12.06.2010 General News

Court restrains CHRAJ from hearing and investigating M&J bribery scandal

12.06.2010 LISTEN

Accra, June 11, GNA - The Human Rights Court (Fast Track Division), on Friday restrained the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), from continuing with its investigations and hearings into the alleged Mabey and Johnson bribery scandal.

Granting an order of prohibition, the court ruled that it was wrong for the Commissioner, Mr Justice Francis Emile Short to have granted the interview on Metro TV while the matter was pending before the Commission.

It therefore upheld arguments by lawyers of the six persons who were the subject of the investigations that comments by the Commissioner of CHRAJ on Metro TV on the matter were prejudicial.

The court declined to award cost against CHRAJ, saying the matter was of public interest.

Mr. Short granted the television station an interview on the issue a few days after opening public hearings - bedevilled by persistent objections - into the allegations that the six persons received bribes from Mabey and Johnson, a United Kingdom Engineering and Construction firm to influence award of contracts to the company.

Mr. Kwame Peprah, Ahaji Baba Kamara, Alhaji Boniface Abubakar Sadique, Alhaji Amadu Seidu, Brigadier-General Lord Attivor and Dr. Ato Quarshie, therefore, filed an order of prohibition saying, Mr. Short and the Commission had lost the moral authority to conduct the investigations as they could not grant a fair and impartial hearing into the matter.

In an ex-parte application with a supporting affidavit, they said prohibiting CHRAJ from investigating the scandal would give meaning to the assertion that justice should not only be done but should be seen to be manifestly done.

They said the jurisdiction of CHRAJ to investigate them was not exclusive as there were other constitutional bodies which had the right and mandate to investigate them.

According to them, CHRAJ would be very biased if it was not restrained from any further investigations and or public hearing in the alleged scandal now pending before it.

They said it was most unprofessional for a judicial or quasi judicial official such as Commissioner Short to discuss his views in a case before it with a third party during a panel discussion on television.

"The conduct of Commissioner Short who stated that he was speaking for and on behalf of the Commission is such that we cannot be guaranteed a fair hearing before CHRAJ," it said.

They said on Tuesday, March 16, 2010, Commissioner Short, Head of the CHRAJ panel hearing the scandal, granted an extensive interview on Metro Television, an independent television station with extensive coverage country-wide and internationally.

In the said interview which was for almost an hour, Commissioner Short speaking on behalf of CHRAJ, discussed the pending Mabey and Johnson investigations in detail with the interviewer, Mr Paul Adom Otchere.

According to them, "the interviewer stated in his opening remarks that he was going to discuss the Mabey and Johnson case together with the objections raised before CHGRAJ".

During the interview, Commissioner Short stated that he was investigating the allegation and explained that CHRAJ had invoked the mutual legal assistance and requested the United Kingdom authorities for evidence.

Commissioner Short stated that he "wanted to review the additional evidence to see the weight," adding that the documents before it and the monies paid to the public officials were bribes.

"His answer that the documents before CHRAJ showed that the monies paid were bribes showed that Commissioner Short has already predetermined the issue that any monies paid were bribes," they contended.

"This was most strange in that CHRAJ was to determine whether any monies were paid and if paid whether any such monies paid were bribes," the officials stated.

They noted that "Commissioner Short in answer to another question as to whether the amounts paid were very small, he (Commissioner Short) stated that the quantum of monies paid was irrelevant and that he had dealt with the issue of whether a small sum of money paid could be a bribe in a previous case".

"To a question of our objection raised before him at the public hearing on March 15, 2010 on the representation of Mr Thaddeus Sory, Counsel for CHRAJ, Commissioner Short said even though he had reserved ruling on the case for March 29, 2010, he nevertheless gave the reasons for his ruling on why CHRAJ hired a private legal practitioner to represent them," they said.

"Though saying that he did not want to comment on that issue, he claimed that the procedure was contained in the Commission's rules," they added.

The officials said it was incorrect in that under the existing law, CHRAJ had no such provision for hiring the services of a private legal practitioner to participate in a public hearing as a legal counsel in the manner Mr. Sory intended to act.

A letter dated March 17, 2010 was written to Commissioner Short to cease hearing the matter on the grounds that CHRAJ by the interview had shown that it was biased and we could not be guaranteed a fair hearing.

The officials said even though they had served CHRAJ with a copy of the letter it had not responded to it and yet went ahead to state that it intended to investigate "us on a further charge of abuse of office based on the same material before them".

They noted that CHRAJ had indicated that it intended to conduct a public hearing in respect of this further charge.

The officials said the action of CHRAJ was not in accordance with the rules governing the Commission's public hearing and investigations which required that it conducted a preliminary hearing before a full public hearing was undertaken.

According to the officials, the interview granted by Commissioner Short on March 16, 2010 was done deliberately to incite the public against them, put pressure on the Supreme Court to dismiss the preliminary objection which had been referred by CHRAJ itself to the court.

"This is more so when from the interview granted the only inference is that CHRAJ has some personal animosity against us and would stop at nothing to get at us," they said.

CHRAJ in its response said irrespective of the interview granted, the Commission would be fair to the applicants (Officials).

According to CHRAJ there was difference between the Commission as an entity and the Commissioner and even if Commissioner Short was disqualified, there were other Commissioners who would take over the matter.

After the court's ruling, Nana Ato Dadzie, Counsel for Dr. Ato Quarshie, expressed delight that they had been exonerated.

He said his clients were willing to submit themselves to any other State agency that chose to conduct further investigations into the allegations.