Commissioner Justice Emile Short, of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), has categorically denied allegations of prejudice levelled against him by some respondents who are being investigated by the commission on allegations of receiving bribes from Mabey and Johnson (M&J), a British engineering firm.
Justice Short chairs the three-member panel of CHRAJ that includes Ms Anna Bossman and Mr Richard Quayson, both deputy commissioners, constituted to investigate the respondents on allegations of receiving bribes from the British firm.
The respondents are Brigadier-General Edward Lord-Attivor (retd), a former PNDC Secretary for Roads and Highways; Dr Ato Quarshie, a former Minister of Roads and Highways; Mr Kwame Peprah, a former Minister of Finance and Economic Planning; Alhaji Amadu Seidu, a former Deputy Minister of Roads and Highways; Dr George Sipa-Adjah Yankey, a former Head of the Legal and Private Sector Unit of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP), and Alhaji Boniface Abubakar Saddique, a former desk officer at MoFEP.
Apart from Dr Yankey, all the other respondents have filed an application at the High Court prohibiting CHRAJ from investigating the case and accusing Justice Short of prejudice and bias because of an interview he granted Metro TV, an Accra-based television station.
Justice Short, however, told the Daily Graphic yesterday that at no time during his interview on Metro TV did he make any statement prejudicial to the case.
He said the interview in question could not, “by any stretch of the imagination”, be construed as being prejudicial to the investigation of the case or demonstrating bias by him or any member of the panel.
He said the commission was not prepared to go into the merits of the “unfounded” allegations in the media but that it would make a “vehement” defence in the application for prohibition pending before the court.
Yesterday’s hearing also saw the absence of some of the respondents, despite an undertaking by their legal counsel at the previous hearing to ensure their presence.
Dr Yankey, Alhaji Seidu, Alhaji Saddique and Brigadier-General Lord-Attivor were present.
Mr Samuel Cudjoe said he had advised his client, Mr Peprah, to stay away from the hearings because the subpoena had not been served on him, coupled with the fact that an application had been filed at the High Court to stop CHRAJ from hearing the case.
Mr Kobina Fosu, who represented Dr Quarshie, said the respondent was “unavoidably absent”, explaining that Dr Quarshie was ill, although he could not be definite whether his client had been served or not.
Although Justice Short indicated after the formal introductions that he would only read the commission’s ruling in respect of objections raised at the previous hearing and afterwards suspend its investigations, Mr Cudjoe objected to that because of the application to prohibit CHRAJ from any investigation into the matter pending at the courts.
Counsel said the ruling of CHRAJ on the objections raised by him and other lawyers at the previous hearing, which included the jurisdiction of CHRAJ in investigating ex-public officials, was also a subject matter before the court, hence the ruling should not be given.
He added that Article 219 (2) of the Constitution, which related to the limits of the powers of CHRAJ in its investigative processes, stated that matters before court could not be investigated by CHRAJ.
He said by the application in the High Court, the matter being investigated by CHRAJ had effectively become a matter before the courts, hence the commission could, in no way, take any action until it had been dispensed with by the court.
“CHRAJ must not have a problem in awaiting the High Court decision; after all it is a commission on human rights and it is supposed to protect the rights of all, including our clients,” Mr Cudjoe submitted.
Apart from Dr Yankey, whose counsel, Mr Kwame Djan, dissociated himself from Mr Cudjoe’s submission and reiterated his client’s position of not challenging the jurisdiction of CHRAJ to investigate the case, all the other respondents associated themselves with Mr Cudjoe’s submissions.
When Justice Short asked Mr Djan what he and his client’s position would be if CHRAJ decided to suspend investigations on the other respondents, his response was, “We have clearly stated that we are not challenging the commission’s jurisdiction in investigating the matter, nor have we been part of the application to prohibit the commission. If the commission is ready to hear us, we are ready to be heard.”
After deliberations by the panel on the case, hearing was adjourned to April 7, 2010 when CHRAJ will give its decision on whether or not it can still read its ruling on previous objections with the prohibition against it at the High Court.