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General News of Thursday, 24 January 2013

Source: Daily Graphic

Bombshell: Judgement debts beneficiaries overpaid; Solicitor-General reveals

The Solicitor-General, Ms Amma Abuakuaa Gaisie, Wednesday confirmed that some beneficiaries of judgement debts in the past few years were overpaid, with some receiving double the amounts due them.

Making an appearance before the Commission on Judgement Debts (CJD) in Accra, Ms Gaisie said the situation had arisen as a result of lack of co-ordination among the Attorney-General's (A-G's) Department, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP), which released the funds, and other stakeholders.

To stop the double payments, she suggested that all stake-holders, including the Controller and Accountant-General's Department (CAGD) and the Bank of Ghana (BoG), "reconcile accounts" before payments were effected.

According to her, in many instances, the A-G's office got to know of the release of money to the beneficiaries only when petitioners reported at the office to complain that the MoFEP had reneged on agreements to pay the money in installments after releasing cash in one or two tranches.

In other cases, she added, it was through the "open lease file" system instituted a few years ago that the A-G's office got to know of the transfer of funds to beneficiaries.

When the Kufuor administration left office, she said, the "open lease file system fizzled out".

She said the Lands Commission, which recommended payment for lands compulsorily acquired, for example, did not have records of judgement debts paid.

The Sole Commissioner, Mr Justice Yaw Apau, took a serious view of the issue and sought to know whether the A-G's Department was given copies of the Auditor-General's Report on the payment of judgement debts after it had been sent to Parliament.

Ms Gaisie replied in the negative and agreed with Mr Justice Apau that it was important that copies of the report be sent to the A-G's office because it was the department which dealt with the legal issues regarding payments.

When she appeared before the commission Wednesday, Ms Gaisie presented some documents requested for by the commission.

They were a table of judgement debts with suit numbers from 1992 to 2012, copies of letters sent to the MoFEP advising payment on judgement debts from 1992 to 2000, a list of cases that were actually filed in court and a list of cases determined and for which compensation and damages or judgement debts had already been paid.

She, however, failed to provide other documents, namely, a list of notices of intention to sue the state from 1992 to 2012, a list of cases that were settled without surfacing in the courts, a list of cases filed that did not see full trial, that is, those settled along the way indicating amount settled, a list of cases that went full trial and their outcome, indicating the amount involved, a list of suits pending against the state on either compensation or debt claims arising from either torts committed by state employees or breach of contract.

She also failed to furnish the commission with a list of cases determined for which judgement debts were yet to be paid, a list of cases determined on arbitration, indicating the state's indebtedness, a list of cases on which original judgements delivered by the court were compromised through negotiated settlements after trial and copies of files grouped in years from 1992 to 2012.

According to Ms Gaisie, the A-G's Department was generating data on the documents she had failed to provide and added that when they were ready, she would make them available to the commission.

She said the office of the Solicitor-General did not have records on judgement debts from 1992 to 2000 in a tabulated form but had records on debts spanning 2001 to 2011.

She added that although there had been payments from 1993-2000, the documents relating to them were difficult to retrieve.

Ms Gaisie intimated that some of the files were at the A-G's office, but added that if they became difficult to trace, the Public Records and Archives Administration Department (PRAAD) would be contacted.

Mr Justice Apau, just before he discharged Ms Gaisie, once again assured the public that all stakeholders were co-operating with the commission.

He said record keeping in the country was poor "and it is this that is giving us petty problems", adding that the problem would be surmounted.

"Until our final report comes out in October, you may not know that we are working. We are working behind the scenes," he said.

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