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General News of Saturday, 24 December 2016

Source: Daily Guide

Pay Volta Basin flooded areas claimants- Court

Attorney-General, Marrietta Brew Appiah Attorney-General, Marrietta Brew Appiah

A Land Court in Accra has ordered the government to resume the payment of compensation to claimants in the Volta Basin Flooded Areas of the Volta Region.

The court, presided over by Justice Anthony Oppong, held that it was unlawful for the government to halt the payments in 2013 merely based on recommendations made by then Sole Commissioner Justice Yaw Apau – now with the Supreme Court – who investigated judgement debts and other frivolous payments under C.I. 79.

Between 2009 and 2012, about GH¢71 million was paid to the various claimants by the government after a negotiated settlement, but the disbursement of the remaining GH¢67 million was put on hold on the instructions of the Sole-Commissioner; and the government announced later that it was dealing with discrepancies in the payments.

Mahama Adamant

However, since 2013 the Mahama administration refused to resume the payments, compelling the claimants to go to court to force the government to honour its obligation under the negotiated settlement.

Cabinet in July 2008 had approved a consolidated amount totaling GH¢138 million for various stools/families in Pai, Apaaso, Makango, Ahmandi and Kete Krachi Traditional Areas, and about 57 groups were said to have benefited from the amount.

As a result, the claimants, including chiefs and people from Krachi, Pai, Tapa, Afram Plains, Nkomi-Sene, Makango and Apaaso, sued the Attorney General and the Lands Commission to trigger the resumption of the compensation payments.

Misconceived Action

When the case started, the Lands Commission, which is the body overseeing the payments, raised preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case at all, but the action was dismissed as ‘misconceived.’

The case then went to full trial where the plaintiffs, led by Messrs Kwasi Owusu Yeboa and Daniel Owusu Nyampong, insisted that the government breached the terms of the negotiated settlement and urged the court to reverse the decision to suspend payment.

They also argued that it was unlawful for the Sole-Commissioner to recommend that the payments be halted without following properly laid down provisions.

Defendants’ Position

Both the AG and Lands Commission (as defendants) had argued among other things that once adverse findings had been made against some of the people involved in the claims, they needed to seek redress at the Court of Appeal before they could continue to file for the rest of the claims.

They insisted that the plaintiff’s cause of action was premature, even though the defendants admitted the existence of a negotiated settlement and part of the amount already disbursed.

The commission further held that those the adverse findings were made against should have gone to the Court of Appeal to seek redress instead of the High Court.

Court’s Decision

In his judgement, Justice Oppong said that the government White Paper covering the Sole-Commissioner’s report had no binding power on the court in its current state.

He said all the findings leading to the recommendation of the suspension of the rest of the payments assumed the character of a High Court judgement after six months of the release of the report, and said the recommendation could not be binding on the court to decide whether the payment should be resumed.

The court also held that the terms of reference of the Judgement Debt Commission also made reference to inordinate payments, but the category under which the claimants’ case fell could not be said to be inordinate payment of public funds since it was a negotiated settlement at the instance of the government.

Negotiated Settlement

“How can a negotiated settlement between the government and a powerless claimant be said to be inordinate to the extent that the Sole-Commissioner can recommend that it should be stopped?” the judge queried, adding “the negotiated settlement represents a valid contract between the government and the claimants.”

The court therefore ordered that “the negotiated settlement concluded in 2008 between the government and the plaintiffs under E.I. 98 of 1974 as amended by E.I. 67 of 1975 in pursuance of certain tranches of compensation payment which were made by the government to them was still valid and legally binding.”

Apart from a cost of GH¢40,000 awarded in favour of the claimants, the court also slapped the plaintiffs with GH¢10,000 compensatory damages.

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