 2000.
Alhaji Yusif now demanded $28,944,000 for the cost of the building in addition to accrued interest for eight years, before settling on $12 million on what he described as a nominal amount.
However, the cost of compensation is generating furore in government circles, with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joe Ghartey insisting the state could not absorb the responsibility of somebody's recklessness.
Hon Ghartey has therefore taken exception to an attempt by Mr Francis Kojo-Smith, a private legal practitioner to prevail on the Ministry of Defence to pay the $12 million compensation to Alhaji Yusif.
The Attorney General and Mr Kojo-Smith, a legal adviser to the AMA are consequently embroiled in a war of words over the terms of settlement for the demolished hotel.
Their war of words was prompted by a misunderstanding over the terms of settlement.
To Kojo-Smith, the AMA should not be saddled with the responsibility of another government organ especially when the Assembly does not own the bulldozers that were used to raze down the building.
The building, he pointed out, was demolished by the 48 Engineer Regiment, not AMA.
Situated close to the Kotoka International Airport, the owner of the demolished hotel, Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim is demanding $12 million, being the total cost of the property and loss of revenue due him.
In a correspondence dated 14th March 2007, the Attorney General flayed Kojo-Smith for writing to the Ministry of Defence on the subject because according to him, “the Ministry of Defence is not a party to the action and therefore your communication with them is improper.
We have advised the Ministry of Defence to treat the communication with the contempt that it deserves.”
Hon Ghartey's anger stemmed also from what, according to him, was the instruction to the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Finance by Mr. Kojo-Smith, during the last adjourned date on the case, demanding they settled the case out of court.
“In the said letter, you allege matters of facts relating to the Ghana Armed Forces which you may be hard put to prove as they are matters which we believe, are not within your personal knowledge.
We are also reliably informed that you indicated to the Court at the last adjourned date that you have written to the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Finance instructing them to settle the matter, ” the Minister's correspondence stated.
Hitting at the lawyer, the minister wondered how he could “purport to settle a matter on behalf of a client you do not represent. Our understanding is that you were instructed by AMA and it therefore stands to reason that you can only represent AMA.”
Hon Ghartey questioned why the plaintiff's claim for less than $6 million was at variance with Lawyer Smith's $12 million as settlement.
The minister stated further in his correspondence that he was advising the AMA, as Chief Legal Adviser to the government, to replace him as their legal counsel.
Lawyer Smith, the Attorney General warned, should not present himself as representing the Ministry of Defence “otherwise you will leave me with no option than to report your conduct to the General Legal Council”.
The Justice Minister's correspondence has been copied to the Secretary to the President, the Chief of Staff and the Hon Minister of Defence and others.
Firing his response dated March 15, 2007, Mr. Kojo-Smith queried the Justice Minister for being judgmental, stating “you should have required some information which formed the basis of the decision for the recommendation in the form of further and better particulars.”
Agreeing that he wrote to the Ministry of Defence, Lawyer Smith disagreed with the Minister that it was improper to do so.
“The story of the unlawful demolition of the Pier Hotel is a well documented event in which the present government when in opposition, had occasion to blame the NDC administration.
As Attorney General I believe you should have taken the trouble to read the hansard of Parliament in June 1999 on the demolition.”
The AMA, he said, did not authorise the demolition nor did it solicit the assistance of the Armed Forces to do so.
On the position of the Minister, that Lawyer Smith was demanding a figure higher than what the plaintiff was seeking, he said “as a professional lawyer holding the high office of Attorney-General, I believe that it must have occurred to you that apart from specific damages, which a plaintiff can claim, other auxiliary damages like general damages, interest on claim, punitive damages as well as cost are computed into a claim.”
According to him, the plaintiff's claim was well over $28 million and “my only attempt was to help negotiate a reduction of this colossal sum.”
For him, “the essence of a legal settlement or consent judgment is not only a matter of seeking the interest of one party, but both parties striving to achieve the ends of justice.”
Firing another shot in his correspondence, he stated, “it is nauseating to have the temerity to suggest that I had in any way put myself out representing the Ministry of Defence when I perfectly know that the Ministry of Defence has a Legal Directorate and could also be represented by the Attorney-General.”
His action, he explained, was prompted by what according to him, was the “pussy footing attitude in our society,” noting, “the lack of political will and sincerity to right the wrongs in our society does not augur well for our country.”
Lawyer Smith thundered that “Ghana is no longer the regime where anyone in the position like yours can easily behave like a tin god with dictatorial tendencies.
I will treat your threat to report my conduct to the General Legal Council with the contempt it deserves.”
Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim's Pier Hotel which was demolished on the orders of former President Rawlings was made an issue when the owner demanded a compensation for the loss from the Kufuor government.
In a correspondence dated February 14, 2007 Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim stated that since AMA had proposed an out-of-court settlement of the case, he was asking that a computation of the revenue loss of the 67-room hotel and other costs stood at $12 million.
He stated in another correspondence to Lexcom Associates, Legal Practitioners & Consultants that “the hotel had sixty seven rooms, a Chinese restaurant and a cocktail bar.
We are only asking for a nominal amount of only five million dollars for the demolished property and seven million dollars for the loss of revenue for the past eight years, totaling twelve million dollars which we believe is more than reasonable.”