Ghana @50 At Judgment Debt Hearing

The Commission of Enquiry that is investigating the payment of judgment debts resumed its sittings yesterday, with witnesses giving interesting testimonies.

The commission of enquiry into the payment of judgment debt and akin, under C.I. 79, to investigate the frivolous and dubious payments of huge monies to undeserving individuals and companies, was appointed by President John Dramani Mahama after public uproar over the payments

Notable among them were payments made to CP (€94 million) and the GH¢51.2million given to the self-styled National Democratic Candidate (NDC) financier, Alfred Agbesi Woyome, both of which many believed were dubious and frivolous.

Margins Group
The first to appear before Sole-Commissioner Justice Yaw Apau of the Court of Appeal was a representative of Margins Group Limited which has Margins ID Systems and Margins Supplies Company as subsidiaries.

Benjamin Nii Kpani Addy, the group’s Chief Finance and Operations officer, told the commission that he brought documents covering  GH¢4,009,401.62 of judgment debt payment as captured in the Auditor-General’s Report of 2010.

The matters that have attracted the commission’s attention most are a December 7, 2006 letter titled ‘RE: Tender for supplies of goods and wares’ to the now defunct Ghana @ 50 Secretariat, ‘Confirmation tax-free status’ to the secretariat in January 2007, ‘Distribution of Golden Jubilee Calendars’ written on February 11, 2007 by the secretariat as well as a letter titled ‘Distribution of calendars’ written on March 16, 2007.

When asked by the commissioner whether the three companies existed independently, Mr. Addy said Margins ID Systems and Margins Supplies Company were subsidiaries of Margins Group Ltd with General Managers (GM); and the Chief Executive Officer of the group was the overall boss.

He said the GMs were responsible for the day-to-day activities of the subsidiary companies, adding, ‘I am sure that at some point Mr. Kufuor was acting.’

Mr. Addy’s answer was in response to one Kwabena Kufuor, a General Manager of Margins ID Systems, whom the commissioner sought to find out about his role after some of the correspondence between the group and the Ghana @ 50 Secretariat made references to him as being involved in the contract.

The commissioner then said, ‘I will stop here since going further will complicate matters and at the appropriate time we will call on you to explain issues.’

When Mahogany Furniture Company Limited was called to testify, counsel for the commission, Dometi Kofi Sorkpor, told the commissioner that they just received a letter from the company’s legal representative saying they needed time because the witness was out of the jurisdiction.

Lands Commission
Kwame Poku Boah, Solicitor-General of the Lands Commission, appeared to give testimony in the matter of Nana Kwaku Duah Appianin III and two others versus Ministry of Defence and the Attorney-General’s Department.

The case involves a tussle for compensation over parcels of the lands acquired for the 2 Brigade (now Southern Command) of the Ghana Armed Forces by the Ministry of Defence.

According to Mr. Boah, the Lands Commission had no knowledge of the case, saying, ‘I just got to know about the case when the subpoena was served on us.’

‘I have cited the writ but it will be very difficult to comment on it,’ he said, to which the commission’s counsel said, ‘In the light of his answers we cannot proceed any further; however, we have the plaintiffs in the case here and we will ask for further clarifications from them.’

The commissioner asked Mr Boah if the Lands Commission had any Executive Instrument covering the disputed land in which there had been compensation payments, to which the Solicitor-General said, ‘If we get something like a site plan, we will be able to determine whether there has been compensation.’

When asked again if it was possible for a beneficiary to go to court without recourse to the Lands Commission, Mr. Boah said if the land had been acquired by the government, there would be a publication and that would enable the beneficiary to put in compensation claims.

He emphasised that the commission was not aware of the existence of the suit between ‘Nana Kwaku Duah Appianin III and two others versus Ministry of Defence and the Attorney-General’s Department’ in respect of compensation claims.

2 Brigade Lands
The commission then invited the plaintiffs to the witness box where Nana Akyaa Tiwaa, who introduced herself as Asaaman Kanin Hemaa, led by the plaintiff’s lawyer Kwaku Afrifa Nsiah-Asare, mounted the box.

Mr. Nsiah-Asare told the commission that the plaintiffs instituted the action in 2008 after the military took possession of the land in 1962.

He said the case went through full trial where some officers from the military as well as an officer from the Ashanti Regional Lands Commission, Stephen Oduro Kwarteng, testified before the court awarded about GH¢11 million compensation to the plaintiffs, after it had been agreed by the parties.

He claimed the military testified during the trial that conflicting ownership of the land made them refuse to pay the compensation because they did not want the money to go into the hands of wrong people.

The lawyer admitted that he had not cited any Executive Instrument covering the land and the commissioner asked him to tender in evidence the record of proceedings during the trial.

The commissioner made it clear that they had already asked for the same record of proceedings from the Kumasi High Court where the case was tried and would do the crosschecking in due course.

Counsel also told the court they were contemplating heading back to court in respect of another 90-acre which the military said had been taken over by the Ghana Highway Authority and would not pay compensations.

Aveyime Lands
Then came the case for compensation filed by Torgbui G. Siame in respect of the State Lands Accra Plains Site for Agricultural Development of 1977 E.I. 15.

In the chief’s claims, it was Kwesi Bentsi-Enchil, Head of the Valuation Division of the Lands Commission, who testified and admitted that he was aware of the claim.

He said to the best of his knowledge, no payment had been made in respect of compensation for Aveyime Rice lands from the Land Valuation Division, adding, ‘I am aware that there is judgment in favour of Torgbui Siame.’

He said there was only one acquisition in respect of the Aveyime Rice lands and handed over to the commission a ‘proprietary list’ of claimants to the lands.

He said that even though he was not aware of any payment routed through his office for the payment of compensation for the acquisition of the land, it was possible for the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to make payment without recourse to his office.

Mr. Bentsi-Enchil told the commission that the quantum of compensation for Torgbui Siame’s land was around ¢2 billion, with ¢50 million cost awarded, and added that the acreage on which the compensation had to be paid was different.

He also said that currently, about 23 claims had been filed in respect of the lands acquired but unfortunately all of them were in conflict, adding, ‘The law does not allow us to authorize payments when the lands are in dispute.’

Internal Audit Agency
Finally, Director-General of Internal Audit Agency Kwabena Twum Obese-Jecty testified and the commissioner appreciated his contributions very much.

He tendered in evidence reports of the agency from 2005 to 2011, except 2004 and 2012 which he explained were not available.

He told the commission that judgment debts per se were not bad but it depended on how the debts were incurred.

He said government officials needed to be educated about the repercussions of abrogating contracts so that the country did not continue to incur debts.

Later, a company called Frandesco West Africa Limited, which was supposed to appear before the commission, could not do so because the subpoena could not be directed on it.

The commissioner said he would cause an announcement to be made in the media for it to appear before it.

 By William Yaw Owusu