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08.06.2007 General News

Lawyer, Judge disagree on presence of reporter in court

By The Chronicle

The raging case in which the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Presidential Special Initiatives (PSI) and the Attorney General have been dragged to Court by WAOPP Oil Mills demanding an amount of ¢1.5 billion as damages, came up for hearing on Thursday but took an interesting dimension.

Though the Attorney General who has been sued as the 2nd defendant in the case was not represented in court, Mr. S. E. Akuffo, a Senior State Attorney at the Sekondi branch of the Attorney-General's Department who represented the two stirred the court when he rose from his seat and openly complained bitterly about the presence of The Chronicle's reporter in the court room.

He told the court that he had taken strong exceptions to The Chronicle's earlier publications about the case, which he claimed were disparaging and unfair to the Sector Minister, Mr. Allan Kyeremanten.

Seething with anger, he told the court, "My Lord, I don't understand why a case has not been called before the court and the paper will write on the very case," For this reason, The Chronicle quotes him as saying that if he had his way, the court should walk out the reporter from reporting on the very case.

What is more, the reporter should be made to retract the two previous stories the paper had carried about Mr. Allan Kyeremanten right before the court.

His reason was that "it is too early for The Chronicle to report on the case to the reading public because the paper had already prejudiced the case and incited the minds of the reading public so left to him, the court should walk out the reporter.

Asked by the sitting judge if he had copies of the said publication he was complaining about, he replied in the negative and added that the publication was very unfair and damaging to the Minister.

Here, Counsel for the plaintiff, Mr. E. K. Amua Sekyi, urged his colleague to do the right thing instead of barring the reporter from reporting on the case.

Here, the sitting judge, Mr. Justice Ofosu Quartey and counsel for the plaintiff together with defendant's counsel who made the demand for the sacking of The Chronicle reporter argued on the subject for close to twenty five minutes with the final conclusion that the reporter could not be walked out in that, he had introduced himself professionally to the Court.

The Judge told the defence Counsel that he bad also read a cartoon in the same Chronicle of which Allan was cartooned as throwing money to the court, so that did not mean that he the judge should also sack the reporter.

The judge and the two lead counsel later concluded that the reporter should not be asked out. This was after the Judge and the two leading Counsel had spent another fifteen minutes in the chamber of the judge about the same subject with the final advice that the reporter should report fairly.

Testifying as a witness in the case, Mr. Augustine Kwesi Esubonteng, Managing Director of WAOPP Oil Mills, told the court that in 2004, he was instructed by the PSI Secretariat to look for land banks for PSI oil palm project. According to him, he was able to secure 3000 and 10,000 hectares of land at both Trebuom and Manso respectively in the Mpohor Wassa East District.

The Chiefs and people of the two areas, according to the witnesses, held a durbar where the land was finally handed over to the govern¬ment. The documents on the land according to the witness were all handed over to the sector Minister, Mr. Alan Kyeremanten.

He continued that in March 2004, the PSI Secretariat invited him to Accra for a meeting on how the land was going to be cleared.

According to him, Mr. Allan Kyeremanten then told him that the land acquired was going to be cleared by mechanical means. He told the Court that Mr. Kwesi Opoku, then Coordinator of the project, visited him in his office to discuss how the clearing would be done.

The witness added that at the meeting, Kwesi Opoku told him that he had wanted to give the clearing of the land on contract to another company after it had been agreed that he (WAOPP) takes the contract but be refused.

Based on this, he told the court that the then Coordinator of the PSI called him again to meet him at a hotel in Takoradi to prevail on him to rescind his decision not to take the contract for the clearing of the site but he again refused.

Kwesi Opoku then transferred an amount of 150 million cedis to his company account to be used for the clearing of the land but this time round it was done manually.

The witness continued and told the Court that in July, Kwesi Opoku sent a letter to his company indicating that the ¢150 million should rather be transferred to the Outgrowers Support Unit's account, which he (witness) was to open in his company's name.

At a separate meeting attended by Hon. Joe Ghartey, then Secretary to the PSI and Mr. Mac Manu, then regional Chairman of NPP, witness told the court that Kwesi Opoku told the meeting that PSI had wanted to give the contract of clearing the land mechanically to a French company because it was charging a lower fee. ¢14million was the fee the said French company was charging.

According to him, he told the meeting he could also clear the site mechanically, charging the same cost and was told to hold on with the said money.

He told the court that based on this, he met Mr. Allan Kyeremanten and Kwesi Opoku at Raybow hotel in Takoradi and agreed that before the contract to clear the site mechanically would be awarded to him, he had to prepare a bill of quantity on a hectare of land to be cleared to that effect.

According to him. he prepared the bill and forwarded it to the PSI secretariat within a week.

The court adjourned hearing to June 21.

Source: The Chronicle

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