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Feature Article of Saturday, 23 February 2002

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

The Closed-door meeting between JAK and the Chief Justice

I have been taken by surprise by the recent alleged closed-door meeting between JAK and the CJ to discuss the problems facing the judiciary. Put mildly, this is a rather disturbing development. As is well known, and a long cherished tradition of those of us from the UP tradition, an independent judiciary is a prerequisite for good governance.

Independence here refers both to independence IN FACT as well as IN APPEARANCE. Independence in fact refers to the judges' state of mind while appearance refers to public perception of the judiciary. While those of us who know the CJ and JAK know that such a closed-door meeting was not a tool or an avenue to compromise independence IN FACT, there is little doubt in my mind that the meeting significantly impaired independence IN APPEARANCE.

The meeting is particularly unwise in light of the persistent and discredited NDC propaganda that the desire to hold past officials accountable is a political witch-hunt. It was only a few weeks ago that chairman JJR was accusing the judiciary of all kinds of improper behavior. Such a closed-door meeting can only fuel these allegations.

It is regrettable that every institution in Ghana believes they should meet the president to discuss their problems. Addressing the problems of the judiciary is not and should never be a matter of closed door and private discussions between the CJ and JAK. Rather, such problems should be openly discussed in an open hearing before an appropriate parliamentary committee. The CJ should submit a budget that takes into account these problems and appear before the finance sub-committee to justify the budgetary requests. It is that simple and certainly requires no closed-door meeting between the CJ and the president.

In my opinion, the fact that we have this problem speaks to the poor advice that the president gets. His chief of staff, and my good friend Kwadwo Mpiani, is responsible for controlling the traffic to the president and he must have seriously counseled against this meeting. The president is himself a lawyer and should have known that such a meeting was unwise and WOULD be misconstrued in spite of his good intentions. Finally, one expects that there are a legal advisors and political counselors in the castle who should have pointed out the potential dangers inherent in such a meeting.

The president enjoys tremendous goodwill because of the deep dislike that Ghanaians had for the NDC and the former chairman of the PNDC. It is most unsatisfactory and disturbing that the president will dissipate his political capital over such a meeting that was likely to achieve little in substance but raise nagging constitutional and clearly ethical questions.

The closed-door meeting also speaks to the poor counsel that the CJ receives. Surely, he must have known that such a meeting will compromise the APPEARANCE of independence. Which accused person or clever defense attorney will not jump on this meeting to question their chances of a fair trial. I am aware of one frivolous lawsuit filed by Comrade Tsatsu Tsikata challenging the constitutionality of the FTC, which is a fancy name for the high court. Imagine how it will look, if the court dismisses comrade Tsatsu's writ shortly after the closed-door meeting with the president. Even though it will be the right decision, it will not smell right!

The CJ must understand that the judiciary is not in the pocket of the president. Nor, incidentally, must the president be made to believe that he has some powers to make the life of the judiciary better or worse. The power of the purse surely and appropriately lies with parliament.

There is a general need to minimize the number of people and institutions calling on the president to discuss their problems. Institutions should use the budgetary allocation process to highlight their problems. The president has enough work to do. The CJ has enough work to do. These are independent positions and these should remain so. The CJ should not burden the president with his problems and the president should leave the CJ alone to use the clearly articulated constitutional and legal framework to address the problems of the judiciary. If the CJ wants advice, let him contact the judicial council. It is for good cause that the judiciary is given financial autonomy!!

I would have complained all year if chairman JJR held a closed door meeting with the CJ. In the end, I would have chalked it to his inherent dictatorial mindset compounded by his ignorance of the fine points of the law and justice. Here, I just do not know what happened.

S. Kwaku Asare , USA.



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