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Opinions of Saturday, 25 August 2018

Columnist: Samson Lardy Anyenini

Samson’s Take: Eminent domain; ejecting judges to build a national cathedral

I am sorry to disappoint those of you who have been advocating and insisting, on social media, that I write about the potential constitutional issue whether John Mahama can be on the ballot paper in 2020 and thereafter.

But like many others, Prof. Ransford Gyampo wishes this matter (“grey area”) is settled in court now and immediately. Well, it does appear it may only mature for a legal contest in the third year of his exit as president, and when he actually formally signs up with the EC as a candidate for president. One thing is certain, he has received sufficient legal advice on the issue, but will it never come up in court before 2020?

My Take today (breaking news of sorts) is simply to ask a couple of questions and make a plea for change in plan for the site marked for the 5000-seater national cathedral to be built in commemoration of Ghana’s 60th independence anniversary.

The CPP’s James Bomfeh is in the Supreme Court asking why a secular nation would embark on such a project. I ask why we cannot find land in Accra for it but to embark on “demolition of all buildings [sited] from the Ridge Circle to the Scholarship Secretariat, the Judicial Training Institute at East Ridge”, the Passport Office and other structures? That’s a long stretch and vast acres of prime land hosting many expensive buildings. That’s the area that hosts about ten six-bedroom bungalows built only five years ago by the Judicial Service to house Court of Appeal Judges.

The many residents including nine Judges have been served quit orders to vacate the area immediately. The Government has rented alternative expensive bungalows for the Judges to relocate temporarily while it begins construction of over twenty new bungalows on a different land in replacement for what it is going to destroy to make way for the cathedral. Lands Minister Peter Amewu further assures those affected that lands will be found to reconstruct the institutions to be destroyed in this area.

The legal principle of eminent domain which finds full expression in our Constitution empowers Government to compulsorily acquire land for the common good. In other words, Government can have whatever land it desires for this cathedral. But should it cost the taxpayer so much as is the present plan? What sort of cathedral is this that such vast land is required to built?

All the affected persons and institutions including the judiciary should go to the President or get the Council of State to advice against the demolitions and the criminal waste of scarce resources of an economy surviving on borrowing and donations. There must be plenty naked land in Accra (vast acres along the motorway) for this project if it is a priority at all.

I have a bias for the judiciary and plead that our Judges should not be housed in those rented bungalows. I dare say this act could even constitute interference with judicial independence as much as it may smack of continuing disregard for the welfare of Judges. Private developers have in recent times rudely rendered a Judge homeless and broken another’s wall compromising his security. How their Cantonments residences or portions got sold to those private developers remains a mysterious embarrassment to the State.

But is this area not crowded enough and aesthetically inappropriate to host such a cathedral? Should this area not rather be expanded into a Judicial Enclave where judges live and can easily network for improved judicial camaraderie as is the case elsewhere?

But did the Judicial Council, the Chief Justice agree to this and can we hear the Ghana Bar Association on this?

Mr. President, please order a change in plan.