GBA Slams Judgment Debts
The Ghana Bar Association (GBA) has hinted that the Mills cabinet's decision to disregard the Supreme Court's recent decision and withhold Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey's leased government property could attract judgment debt if Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey chooses to stand his ground.
The GBA subtly hinted at this possibility in a press statement released in Accra yesterday.
'While the Bar respects the right of the Government to conduct itself in any manner that it considers fit, with respect to the announced Cabinet decision, we respectfully urge the Government to be very mindful of the obligations that the law imposes on it, in this matter,' stated the association, adding, 'We are wary of the rising cost to the Republic in what has become known as 'Judgment Debts' arising from Government actions and inactions that the courts have found to have breached the law, including breaches of contract. We respectfully urge the Government to take all steps necessary to avoid such debts and their inevitable run on already scarce national resources.'
The statement signed by Frank W. K. Beecham and Peter R. Zwennes, national president and national secretary of the Bar association respectively, is its first such public pronouncement on an issue that has generated a lot of controversy in the country for more than two weeks now.
The controversy started in 2009 when the Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa and colleague Omane Boamah filed a writ at the apex court to seek a declaration that Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey's acquisition of the prime property in Accra was through undue abuse of office.
The duo claimed that Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey, who is also the current national chairman of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), used his role as former minister in the erstwhile NPP to illegally acquire the property.
Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey has maintained that he obtained the property through the right channels and was guided by the 1995 Accra Redevelopment and In-filling policy initiated by the previous National Democratic Congress (NDC) government to release some public lands for private use.
When the Supreme Court finally heard the case on May 22, 2012, it ruled massively (6 to 3) in favour of Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey.
The court's decision dismissed the claims of corruption, conflict of interest, abuse of office and cronyism leveled against the NPP chairman because the complainants could not prove their allegations.
Surprisingly, a day after the ruling, the President Mills cabinet sat and decided to withhold the property whose lease transaction has been officially concluded. The cabinet claimed the act of purchase was 'immoral'; this was contrary to the Supreme Court's ruling.
'Thus even if there is a dissenting opinion, the Court is said to have spoken once, and that voice is captured in what is commonly referred to as the 'majority decision'. Therefore, whether some of the issues involved in the instant case were resolved by a 'unanimous decision' and others by a 'majority decision' of the court, all we have is one decision that rejected the case and submissions of the Plaintiff, and by necessary implication, those of the Attorney-General, ' stated the GBA.
According to the legal luminaries at the Bar, 'From the Bar's standpoint, it is perfectly legitimate to raise the questions that the Plaintiffs raised, with respect to the acquisition of State properties, whether by politicians or any other persons'; however they did not see why anybody could disagree with the Supreme Court's decision when the complainants could not provide hard evidence to back their case. 'In the absence of such evidence, the GBA cannot fault the Supreme Court's decision on any legal grounds,' it affirmed.
Questions have been raised about the legitimacy of cabinet's act of bravado targeted at the Supreme Court. Some legal pundits have even concluded that by that act of cabinet, President Mills, who chaired the cabinet meeting, could be impeached for subverting the Judiciary.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey has indicated that his lawyers are looking into the challenge posed by the NDC government. It is likely he will face off with government and the most likely outcome will be that the government will be forced to pay back all the money that Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey invested in the property. He could possibly claim some other compensations or judgment debts on the property, DAILY GUIDE has gathered.
Judgment debts have become a very volatile topic in Ghana for over eight months now since the infamous GH¢51.28 million was paid to an individual, businessman Alfred Agbesi Woyome, in 2011.
By Raphael Adeniran