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General News of Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Source: The New Statesman

Judges mad at Mahama over pay cut

There is growing tension and anger among Judges and Magistrates of the nation’s lower courts following the decision by the Mahama-led National Democratic Congress government to vary their salaries to their disadvantage.

Some of the Judges and Magistrates who have spoken to the New Statesman have threatened to resign if the decision is implemented; others say they will remain at post and adopt lackadaisical attitude towards their work.

The decision, which appears to be in contravention of the 1992 Constitution, and likely to end in the Supreme Court, could also see government recovering from the affected Judges and Magistrates what Finance Minister Seth Terpker calls “excess salaries paid to them.”

No proper reason has been given by government to explain the action, except the claim that “a mistake was made in increasing their salaries.”

The Judicial Secretary, Justice Alexander Poku Acheampong, who confirmed the development to the New Statesman yesterday, said authorities of the Judiciary had taken up the issue and were in talks with the Executive to see how best it could be resolved.

The New Statesman can, however, state on authority that a human right activist is preparing to go to court to challenge the legality of the action by the Mahama government. The concerned human right activist will come under Article 2(1) a & b to seek a declaration that the action by the government contravenes Article 127(5) of the 1992 Constitution.

Article 127(5) states that “The salary, allowances, privileges and rights in respect of leave of absence, gratuity, pension and other conditions of service of a Justice of the Superior Court or any judicial officer or other person exercising judicial power, shall not be varied to his disadvantage.”

Article 2(1) a & b states that “A person who alleges that an enactment or anything contained in or done, under the authority of that or any other enactment; or any act or omission of any person, is inconsistent with, or in contravention of a provision of this Constitution, may bring an action in the Supreme Court for a declaration to that effect.”

The Office of the President, in a letter dated April 10, 2013, informed the Ministry of Finance about its decision to withdraw an approval by the Ministry for the payment of new levels of salaries for members of the Lower Court Bench, as approved by the late President John Evan Mills, after his administration had accepted recommendations by a committee set up to review the conditions of service of the judges and magistrates.

Appointment letters of new Judges and Magistrates employed about four months ago indicated that they would be paid the new salaries which government is now seeking to vary.

Investigations carried out by the New Statesman indicates that, beginning next month, the 49 affected Circuit Court Judges and 145 Magistrates could see 50 percent cut from the salaries they have been enjoying close to a year now.

Following the authorisation for the payment of the new salary levels, the Judges and Magistrates were accordingly paid arrears backdated to 2010. But in addition to the expected pay cut, they are now going to “refund the excess salaries paid them,” according to Finance Minister Seth Terpker.

Mr Terpker has accordingly written to the Controller and Accountant-General to implement the decision taken by the Office of the President. This was a counter instruction to a previous one from the Minister in a letter dated February 27, 2013, which authorised the payment of the new salary levels.

The letter signed by the Finance Minister, and dated November 6, 2013, with the caption NEW SALARY LEVEL FOR THE LOWER COURT BENCH, reads in part: “Please refer to this Ministry’s letter number ERFD/13/SAL.1 dated February 27, 2013, on the above subject (copy attached). In the letter under reference, the Ministry of Finance approved new salary levels for the Lower Court Bench. The Office of the President, per a letter number SCR.A.14/8 dated April 10, 2013(copy attached) has withdrawn this Ministry’s approval and has requested members of the Lower Court Bench to refund the excess salaries paid them.”

The letter further instructed the Controller and Accountant-General: “You are kindly requested stop the payment of the new levels as indicated in this Ministry’s letter under reference. The modalities for the recovery will be discussed.”

Mr Terpker’s letter was copied to the Chief of Staff, Secretary to the President, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, among other recipients.

A Circuit Court Judge who spoke to the New Statesman could not under why the Attorney-General and Secretary to the President, who are lawyers, would sit down for such a decision to be taken, “knowing very well that it breaches the Constitution.”

“What is happening is very pathetic. Look, even under our new conditions of service, we were to be paid book and rent allowances but for over a year now nothing has been paid to us. In the past we used to take leave allowance of 10 per cent of our salaries; 10 per cent clothing allowance and 30 to 40 gallons of petrol a month for our vehicles.

All of these were consolidated into our new salaries and now they say they want to reduce our pay under this trying economic circumstance,” he lamented.