The Supreme Court’s verdict on the Montie 3 has come as a shock to many primarily due to the severity of the sentences that were imposed on them. Sentences of four months imprisonment for each of the contemnors coupled with huge fines on them, directors and owners of Montie FM cannot be justified considering the circumstances surrounding the whole matter.
In this regard, the Supreme Court’s general posture and decisions in the Abu Ramadan cases from inception cannot be discounted in the whole mix of events. Its decision of issuing orders to the Electoral Commission to delete names of NHIS card holders from the Voter Register was the beginning of a myriad of controversial decisions of the court that inflamed political passions in the country - especially when it was obvious to all that the Electoral Commission had legally complied with the existing law when it registered the NHIS registrants.
The court’s sheepish endorsement of the request of Abu Ramadan and his affiliates - to have NHIS registrants deleted from the Voters Register without imposing any burden on them to justify such an extreme demand on the Electoral Commission - was irresponsible to say the least. This set in motion a chain of events which culminated in the Supreme Court’s issuing of draconian verdicts to redeem its image and criminalize free speech in a manner never before witnessed in Ghana.
The background leading to Abu Ramadan’s case was there for all to see but was unfortunately ignored by a Supreme Court that was eager to sacrifice the integrity of the Electoral Commission - the constitutionally mandated authority on electoral issues and procedures in Ghana. That background was very well reflected in the outcome of the Electoral Commission’s forum which arose out of Dr. Bawumia’s ill fated and irresponsible attempt to denigrate Ghana’s voters register with a false claim that 76,000 voters on the register were Togolese. The outcome was that Dr. Bawumia’s claim was found not to be credible- a development which presented the Supreme Court with adequate background information of public knowledge to put Abu Ramadan to strict proof to substantiate his claim that NHIS voter registrants were all foreigners who had to be deleted from the register.
Rather, the court exhibited gross irresponsibility by resorting to attacking the credibility of the EC through issuing inflammatory threats on the EC to the effect that they would not sit down for the EC to throw the country into chaos. To heighten tensions further, Justice Doste a Judge of the court inflamed passions further by doing the unusual of seeking to publicly explain that the court’s decision ordered the EC to delete NHIS voter registrants without recourse to the EC’s internal procedures for such an exercise.
The Supreme Court was obviously calling the tune of Abu Ramadan and his affiliates as though it was their paid piper to the detriment of the national interest and the integrity of the EC. The court thus demonstrated no respect for the Electoral Commission and in the process inflamed political passions on the issue culminating in the unfortunate reactions of the Montie 3.
The reactions of the Montie 3 especially that of Alisa were definately unfortunate in the sense that they were indirect threats to the judges calculated to caution them to refrain from engaging in conduct which could plunge Ghana into chaos – the result of which could be that no one would be safe in Ghana including the judges. It is undeniable that a choice of better words minus the conditional and indirect threats would have achieved the purpose of exposing the consequences of the judges conduct on the issue.
The Montie 3 had obviously committed some sort of contempt of court on the issue and this compelled the judges to react to their pronouncements. However, against the background of circumstances as recounted, and against the background of extreme show of remorse by the culprits, and considering the history of a previous and relevant precedent in a similar situation handled by the court, were verdicts handed to the Montie 3 and their mother company fair and justified? Obviously No.
To begin with the four month sentences imposed equally on each of them were excessive and unjustified considering the background and circumstances to this, whole saga. Again considering the fact that the threats were not direct threats but indirect and conditional, the court should have placed them in the right context when it was exacting punishment. Nothing beyond two week sentences for the Montie 3 as has been the history of the court in similar instances, in addition to lesser fines, would have placed the court in a much better light.
The safety of judges can never be guaranteed by excessive exercise of judicial power in any society. What rather guarantees the safety of judges is a perception and belief across board and among the populace that the Judiciary is impartial and fair to all sides of the political divide. The current situation in Ghana in which one side of the political divide perceives the Judiciary as bending over backwards to koto to the demands of their opponents, rather renders the Judiciary’s position in the society insecure.
In a related context, the consequences of the wholesale deletion of NHIS voter registrants as sanctioned by the Supreme Court are there today for all to see. It is now obvious that there were no foreign registrants on the register after all, and that the deletions have rather thrown the electoral register and processes into chaos with the NPP crying loudest that their members have been disenfranchised. The stark reality is that 34,000 or so NHIS registrants have been disenfranchised as a result of a dogmatic adherence to legal gymnastics by the Supreme Court.
Can we now say that we have a cleaner register with drivers license registrants who could as well be foreigners - still on the register? What was the wisdom in disenfranchising registrants who had legally complied with then exiting laws that they had no hand in putting in place? Has the EC not been vindicated in its strategy to rather adopt a cautious process of compliance with the court’s order, which was rudely truncated by a pushy Supreme Court – which has been exposed as having little or no knowledge about the intricacies of electoral processes in Ghana?
Going forward therefore, the circumstances, errors and injustice on the part of the Supreme Court that characterized the Montie 3 saga do not justify their being imprisoned for four months. The President should therefore grant them a pardon to redress the infractions of the Supreme Court in order not to perpetrate the injustice that have been visited on them. After all what is in issue is the criminalization of free speech and no court should be permitted to sensationalize criminality in free speech for its parochial interests.
Another interesting aspect of the court’s decision was its attempt to lay blame on the Attorney General for its inaction in the matter. The legitimate answer to that reference is to ask why the court did not decide rather to refer the matter to the Attorney General for prosecution. What did the court do with findings of investigations that had been conducted by the BNI on the probability of the implementation of the threats that were issued by the Montie 3?
The judiciary going forward should therefore try to win the hearts and souls of Ghanaians of all political divides, and it would not have to live in fear of anyone. Their decision to impose four month imprisonment sentences and hefty fines for threats albeit conditional, is akin to trying to kill a fly with an axe. It is a decision which is obviously unjust and unfair compared to sentences for similar conduct exhibited by NPP’s Sir John which came before the same court, for which he was merely fined and not imprisoned even for a day. A court that is perceived as unjust and bias cannot guarantee its safety with draconian verdicts aimed at intimidating the general public. It is rather a general perception of fairness on the part of the Judiciary that can guarantee its safety and respect.
In view therefore of the totality of circumstances surrounding the Montie 3 saga, the President should exercise his powers of pardon as constitutionally permitted in this matter. Yes a form of punishment is certainly in order under the circumstances, but definitely not sentences beyond two weeks, in order to curb the obvious excessive and unfair application of judicial power especially as applied to free speech.
The four months imprisonment sentences imposed against free speech in this matter are an embarrassment to Ghana’s fledging democracy.
God Bless our Homeland Ghana.
Mensah Dekportor (Germany)
Email: [email protected]