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Opinions of Sunday, 13 September 2015

Columnist: Asare-Donkoh, Frankie

‘Donkomi’. . . Justice for sale!

Saturday, September 12, 2015



By Frankie Asare-Donkoh

Political scientists have generally accepted that governance revolves around three main institutions or what is commonly referred to as ‘the arms’ of government – the executive, legislative, and the judiciary.

The fourth ‘arm’, the media, is a later addition whose acceptance is still not wholly widespread, especially among dictators and despots who would always want to suppress the media and use them for their continuous rule and dominance over the people.

In many countries where the people clamour for ‘democracy’ the arms of government are held in high esteem to ensure that governance runs smoothly, as each of the arms carries out its assigned duties, usually referred to as the separation of powers.

In Ghana, the operations of these arms of government have until January 1993, not allowed to operate fully due to the incessant military adventures leading to the creation of military dictatorships under which military leaders combined the work of all the three arms of government.

Under real democratic environments, the role of the Judiciary sometimes becomes very essential when there seems to be intractable conflicts over the election of heads of the Executive, as well as during conflicts between the Executive and the Legislature.

In the United States, it was the Judiciary which settled the controversy which surrounded the country’s 2000 presidential election by halting the re-count of Florida votes and declaring George Walker Bush President. It was clear that in the popular votes of all Americans, Al Gore had more votes than Bush and therefore might have won the election, but as the law was in the bosom of the judges of the US Supreme Court, it was Bush who was declared the winner according to the interpretation of the US law by the Court.

Judiciary and Democracy

Therefore, one cannot underrate the place of the Judiciary in a democratic state, and the power of the judge. It is in this vein that in Ghana, the people hold judges in very high esteem. All High Court and Supreme Court judges are provided with state vehicles with drivers, state accommodation, and many other privileges including retiring on their last salaries.

On August 23, 2013, it was the nine-member panel of the Supreme Court of Ghana which settled the result of the 2012 presidential election between John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress and Nana Addo Danquah Akufo Addo of the New Patriotic Party following a petition by the latter who claimed that there had been irregularities whose resolution would have made him the winner.

From Biblical accounts as noted in the Book of Judges 2:16-23, judges were special leaders of the people of Israel appointed by God in times of great national distress to perform three functions. The first was conviction - to convict the people of their national or collective sins against God.

The second was deliverance - once the judge had convicted the people, he could usually achieve deliverance. God always returned to deliver His people when they returned to Him. The deliverance here is also liberation as it was usually from a threat from a another country.

The third function was administration - once the judge had achieved deliverance, he would administer justice by keeping the people focused on serving God alone. This third function was indeed a very difficult task, and not all the celebrated judges performed this to Divine satisfaction.

Exemplary Personal Conduct

The reason for this failure was that to be effective, the judge had to set a good example in his personal conduct in addition to judging cases fairly and honestly and in a Godly fashion, and in some instances some of the judges failed this personal conduct test.

Like the Biblical days, modern-day judges are also expected by society to set a good example in their personal conduct both in public and in private. For them not to be in need to enable them rely on people for their needs and allow such people to influence them in engaging in any unacceptable conducts, judges are amongst the most privileged citizens in society.

Despite their well-catered-for lives, society has always have cause to suspect that some judges are corrupt and lead double lives by engaging in very despicable activities which undermine their office as people who are to give justice.

In the latest (2014) Transparency International global corruption perception index results, Ghana placed 61out of 174 positions, coming fifth in the African ranking after Botswana (31), Cape Verde (42), Seychelles (43), Lesotho (55), and Rwanda (56). It is worth noting that this was not caused by only one institution's corrupt character.

In February this year, the results of a survey conducted by Ghana’s Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) showed that the Ghana Police Service was the most perceived corrupt institution in the country, followed by the Office of the President, tax officers, members of Parliament, government officials, and district chief executives. The seventh position was occupied by judges and magistrates, followed by assembly members, the Immigration Service, with the Ghana Armed Forces on the 10th place.

I had my doubts about the positions of assembly members and district chief executives, whose corrupt activities could be described by some as petty compared to those on national level. I also doubted the seventh position of judges and magistrates as in my layman’s view have witnessed judges and magistrates giving very questionable judgements and therefore they should have been first or second.

I remember a high court judge who had been transferred to one of the regions and had not got a suitable accommodation and was pleading with the regional minister and the ruling party's regional executives to help. Then party primaries began and the regional executives colluded with an incumbent candidate and declared him unopposed in one constituency when indeed there were two other candidates challenging the incumbent.

The two cheated candidates took their case before this judge who was still pleading with the minister and his party executives to provide him accommodation. When it was very clear that they party’s regional executives contravened the party’s own constitution as well as natural justice, the judged ruled in favour of the incumbent candidate and the party in government, and his accommodation quickly followed.

This and other judgements by some judges and magistrates have given me doubts about the position of the group on the IEA survey result. But this is far from saying that the entire institution is corrupt. There are fine judges and magistrates in the Ghanaian Judiciary who are to be celebrated and encouraged.

Existence of Corruption

I have never been alone in this conclusion as to the existence of corruption within Ghana’s judiciary. Some lawyers once cried loud about this same issue, just as Papa Kwesi Nduom’s Progressive People’s Party also complained about corruption in the Judiciary.

People’s perception about high level corruption in the Judiciary was even rekindled after the judgement in the case of the election petition where some sections of the Ghanaian and international community felt that some of the nine-member Supreme Court panel of judges had been bribed by the government to rule in favour of its candidate.

In view of this background, the bombshell from the latest investigation by Anas Aremeyaw Anas and his Tiger Eye Investigation group showing that 34 high and circuit court judges and magistrates have been caught on camera and audio taking bribes and following that perverted the cause of justice did not come as much surprise to many.

The story as reported by numerous media indicates that some ‘respected’ high court judges freed armed robbers, and other hardened criminals.

What the story tells us is that justice has been reduced to the level of onions and tomatoes sold on the market where market women keep shouting donkomi (reduced to clear) to attract buyers. High and circuit court judges are being accused of taking even goats, yams, edible oil, in addition to local and foreign currencies to give bogus judgement and free criminals.

One judge is even accused of having a special massage by a supposed sister of an accused person as part of the package to buy the freedom of the accused, an armed robber, while local food waakye (rice and beans) was able to turn the head and mind of a high court judge to start seeing ‘visions’ and bargaining for the release of criminals.

Since the Judiciary plays a crucial role in every country’s democratic and governance system, a corrupt Judiciary is dangerous for the society. Elections results would continue to be challenged by candidates at all levels and the only place to seek justice is the Judiciary and when judges can be bought with massage from girls, waakye, goat, yam, edible oil, and money to give bogus judgement, then our democracy has no future.

As I end this piece, my worry is how many people have lost their lands, farms, buildings, and other properties because some crooked judges have traded justice with sexual pleasures, food items, and cash to give warped judgements.

And can we imagine how many innocent people are languishing in jail because some greedy and corrupt judges have perverted the cause of justice? Oh God, save us from these ‘justice for sale’ judges!

*The author is a Political Scientist & Media and Communication Consultant. fasado@hotmail.com