The Neglect Of, Disregard For And Impoverishment Of Circuit Court Judges And District Magistrates Under President Akuffo Addo
I write this letter to bring to your attention some pressing issues affecting members of the Lower Bench within the Judiciary of Ghana and for you to use your influence and huge news outlet to highlight same for a quick resolution by the appropriate authorities. District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges are really suffering and are in debts.
I am a qualified lawyer by profession but I have been a member of the Lower Bench, which comprises the District Courts and Circuit Courts, for the past almost 5 years.
Please kindly forgive me but I am unable to mention my name and my station for the sake of anonymity due to the obvious professional liabilities, including victimization and possible dismissal, I could be exposed to if I were to do so.
After all, anonymity is not always bad. At least, one strong reason given by Her LADYSHIP, Chief Justice Sophia, for the order last year for magistrates and judges to fully robe, a relic of British colonialism, for court sittings was on ground of anonymity in the context of possible criminal attacks from persons who may feel aggrieved by our decisions in court.
I admit and indeed concede that I write this letter in my personal capacity. Touche’. However, my words contained herein are embodiments of and resonate with the overwhelming majority of lower bench members who are distraught, melancholic, despondent, frustrated and are certainly at their wits ends about our poor conditions of service.
Issues of conditions of service for judges in this country are well-documented; almost a platitude: Low salaries, poor accommodations and poor working environments, lack of security etc.
But today I want you to speak for us, the Lower Bench. In the aftermath of the 2015 Anas Aremeyaw Anas expose, judges, especially District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, who were were captured on tape demanding and taking moneys and all sorts of “gifts” including goats and yams to administer justice in their courts became the butt of every joke.
But what indubitably took the cake were the common scenes of taxi and trotro drivers who would go to local eateries or chop bars, whiles dangling their keys would point one at the pot and utter to the food vendor “Auntie Akua please give me two judges”!. “Two judges” refer to two pieces of their favourite goat meat!
Our shame was immeasurable. Our ignominy unspeakable. The pang of public opprobrium palpable. In one stroke of an investigate sting- whose modus operandi continues to divide opinions in the country- the whole Judiciary fell with a massive thud, shaking its very core and bruising it’s diginity. It was a painful period!
Much more painful was the variety of scathing, vitriolic and spiteful remarks and comments by a cross-section of their Ghana populace- from the academicians to the average illiterate Ghanaian through to the politician and neutrals.
Even Professor Mike Ocquaye, the current Speaker of Parliament, who was then a former Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament did not allow the shameful episode to pass without throwing in his own form of ridicule and criticism of judges and the Judiciary.
In a presentation or an article he scribbled, titled “ ISSUES OF JUSTICE AND JUDICIAL CORRUPTION “ which was published on Myjoyonline.com on 20th September, 2015, the venerable academician and legal mind wrote, inter alia, as follows:
“… no anti-corruption fight can succeed in Ghana if the judges themselves are corrupt. In end, corruption will destroy Ghana as a whole. If the Judiciary cannot be trusted, land guards, instant mob Justice etc will prevail or get worse. Do we want to see the worst before we sit up?...... To be a judge over your fellow is to stand in the place of God on Earth. It is a grave responsibility. This is because God himself is the ultimate Judge. To abuse this trust is a most heinous crime..”
President Akuffo Addo, then the Presidential candidate for the NPP, also rubbed it in in some no holds barred fashion .During an address at the maiden edition of the “ Legal Luminaries Platform of the Law Students’ Union of the Faculty of Law of the University of Cape Coast on Friday, 25th September, 2015, on the topic “ 40 years of Working With The Law; Can The Law Save The People?”, this is what President Akuffo Addo said about judges and the Judiciary in the then topical issue of the Anas Judicial expose;
“ .. the damning revelations from the investigations carried out by Anas Aremeyaw Anas has demonstrated in the most dramatic and graphic manner what many have suspected for a long time, that some of judicial official can be persuaded to compromise the delivery of justice in the courts…”
Only a few looked our way to offer some comforting words. I can mention the name of Mr. Kofi Bentil of Imani Ghana, who, speaking to Citi FM’s Fred Djabanor on the sidelines of the 2015 Ghana Bar Association Conference in Kumasi identified the result of the expose as “… symptomatic… is the system of a systemic problem with the Judicial Service. I have friends who are judges and for 8 months, they haven’t been paid after being posted. How is that explainable?.... But clearly, the way you are managed and handled by the Judicial system leaves you more or less to the vagaries of the profession, the negatives of it”.
So with these views and comments, the fate of judges and magistrates in this country was sealed: crucified and disgraced in the court of public opinion and those captured in the video taking and demanding for bribes dismissed and sent home without their benefits in the most swiftest and callous fashion.
Some have gone home to have their lives and career taken away from them. Some have gone home to suffer from different health conditions. And some have died in penury!
In all that, the winner was Anas Aremeyaw Anas- the great and quintessential hero of our time- for whom some of us at the lower bench are friends and law school mates and school seniors.
No one spoke for us. No one supported us. It wasn’t asked why a whole Judge or magistrate occupying such high positions in the country would take some few hundred of Ghana cedis and goats and tubers of yam to administer and deliver justice.
But why won’t we take goats to deliver justice and pass judgments in our courts when we are poorly paid and our conditions of service are nothing to write home about? The last time salaries of District Court Magistrates (comprising Career and Professional Magistrates) and Circuit Court Judges were increased was 5 years ago.
Yes, the salaries of all the District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges you see at the courts have stood still for more than 5 years now. Not even by 1 Ghana cedi.
But you and I know that prices of goods and services in this country have not stood still in these last 5 years. Our small allowances too delay for several quarters. Yet we go to the same market and we are expected to pay from our pockets.
All efforts by members of the Lower Bench to push for and have our salaries reviewed done have proved futile. In 2015, Justices of the Superior Courts (High Courts Court of Appeal and Supreme Court) received 10 percent salary increment just like MPS and members of the Executive arm of government then. Our request for such increment was shot down and never implemented.
What hurts is that for more than one year now, Justices of the Superior Courts just like Ministers of State, the Speaker and Members of Parliament and other political appointees have had their salaries reviewed upwards by more than 100 percent and their arrears paid from 2013 on the basis of the recommendations of the Professor Dora Francisca Edu-Buandoh Committee pursuant to Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution.
Although I concede that District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges are not part of Article 71 public office holders, however no reasonable interpretation of that Constitutional provision could be a basis to discriminate against members of the Lower Bench.
Article 71 is only a Constitutional means by which the salaries and allowances of a section of public office holders are reviewed. Article 71 does not state nor even suggest that only Article 71 holders deserve salary reviews and the payment of arrears.
The same 1992 Constitution provides for how the salaries and allowances and others benefits of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, as judicial officers, are to be determined. It is found under Article 149 , which states that;
“Judicial officers shall receive such salaries, allowances, facilities and privileges and other benefits as the President may, acting on the advice of the Judicial Council determine”.
Now on the back of the increment enjoyed by the Justices of the Superior Courts, the Lower Bench made some presentations before the Judicial Council, which body includes the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General and other eminent sons and daughters I of this land, for new salaries for District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges on the basis of some relativity formula used under the last increment under the late President Atta Mills of blessed memory.
Although we did not get what we had prayed for, the Judicial Council, pursuant to Article 149 of the Constitution approved some new salaries for Career Magistrates, Professional Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges. The approval was done around September/ October, 2017, well ahead of the preparation and reading of the 2018 Budget. In fact, the new salary figures were factored into the 2018 budget for the Judicial Service which was approved under the current Appropriation Act.
President Akuffo Addo has been given the new salaries to implement for our benefit since October, 2017. As I write this piece on Sunday, 1st July, 2018, the President has refused to sanction and implement our new salaries.
Not even several personal meetings by the Chief Justice with him appealing to him to do the needful, beyond the recommendations of the Judicial Council, which she chairs, would make the President budge. That informed The President of the Association of Magistrates and Judges of Ghana (AMJG) Justice Victor Ofoe to claim that the government was turning the Her Ladyship Chief Justice into a “trade unionist”!.
For those of us at the Lower Bench we are sad and disappointed. We feel disillusioned and dejected. A feeling of neglect and a painful feeling that perhaps our lives and welfare do not matter to the President, the state and the government: Maybe we are useless. Maybe we are expendables
But we have not felt this way all this time. We had been hopeful and excited. We had been expectant. Without sounding political, I am aware that following our challenge with the last government over its refusal to award us a similar 10 percent salary increment for the Superior Courts in 2015, despite some protests, some of us were hopeful and “excited” when President Akuffo Addo was elected and sworn as President.
Who could fault us? Who could begrudge us for being hopeful and expectant and even excited? The reasons were a no-brainer. For the new President was not only Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo- one of the most celebrated legal minds this country has seen in the last 4 to 5 decades and for whom from the courts he earned his living- but he was also Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo- whose late father, Edward Akuffo Addo, was one of our own- a jurist par excellence and a distinguished former Chief Justice of this country!
So in President Akuffo Addo we found someone who we believed would empathize and be sympathetic to the cause of judges and magistrates , especially in terms of resourcing the Judiciary and the Judicial Service to perform the Constitutional mandate under Article 125 of the Constitution and in terms of improving conditions of service and welfare matters.
Were these lofty and martian expectations? Certainly not! The late President Mills, a lawyer and law teacher had shown serious commitments towards improving the conditions of service of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges during his time.
He greatly enhanced or improved the salaries and allowances of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges unmatched by any administration in the recent history of this country.
For the first time in the history of this country, District Magistrates (professionals) and Circuit Court Judges were given Toyota Corolla as official cars, although I wish to add that Career Magistrates are still without official cars.
President Mills believed that District Court Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges deserved better conditions of service and improved and equitable salaries. District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges are forever grateful to him wherever he may be now.
So there was all this huge enthusiasm and expectations about the Presidency of President Akuffo Addo, one of our own, in relation to he even doing more than the late President Mills, to improve our salaries and conditions of service.
After all, President Mills was mainly a law professor who hardly practiced at our courts. But President Akuffo Addo was the typical advocate and practitioner of the law who regularly visited the courts and interacted with judges and magistrates of every form and hue.
It was only natural that many a District Magistrate and Circuit Court Judge would be at ease and be expectant of his coming and administration.
Meanwhile, I have been writing this letter for several weeks now and as I write this particular paragraph on the 10th day of July, 2018, the Judicial Service through Justice Victor Ofoe, a Justice of Appeal, has communicated a some new “take it or leave it” figures to us as ones approved by President Akuffo Addo and the government.
And we are crestfallen, sad and dejected. We feel insulted, disrespected and the only message that we can deduce from what we have been given by the government and the management of the Judicial Service is “you and your work do not matter enough”. President AKUFFO Addo has disappointed us.
Career Magistrates, Professional Magistrates ( magistrates with law background), and Circuit Court Judges have been given between 17- 23 percent salary increment.
For 5 years there has not a salary increment for District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges. And when it’s done, we are only given between 17-22 percent.
Meanwhile, Justices of the Superior Courts ( those at the High Court to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court), just like MPS and Ministers of State and other political appointees received close to 100 percent increment when their new salaries were implemented a little over one year ago.
What is most painful for District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges is the decision to deny us salary arrears based on the small increment on the basis of some alleged provision in the Financial Administration Act. We would not be given any salary arrears.
Meanwhile, even in the face of whatever provision in the Financial Administration Act, this nation and its leaders paid salary arrears for all Article 71 holders from 2013 including Justices of the Superior Courts.
People have been paid between 300, 000 to 500, 000 Ghana cedis (old 3 to 5 billion cedis) each in salary arrears in this country last year even though whatever provisions in the Financial Administration Act were in place when they were awarding 4 to 5 years salary arrears to themselves.
But when it was the turn of hardworking District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, who do close to 70 percent of the cases in the Judiciary and who generate an overwhelming majority of the revenue in the Judicial Service, we were only given a paltry 17- 23 salary increment after 5-6 years of waiting
Let us even leave out some of the main actors or public office holders within both the Executive and the Legislature out of this. Let’s focus on the Judiciary alone. Is it fair for the Justices at the High Court to the Supreme Court , to have their salaries reviewed by 100 percent and arrears for 4 -5 years paid to them; whiles for us at the Lower Bench, we would be given not only an unfair and paltry 17-23 percent increment BUT we are also denied salary arrears for the same period?
In all this, we dare not complain nor protest. In the Judiciary, there is little to no room for dissent, especially if you are a member of the Lower Bench. District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges must accept whatever they are given.
There is this information going around, after the “take it or leave it” 17-22 percent was communicated to us by Justice Ofoe, that any District Magistrate or Circuit Court Judge who opposes or publicly criticizes or even attempts to go on strike over the announced meagre increment would be dismissed or sacked from the Judicial Service. The quintessential double whammy!
We have been cowed into submission. It is a common phenomenon of the Lower Bench member. Constantly cowed into submission on issues of welfare is part of the life of a Lower Bench member.
You do speak out or protest and you could be be victimized: either by being denied promotion or have it delayed for several years or you being denied the few scholarship places for further studies within the Judiciary.
Just like this popular Akan proverb that goes like “w’aboro wo etua wo esu”. To wit, “you are beaten and you are prevented or forbidden from crying”. Is this fair even in life to beat up a kid with a stick on the buttocks and back and after that forbid him or her from crying or shedding tears?
But that’s our fate in the Judicial Service or Judiciary of Ghana for those of us at the lower bench. Just like “black lives don’t matter” in the US, in the same vain, in the Judiciary of Ghana, “Lower Bench lives don’t matter”!.
We are disrespected and treated with contempt. There is no regard for us. The Superior Courts and the Justices and indeed the management of the Judicial Service look down on us. It is a class system in the Judiciary. It is akin to the notorious caste system within the Indian Hindu society.
Our needs and conditions of service are always put at the back burner. In the Judiciary, the Superior Courts eat the meat, and we are given the bones. They eat the fresh cake and bread and we are given the stale crumbs, but only if some crumbs remain for us after they have had their fill.
In spite of all this, we are threatened to keep quiet . We are forbidden from complaining whatever raw deals that are thrown at us by the government and the management of the Judicial Service. Because in the Judiciary, a District Court Magistrate and a Circuit Court Judge has no freedom of speech.
There is no room for dissent. Isn’t it paradoxical and bewildering that District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges who work and are expected to enforce and protect the rights of the average Ghanaian including freedom of speech and labour rights in our courts themselves do not have any rights.
We have become cowards. They have made us weaklings! It has been there for some time. The Current CHIEF Justice Is ONLY Entrenching Punishing FOR dissenters only because they complain about poor conditions of service.
So it’s okay. The majority of us love our jobs and we shall not come out to protest publicly or embark on strike over this raw deal that the government and the management of the Judicial Service have handed out to us.
But we shall react in our own ways at our courts. There would be insidious consequences. And the more vulnerable and poor ordinary Ghanaians who throng our courts to seek for justice would bear the blunt of our anger, poverty and disappointment.
This raw deal that has been handed to us by this government and the management of the Judicial Service would certainly have ripple effects. If this nation and it’s leaders do not see our upkeep, welfare and conditions of service as a priority, we shall find ways to take care of ourselves and our families. We did not become idiots, useless and third class citizens simply because we did not become politicians.
As a politician once infamously said in this country, there are several ways to kill the cat. By parity of reasoning, there are several ways for us to take care of ourselves at the Lower courts and we shall make use of them to make up for all that we have lost by this decision to give us this small salary increments and the more callous and most unfair decision to deny us arrears since 2013 as they did for themselves and others.
If the leaders of this country and our management at the Judicial Service are telling us that there is not enough money from the Consolidated Fund- into which those of us at the lower bench contribute an overwhelming chunk of the revenue from the Judicial Service- when the same Consolidated Fund could accommodate their 100 percent salary increment and arrears from 2013, we would find ways in our courts to get the extra of the appropriate salary and corresponding salary arrears that they have cruelly taken away from us.
Because you see, what this has done is this: District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges who have been engaging in corruption would only be emboldened to continue in their acts and even do more. They would become zealots. But beyond that, there would be a more scarier phenomenon. Because there would be new recruits. New entrants into corruption in the District Courts and Circuit Courts levels.
I can tell you on authority that an overwhelming majority of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges employed in the last 5 years, are young men and women who came onto the job with clean mind, with genuine commitment and desire to do “Justice to all manner of persons, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.
However, the frustrations, disregard and neglect of the lower bench- lower salaries, rent allowances which are in several quarters arrears and in the case of book subsidy allowance which have not been paid since 2016- which has reached its heights with the paltry salary increment and denial to us of the appropriate arrears, have challenged their mindsets, values and principles and scruples to work with dignity and integrity on the bench.
By this poor treatment and raw deal from the government and the management of the Judicial Service , the message is clear and unambiguous that a District Magistrate and a Circuit Court Judge must do “other things” to survive and be guaranteed a more better life and to meet the expectations of our families and society.
Because just as we have come to realize in our few years on the job, to work with integrity at the lower bench is to live in relative penury, in debts and beset with life frustrations. We have realized sadly that at the lower bench, integrity is not a cherished value. It would only impoverish you. Working with integrity as a District Magistrate and a Circuit Court Judge would kill you!
This country is so rich to increase the salaries of all the main actors and main public office holders of the 3 arms of government by 100 percent except District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges.
In the Executive, the President, his Vice and ministers and deputy ministers, members of the Council of State and MMDCES have had their salaries and allowances reviewed by 100 percent and those who were entitled to arrears of 4 or 5 years paid to them from the same Consolidated Fund. Everybody over there has been sorted out. They are all happy.
Same for the main actors in the Legislative arm of government. The Speaker of Parliament, his two Deputies, and all Members of Parliament have had their salaries and allowances reviewed upwards by the same 100 percent and those entitled to 4-5 years arrears paid to them.
Everybody there has been sorted out and they are happy. No discrimination whatsoever, all from the same Consolidated Fund.
The 3rd arm of government is the Judiciary. The standards on integrity and honesty of its office holders are much higher here. We are expected to live and work like Angels and Gods as The Right Honorable Speaker of Parliament, Mike Ocquaye, would argue.
The expectations and duties of us at the Lower Bench in terms of principles of integrity, honesty, industry and scholarship are not in any way less than those at the Superior Courts.
Yet that’s where the deepest discrimination occurs. When it comes to our welfare and conditions of service issues, we are hugely discriminated against. There is a remuneration chasm in the Judiciary!
Meanwhile, District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, unlike High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Justices, do not retire on our salaries. District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges who are at their levels when they reach age 60 must compulsorily retire and are only given their relatively small pensions.
You don’t retire on your salary. If your pension is not enough for you, then it means you have to work again, and especially for those who were lawyers before joining the Bench, you need to make a beeline to the Ghana Bar Association offices to renew your Solicitor’s Licence and go back to practice.
However, Justices of the Superior Courts , who have worked in the Judiciary or even in public service for 15 years at the time of the age of their retirement (65 years for High Court Justice and 70 years for both Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Justices), at least 5 years out of the 15 years which should have been as a Justice of the Superior Court, are entitled to pension or lump sum gratuity payment and a juicer part of they retiring on their salaries until they die, which is subject to any future increments for serving Justices!
So with this poor treatment, is it rocket science for one to know that there would be a motivation for District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges to engage in bribery and corruption to save enough for their upkeep and comfort upon retirement?
Unlike the other two arms of government mentioned already, in the Judiciary, only a section of its main actors have Ben sorted out: Only Justices of the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have had their salaries reviewed upwards by 100 percent and their arrears from 2013 paid to them last year. Mouth-watering new salaries and fantastic arrears.
The Lower Bench, comprising District Court Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, had to wait extra one year to have our salaries reviewed upwards after 5 years amidst cries, pleadings and threats of strikes.
And when the figures finally came, we were given 17-23 percent increment as against the almost 100 percent the aforementioned persons or public office holders received. But more painfully, unlike them who received about 4-5 years arrears, we won’t get anything like that. Zilch!
Because even if you are not going to pay us similar 100 percent salary increment just like the other public office holders of the main 3 arms of government, is it fair to withhold and deny us of the relevant arrears on the paltry 17-23 percent review? Are we not humans too? Don’t we go to the same market too? Don’t we also deserve to be properly taken care of by this country?
The government and leadership of this country, civil society groups especially those involved in eliminating and fighting corruption (and that is why you are receiving a copy of this letter ), and key stakeholders of this nation and indeed the Ghanaian public should ask themselves if it is fair for this government and indeed this country to treat District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges like that.
The leadership of this country and it’s people have high expectations of industry, integrity and acting and working like God of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges.
That we should work with dignity, integrity and be fair and impartial arbiters. Yet when it comes to our welfare and conditions of service, we are treated like 3rd class public officers and given raw deals.
Why and how do you expect us to perform the functions of our judicial offices with sublime dignity, with flawless integrity, with pride and without blemish when you poorly pay us and give us raw deals?
Only God knows when our salaries would be increased again. Even with this paltry 17-23percent increment we would have to wait until end of January, 2019, for it to take effect.
On other issues, this country can find money to pay Members of Parliament up to 4 years rent advance at a go, in one tranche! Ministers of State and Deputies and other political appointees can be given proper accommodations and those who cannot be provided, several years rent advance payment made to them at a go.
Even in the Judiciary, Superior Courts Justices who are entitled to rent allowance, are paid at the end of the month together with their huge monthly salaries.
But District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges are similarly discriminated here too: Those who are entitled to it such as myself get our rent allowances quarterly. Please where in this country do landlords take quarterly rents?
Yet District Magistrates are paid their rent allowances quarterly. Even at that, they are always in arrears. As I write this in the second week of July, which is the start of the 3rd quarter of the year, we are yet to receive the 1st quarter rent for this year, although we have been getting some information that the 1st quarter rent allowance cheques are being worked on.
Even at that, you can imagine when the 2nd quarter rent allowance would come and with 5 months to go till the end of the year, we may not get the 3rd quarter rent allowance before 2018 ends. So some people get 2 to 4 years rent allowance at a go, and for us at the lower bench we have to chase and wait quarterly for our rent allowances, almost running into arrears.
It is July, 2018. And I can speak for myself and several colleagues who would be renewing their tenancies between now and October of this year. Only God knows how we are going to find the minimum 1 year or even 2 years rent advance payments to renew our tenancies.
And you can’t go to the banks because you are servicing several loans already and you are not even creditworthy before your friends and colleagues, who may be in similar troubles.
One other sad issue is that a new rule by the management of the Judicial Service is that due to the “enhanced salaries” (the small 17-23 increment after 5 years without the payment of the appropriate arrears ), they have scrapped additional duty allowances for the lower courts.
Additional duties involve either a District Magistrate or a Circuit Court Judge managing fully at least two courts at the same time on a permanent basis, or when a District Magistrate or a Circuit Court Judge is given temporary duty to relieve a colleague magistrate or Judge who is on sick leave or on annual leave, which could be from a month to several months, and in some cases for a colleague who is lucky enough to have gone abroad for study leave, for more than a year.
The typical magistrate or circuit court Judge would go to that court mainly once or twice a week, and most times traveling several kilometers spanning two districts or into another region to work.
It used to be that those involved were entitled to put in claims either in the he course of or after the performance of those duties for a refund depending on the number of times he worked at the court and the total mileage.
Now District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, have been told that due to this small or paltry 17-23 percent salary increment ( which management calls “enhanced salaries”, the first in 5 years and even without the arrears), they are not going to pay any allowances to us for travelling several miles for several weeks and months to take care of additional courts.
Do you want him or her to use part of the small salary to pay for fuel? Aren't we then told to find ways and means o take moneys from parties to pay for the fuel and even money for servicing for the car when claims for car servicing or even repairs are delayed for months and years and sometimes are not paid by the Judicial Service?
So in all this why won’t we fall for yams, goats and few hundred Ghana cedis to administer justice in our courts on our own terms? What do the leadership of this country and the people of Ghana expect us to do when we are poorly paid, neglected and abandoned and denied of our needs and on time and we are severally and systemically exposed to all the vulnerabilities and vagaries that public officers who hold such sensitive and delicate positions of trust which demand the utmost Integrity should not be subjected to?
Would we have been treated like this if we were politicians and political appointees? Is the nation's money only for the politicians? Are we useless and idiots because as professional lawyers we chose to pursue a career in the Judiciary from the Lower Bench?
How do you want us to work like Angels and Gods yet you treat us like mere mortals? It is morally wrong for a District Court Magistrate and a Circuit Court Judge to taking bribes and engaging in corruption to administer justice in the courts of this country.
Touche’. But isn’t it more morally wrong for this country and it’s leaders to starve, impoverish, frustrate and underpay District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, especially when this nation can, from the same Consolidated Fund, find money to pay far bigger salaries and allowances for other Judges and public officers within the Executive and the Legislature!
In all these, why must the people of this country be offended, condemn us and even be shocked to their bones when corruption and bribery go on at the District Courts and Circuit Courts? How do we afford decent lives?
In all honesty, I wish to urge Ghanaians, mostly the ordinary Ghanaians who mainly come to the lower courts to seek justice to appreciate the frustrations and impoverishment and near poverty of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges and bear with us when we and our staff find ways to take moneys from them.
In all honesty, most of us do not enjoy that. I concede that there are some who even if they are given the salaries of the President and Chief Justice combined would still take bribes. They are the “ irredeeamble Mensahs” within the lower bench family. They are beyond redemption. Not even the premium oil from Prophet T. B. Joshua from Nigeria nor the popular “ Obimim’ stickers can save them.
But for many of us who have been taking bribes and the new ones who may be compelled and even motivated to start taking bribes, it wouldn’t have been so but for the perennial and systemic neglect of their needs and poor welfare issues and in particular this raw deal that the government and the management of the Judicial Service have given to us
Because you see, at the end of the day, integrity alone cannot feed us and pay our bills. Because at the end of the day, when our spouses and kids and even ourselves go to the markets or malls across the country to buy things for our homes, we are not given freebies because of our “MY LORD” titles. We pay for them depending on the general economic situation and market forces.
So Ghanaians may have to brace themselves to continue to pay something or even something more when they take their cases to the District Courts and Circuit Courts.
Please for whatever the government and the management of the Judicial Service have denied us in terms of the callously low salary increment and the denial of us of the salary arrears- which many of us had borrowed against at our banks, and which we have to find moneys to pay now- we would be forced to take them from you at our courts. It's non-negotiable!
Many of us are not concerned and would no longer be bothered about perceptions of corruption again. Neither would we fixated with striving to achieve for integrity and all that. What is integrity when you are in debt and you cannot property take care of the needs of your family?
Just as our politicians have been saying that Ghanaians don’t eat roads, by the same token District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges do not eat “ My Lord” titles. We do not eat integrity!
What’s integrity when you can’t properly take care of your family and pay bills? What’s integrity when you are worried about and you are facing the constant embarrassments from your landlord who is chasing you for rent renewal?
Please kindly talk to landlords across the country who have some of our members and their families as tenants and they will tell you how many of us struggle to pay 1 year rent advance and how they have to chase some of us for rent renewal when our tenancies expire.
AS FOR ANAS AREMEYAW ANAS and another expose from him, many of us don’t care about him and his crude methods and disputed modus operandi. Some of us are his seniors, mates and juniors from law school and even from the law faculty.
Some of us have shared meals and private conventions with. Anas Aremeyaw Anas knows our plight and virtual neglect at the lower bench by the state.
He understands the advocacy role he could play to convince the leadership of this country to take up the issues of our welfare and conditions of service seriously at the lower bench.
But he won’t do anything of that. Why would he when in us he finds convenient and vulnerable cannon fodders, whom he could easily dangle before our faces and trick us with some few hundreds of Ghana cedis in our impoverishment and succeed to have us do his planned bidding and get us captured on video, from which he would premiere at venues across this country and on international media outlets amidst all the accolades, thumbs-ups and praises- his version of heroism and nationalism!
So we dare Anas Aremeyaw Anas to come to our courts, chambers and homes to expose us once more. Because corruption at the District Courts and Circuit Courts across this country would only increase unabated, intensify and ruthlessly sustained. In fact, we are more emboldened now.
In the coming months and years, many of us, including some of us who had vowed to work with integrity and to do justice, would be compelled to abandon all those ethos and notions of scruples and dignity to recoup all that this government and the management of the Judicial Service have denied us from the ordinary people of this country who come to our courts.
We would be compelled to take their yams. We may accept their goats. In cash or in kind, we would be ready to do business with them and administer justice as the exigencies of our poor welfare conditions would demand.
And when that happens, we urge the ordinary people people of this country to not only bear with us but to appreciate it as a token of and a form of their widow’s mite towards supplementing the government and the state's duty towards our proper and reasonable upkeep. For what’s the worth and dignity of judge if he cannot afford a decent life?
We need and we deserve far decent lives as District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges. We are not and we did not become idiots and useless beings because we are District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges Judges. We deserve far better salary increments and far better conditions of service than these.
Even at that paltry raise after 5 years, why would the state, the government and the management of the Judicial Service deny us salary arrears on the meagre 17-22 percent when about a year ago this nation , and from the same Consolidated Fund, paid 4-5 years salary arrears to all members of the Executive, the Legislature and Superior Court Justices after increasing their salaries by about 100 percent? Is what Is good for the goose no longer good for the gander?
District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges expect and demand the government and the management of the Judicial Service to take a second look at this paltry 17-22 percent that they have decided to give us afer 5 years without any increments.
We believe we deserve a more reasonable raise even if it's not the same 100 percent they have given go others. And we also request the government and the management of the Judicial to pay us our appropriate arrears from 2013 just like they did for the others as we perform same or similar judicial functions.
It is only fair. It is not fair to have a judiciary and public service that discriminates, especially towards District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges whom the people of this country expect and demand to work like God in the affairs of and dispute between people in our courts.
It is only when we are properly, reasonably taken care of that this nation, it's leaders and it's people could hold us go higher standards of integrity and even have a moral authority to condemn and punish any of us when we engage in bribery and corruption to administer justice.
For just like the government and the nation, what's the moral authority of a father to attack and rebuke a female child who turned to sleeping with several men for survival because he had refused to properly and adequately provide for her needs even when he could afford?
Please District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges and Circuit Court Judges are not happy. We are angry. We are in debts! We feel let down, we feel insulted and disrespected and we feel shortchanged and cheated by the government and the management of the Judicial Service.
Please we urge you to speak for us. This nation and this government can do far better than this raw deal that we have been given- a meagre salary increment after 5 years of waiting and the most cruel part of denying us the appropriate salary arrears when our seniors at the Superior Courts have been paid 4- 5 years salary arrears on top of a 100 percent salary increments!
However, if the government and the management of the Judicial Service would still go ahead to impose and implement these decisions to our detriment, then we can promise Ghanaians that bribery and corruption such as the taking of yams, goats and the sort to administer justice would continue and even exacerbate at the Lower courts. Ghanaians should take notice and notice is hereby served!
This country may not only burn because of some presidential election petition case that would be decided at the Supreme Court or any of the high profile cases that would be heard and determined at the Superior Courts, for which reason the government may want to take proper care of the remuneration and conditions of service of those Superior Courts Justices.
But this country MAY also burn if in many of the Lower courts across the country, poorly paid, shortchanged and impoverished magistrates and circuit court judges would be influenced with some few hundreds of Ghana cedis and some foodstuffs and delicacies like goats to subvert the course of justice to the average Ghanaian whose piece of land, his only valuable property was wrongfully taken away from him or that poor family whose innocent son has been wrongly convicted.
The moral of the story; District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges are as equally important as the Superior Court Justices and indeed other public office holders in the Executive and the Legislature! We deserve better treatment.
Otherwise the government and this nation and the people in it should expect to see more bribery and corruption- taking goats and yams to deliver our version of justice- at the Lower courts across the country. IT WOULD ONLY BE A NATURAL AND REASONABLE CONSEQUENCE OF OUR POOR TREATMENT.
President Akuffo Addo must know that it is not enough to speak and write in flowery and bombastic words. He must match them with actions. For he cannot appear to have an abhorrence for corruption in the Judiciary and use all manner of fora to lampoon and denounce perceptions of and actual acts of corruption in the Judiciary when he and his government are at the forefront of underpaying, frustrating and impoverishing a reasonable section of the Ghanaian Judiciary.
President Akuffo Addo please kindly know that District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges across this country are not happy with you! If we were the only constituency and electorates to determine your fate in 2020, you would lose by a landslide. Because you have turned out to be nightmare from the father and Messiah that we had hoped and expected you would be to us. In the eyes of the average District Magistrate and Circuit Court Judge, you and your government are the worst in the last 10 years and you have proven too insensitive.
At least, the late President Atta Mills, sanctioned the current salaries that appear on our salaries which have remained the same for almost 6 years now plus the allocation of a Toyota Corolla to Professional Magistrates as the official car for the first time in the history of this country.
Those salaries increment sanctioned by the late President Mills was more than 100 percent, from figures which were most insulting and disrespectful of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges.
And at least, for former President Mahama, under his tenure, despite some little opposition, District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges got some reasonable salary arrears payments in 2013-2014 which doubtlessly brought huge relief to majority of us and gave us some belief that this nation cared for our welfare and it's one worth dying for.
Alas, there is nothing refreshing and positive to speak about you and your government in the context of our welfare issues. We have not been giving a paltry 20 percent salary after almost 6 years, but we are also not going to enjoy any salary arrears. Meanwhile, under your tenure, our little rent and book subsidy allowances greatly delay before we are paid.
We are in September, 2018 and we have only been paid 1st quarter rent allowance for 2018 when the 2019 budget is less than 2 months away.
In your recent usual bombastic address or speech at 5th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, in Abuja on Monday, 28th August, 2018, you boasted about how you have increased the budget of the Judiciary by about 47 percent since you assumed power and mentioned about how critical the need to resource the Judiciary is.
Whilst I am unable to vouch for those figures, the reality is that the average District Magistrate and Circuit Court Judge has not felt any such increased budget. CLEARLY IT IS THE CHIEF JUSTICE AND JUSTICES OF THE SUPERIOR COURTS WHO ARE ENJOYING INCREASED BUDGET. District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges are becoming more disillusioned and more marginalized economically and financially under your watch, Your Excellency. We are in the throes of debts and impoverishment!
Your Excellency, please the Judiciary of Ghana is more than Superior Courts Justices. Lower Bench is also a critical segment. You have appeared to be implementing pro-poor policies such as Free SHS and the likes. You appear to be interested in the welfare of the vulnerable, the marginalized and the poor in the society.
The poor deserve quality and effective justice too. Chances are that the average or greater percentage of beneficiaries of your pro-poor policies and programs would appear before or go to those impoverished and starving and debt - ridden District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges to seek and hope for justice. The average poor Ghanaian, hardly know about the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
But they know about the District Courts and Circuit Courts. The District Courts and Circuit Courts are the prisms through which they view and form their own opinions and perceptions whether our motto "FREEDOM AND JUSTICE", in the hands of poorly paid and impoverished District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, is truly being administered in this country.
Wouldn't it therefore be fair and prudent to take better care of District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges, who are the first port of call for the avarice poor Ghanaian hankering for justice, Your Excellency?
We have shouted enough. The Chief Justice, returned from his obvious luxury vacation from Australia, and amidst threats of her resolve to punish dissenters within the Lower Bench, informed us that contrary to an earlier proposal to pay us an unspecified lump sum and salary arrears from January, 2018, the government and the Judicial Service never made any promises to us.
So President Akuffo Addo, we may not go on strike to protest our poor treatment by your government and the management of the Judicial Service.
But please be assured that in courts across the country, we shall take our pounds of flesh from the poor and average Ghanaians who come to our courts to seek justice- our own form of justice. President Akuffo Addo would tell Ghanaians he was bound by the recommendations of an "inferior" Constitutional committee chaired by the Chief Justice to dismiss Madam Charlotte Osei as EC boss.
However, when a more "Superior" Constitutional body, Judicial Council, proposed and recommended about 60 percent salary increment to District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges and the payment of arrears from 2013, he and his government chose to conveniently (acting with support from some cabals in the Judiciary such as the AMJG President, Justice Ofoe who do not want the progress and prosperity of the Lower Bench members) refuse to work with the figures.
This country can find about 900 million Ghana cedis for some needless referendum for the creation of some new regions but we tell District Magistrates and Circuit Court Judges that there is no money for their welfare when God and government know that about 10 percent of the money for referendum can pay for the increment and arrears recommended by the Judicial Council for us. This is how we treat people Ghanaians especially President Akuffo Addo expect to work like Angels and God!
So we shall take our pounds of flesh from the poor and vulnerable Ghanaians at our courts. We and our families deserve better treatment and upkeep by the state. We did not become idiots and useless human beings because we have chosen careers in the Judiciary from the Lower Bench.
And when that happens, we pray you and your government ad the people of this country would understand that just like we do not "chop roads" in this country, we do not chop "Your Worship" and "Your Honour" titles that are effortlessly spat at us at our courts.
Thank you for reading this. God bless you.
A CONCERNED AND SAD LOWER BENCH MEMBER...