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12.04.2005 General News

A-G’s Department defends minister

By Chronicle

Counsel for the former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, has taken serious objections to the Attorney-General's Department representing the Minister for Fisheries, Mrs. Gladys Asmah, in a defamation suit brought against her, when an Accra Fast Track Court commenced hearing the case yesterday.

The counsel, Inusah Abdulai Fuseini, raised the objection before Justice Victor Ofoe, saying the Attorney-General's Department (A-G's), being the legal counsel for Government can not be used to defend an individual.

According to him, he finds the action inappropriate since tort or defamation is personal to the person who made the statement and in that respect, Government cannot be drawn into it.

Responding, Nana Ama Akyiaa Prempeh, a Senior State Attorney at the A-G's Department, representing Mrs. Asmah, argued that her client was then the Minister for Women and Children's Affair, when the alleged defamation took place and currently the Minister for Fisheries, and that the A-G is responsible for defending all government departments in legal matters.

Relying on the statement of claim and newspaper publications as evidence before the court, counsel for the plaintiff requested the court to grant the pleadings set out in the suit.

Mrs. Rawlings is seeking the court's order, for exemplary and special damages, injunction restraining the defendants and their agents from further publishing libelous statements about her and the 31st DWM, in addition to cost.

Mrs. Asmah was alleged to have peddled untruths against the 31st December Women's Movement (31st DWM), of which the former First Lady is the president, with regard to securing a loan facility of US$3,382,823.59 from the African Development Fund (ADF) during the tenure of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government.

The writ, issued late last year, further had the Editor of the 'Daily Guide,' a private newspaper and its publishers, Western Publications Limited as co-defendants, whose counsel was absent from court.

In her statement of claim, the former First Lady held that Mrs. Asmah, who is also Member of Parliament (MP) for Takoradi, libeled her on the front page of the October 1, 2004 issue of the Daily Guide,' captioned “Konadu Is A Liar”, which story asserted that she used unacceptable means to access a loan facility through the support of previous government officials, for the 31st DWM.

The former Women and Children's Affairs minister was reported to have dared the former first lady to come clean on, “how the 31st DWM managed to secure a loan facility of US$3,382,823.59 from the African Development Fund (ADF) with the out-gone government.”

The minister reportedly challenged Mrs. Rawlings, on “how Mr. Kwame Peprah, the former Minister of Finance, managed to counter-sign Government of Ghana funds of US$229,364.50 to the 31st DWM, a non-governmental organization,” and further accused the movement of using the National Council of Women and Development (NCWD) as a, “decoy for obtaining the ADF loan, as well as the Protocol Grant, and then disbursing the loan amount, without the knowledge or participation of the NCWD.”

According to the plaintiff, the said publication had greatly damaged and caused her considerable embarrassment as a former first lady.

In support of her claim, the former first lady asserted that at the time the defamatory words were published, Mrs. Asmah had in her possession, audit reports on the loan transactions covered by the loan agreement, confirming that her actions in securing the loan were appropriate.

According to Mrs. Rawlings, Mrs. Asmah referred to the report in the manner that supported her allegations, which she had to mitigate by featuring on Metro TV programme, “Good Evening Ghana,” on October 12, 2004, incurring an expense.

In her statement of defence, Mrs. Asmah denied the assertions made by the plaintiff, stating that she never caused the publication of the alleged defamatory words in the 'Daily Guide' issue of October 1, 2004.

According to her, the alleged defamatory words were published by the 2nd defendant, following a press statement she issued, which did not form a subject matter of the plaintiff's writ but the publication by a newspaper, over which she had no control.

Additionally, Mrs. Asmah noted that her press statement was in response to false allegation made against her by the former first lady to the effect that she (Asmah) had prevented the 31st DWM from executing the Women's Development Project, a project funded by a loan from the African Development Bank (ADB). As a result, the former Women and Children's Affairs minister, is counterclaiming damages and cost from Mrs. Rawlings for defamation, which is opposed by the plaintiffs.

In their statement of defence filed on March 18, this year by Blay & Associates, from Nzema Chambers in Takoradi, 2nd and 3rd defendants opposed the claims of the plaintiff asserting that the publication was a matter of public interest and a fair comment on national

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