Judgment Debt Boss Handicapped

The recent razzmatazz over the appointment of Justice Yaw Appau as the Sole Commissioner of Judgment Debts in Ghana could be short-lived as fundamental legislative issues are threatening his work. A Member of Parliament (MP) for Manhyia in the Ashanti region, Dr Mattew Opoku Prempeh noted that the commissioner may never get a chance to start work this year because he would need to navigate complex legislative processes to legally commence his probe into the controversial judgment debts paid to individuals and institutions. According to Dr Opoku Prempeh, the Judgment Debt Commissioner would need a legislative backing in order to fully commence work, and just like any legislative or constitutional instruments, the commissioner’s office would be run through the normal Parliamentary processes which takes 21 days to mature. The Commissioner has a new CI 79, which needs 21 parliamentary sitting days to mature. Incidentally, the Ghana’s Parliament is currently on recess and would resume on October 22, 2012. “When you look at the Parliamentary calendar we don’t have the 21 days till after elections. So Justice Appau, an appeal Court judge cannot have even a secretariat set up till the instrument becomes law; and its 21 days long after the elections,” stated the Manhyia MP. The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) lawmaker thinks the President John Mahama-inspired commission could become a paper tiger that may never take-off. “This appointment will not bring us results anytime soon because that constitutional instrument must become law. And before it becomes law article 11/7 of Ghana’s constitution defines it that it has to be placed in Parliament for 21 working days,” he said. On Tuesday, September 4, 2012 President Mahama, in a highly publicized policy announcement, elucidated his broad policies, including plans for addressing the judgment debt scandals that have rocked the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government since November 2011. The President announced that he would appoint a judgment debt commissioner who would be directly responsible for probing judgment debts in previous governments and the over GHC640 million judgment debts paid so far by the NDC since it assumed power. Since the announcement, several civil society groups and opposition political parties, particularly the NPP, have described the move as a mere ploy to deflect the bad press that the NDC received after allegedly engaging in fraudulent judgment and settlement debt transactions as well as buy time as election approaches. “This whole propaganda is very cynical and it feeds into the NDC’s penchant for propaganda,” Dr Opoku Prempeh, popularly called Napo sneered. The commissioner would be required to sort out circumstances surrounding the payment of judgment debts including the controversial payment of GHC51.2 million to businessman and NDC financier Alfred Agbesi Woyome. But a constitutional lawyer, Nana Asante Bediatuo says “it seems to me that the instrument was a kind of rush.” He said an instrument with the responsibility of investigating a serious matter such as judgment debts, should be a little more detailed and called for a little more direction to be given to the instrument. “Well they have to withdraw it, do it properly and then relay. That is, if the powers that be agree with the position that we have taken,” he told Joy News. According to Nana Asante Bediatuo, the decision to extend the scope of the investigation to cover cases from 1992 is “too broad and unnecessary.” Dr. Dominic Ayine, a constitutional lawyer, also identified some areas he thinks the government ought to take a second look at to make the work of the commissioner “easy”. He said the inordinate, as contained in the CI, must be properly defined. “I am not predicting that he is going to have a hard time doing his job, but from a legal technical point of view, there are things that need to be addressed in order that he can work smoothly,” he said.