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Opinions of Friday, 29 April 2016

Columnist: Dekportor, Mensah

Ghana’s judgment debts payment controversy

Judgment debts have become a prominent topic for discussion in Ghana especially since Woyome was paid a huge judgment debt of GH? 51Million a few years back. The debate has centered largely on whether payment of judgment debts has been tainted with fraud or not, with some citing payment of judgment debts as acts of corruption. To properly appreciate the issues at stake in the judgment debt debate, one would need to understand what constitutes a judgment debt. Judgment debts involve decisions of courts directing payments to be made to a party in a court case. In the case of Woyome for instance it was a court of Ghana that directed Government to pay Woyome the sum of GH?51Million, because it had come to the conclusion that the Ghana government owed Woyome monies for services he had rendered in a construction contract awarded by the Kuffour Government.The genesis of the issues leading to payment of the judgment debt was therefore in actions or omissions of the Kuffour government that created room for Woyome to make his controversial claim for the judgment debt. Woyome’s claim for payment thus originated with the Kuffour government and remained unresolved causing Woyome to demand interest payments on his debt running till date of payment of the debt by the Atta Mills Government.

The other key issue that emerged in the Woyome judgment debt controversy was the role of the Attorney General in agreeing to settle Woyome’s claim at GH?51Million.Whereas some have read corruption into the government’s decision to pay the GH?51Million to Woyome, the Attorney General argued that it had saved the country huge sums of money because Woyome’s original claim was in excess of GH?100Million, due to accumulated interest on the original claim. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the whole saga was the Attorney General’s haste to settle the claim, though endorsed by a court decision - when they could have exercised the option to have the case fully tried in court so that the strength of Woyome’s claim could be subjected to full proof. The government has moved to redress its earlier controversial decision to abide by the court’s decision to pay the judgment debt, and have initiated court actions to have the Woyome judgment debt cancelled.

Some key lessons are to be learnt from the Woyome judgment debt saga and other judgment debt cases that have emerged especially through the work of the Judgment Debt Commission.Firstly, the government should issue firm instructions to the Attorney General’s office to fully contest all claims beyond some monetary threshold.
Secondly, the government should legislate into law monetary caps for all claims (including interest) against government and public institutions. This is especially necessary in view of the fact that Ghana is a third world country with limited resources. Therefore to leave the issue of monetary settlements in government cases solely to the discretion of courts is not prudent policy.

Thirdly, government should legislate severe sanctions against claimants that submit fraudulent claims against government institutions. Unless such creative and drastic solutions are put in place by government, some unscrupulous elements in society would perceive judgment debts as an easy avenue to make money at the expense of the tax payer. There is absolutely no justification for a third world country like Ghana to be paying out huge sums of money in judgment debts against the background of limited resources for executing development projects.
There is therefore no justification for a third world country like Ghana to recently pay out a judgment debt of USD$11Million to a leading member of the NPP as alleged under its current economic circumstances. If the logic is that payments of judgment debts constitute acts of corruption then the recent payment of a judgment debt to the leading NPP member should be investigated to determine whether it was justified, just as Woyome’s claim was rightly subjected to scrutiny.

Finally, public servants whose conduct in the exercise of their official duties results in the Government incurring judgment debts, should be investigated and sanctioned where their conduct are deemed to unjustifiably expose government to liability. They should appropriately be sanctioned and punished.

God bless our Homeland Ghana.

Report by:
Mensah Dekportor (Hamburg – Germany)