General News of Wednesday, 17 April 2013
The Commission of Enquiry investigating the payment of Judgement Debts yesterday heard how huge sums of money were paid as legal fees to law firms that litigated on behalf of the government of Ghana abroad.
According to officials from the Bank of Ghana (BoG), the payments of legal fees are not even part of the total judgement debts that the courts award to litigants.
The ‘Commission of Enquiry into the payment of Judgement Debt ’ under C.I. 79 was appointed and tasked by President John Mahama to investigate the frivolous and dubious payments of huge monies to undeserving individuals and companies after public uproar over the payments in what has now come to be termed as the Judgement Debts (JD) saga.
Notable among them were payments made to CP (€94 million) and the never-ending case of GH¢51.2million parted away to the self-styled National Democratic Candidate (NDC) financier, Alfred Agbesi Woyome, both of which many believed were dubious and frivolous.
Led in evidence by Dometi Kofi Sorkpor counsel for the commission, Patrick Atta Opoku, an Assistant Director in charge of Foreign Banking, provided the commission, led by Sole Commissioner Justice Yaw Apau, with a report and a list containing legal fees paid as well as judgement debts to litigants with foreign accounts.
The legal fees paid dated from 1998, 2002 to 2011 while the judgement debt payments dated from 1994 to 1996, 1998 to 2009 and 2011.
He explained that, the legal fees came about when the government contracted foreign law firms to handle cases for the country outside the jurisdiction saying “in most cases they start with court proceedings before a decision is taken to pay. The cost incurred in the course of the proceedings becomes the legal fees.”
Mr. Opoku said in the case of judgement debts, they only acted on the instructions of the Controller and Accountant-General and the letters authorising the payments mostly came from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning through the Controller.
He said some of the legal fees were pending because the courts had not yet ruled that judgement debts be paid.
When Justice Apau read through the amounts involved in the payment of legal fees, he remarked “these are huge payments,” to which Mr. Opoku said “we are only bankers executing instructions.”
The commission commended the BoG officials for the in-depth research they conducted in the judgement debt payments.
Leslie Akrong, an Assistant Director in charge of Domestic Banking who explained issues pertaining to the local front, provided to the commission documents covering judgement debt payments from 1996, 1997 to 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011
The documents covered dates of payment, beneficiaries and reasons for the payments.
Mr. Akrong told the commission that in 2006 and 2008, there were no payments of judgement debts locally.