Dr Joe Oteng-Adjei
The Attorney General has filed a defence in the case in which pressure group, OccupyGhana, is suing former Minister of State Dr Joe Oteng-Adjei over a luxurious vehicle he allegedly kept even after his exit from government.
The pressure group, together with one of its leaders, Sydney Casely-Hayford, on March 12 filed the suit and joined the AG in the action after they claimed Dr Oteng-Adjei took home a Lexus vehicle with registration number GC 5958-11 illegally when he left his position as Minister of Energy (between February 2009 and 14th February, 2013) and later Minister of Environment, Science and Technology (between 14th February, 2013 and 16th July, 2014).
The former minister, after exiting government, allegedly kept a project car, Lexus LX 570, purchased under the rural electrification project.
An Auditor General’s report indicated that the Energy Ministry had between 2010 and 2012 expended close to $2 million on 38 luxury vehicles and other office equipment which were to be used to monitor and inspect a rural electrification project.
OccupyGhana wants the court to order Dr Oteng-Adjei to pay to the state a whopping GH¢355,812 for keeping the car for a period of 222 days (16th July, 2014 to 23rd February, 2015).
They further want a declaration that 1st Defendant’s (Dr Oteng-Adjei’s) keeping and use of the Lexus vehicle from 16th July, 2014 to 23rd February, 2015 ‘amounts to conversion and detinue’; and a further declaration that the government was negligent in not ensuring that Dr Oteng-Adjei returned the vehicle upon leaving office as Minister on 16th July, 2014.
The plaintiffs said they want the court to declare that the state and people of Ghana are entitled to surcharge or otherwise be paid or compensated by Dr Oteng-Adjei ‘for his wrongful and illegal use’ of the vehicle.
They further want the court to order the AG (2nd defendant) to recover from Dr Oteng-Adjei ‘GH¢355,812 at the rate of 25% per annum, calculated on calendar month basis from 16th July, 2014 to 23rd February, 2015,’ as well as ‘general damages against 1st Defendant in conversion and detinue,’ and costs.
The AG fired back with a defence filed on April 27, 2015 denying most of the claims but admitting that the said vehicle was one of the fleet of vehicles purchased under a project for the electrification of some communities in the Western, Central and Brong-Ahafo regions known as the Weldy Lamont project.
In an attempt to shrug off the plaintiffs’ claim of negligence, the AG appears to have exposed Dr Oteng-Adjei when she averred that ‘following a circular from the Chief of Staff, former ministers were allowed to use their official vehicles for a period of three months after leaving office.’
It is the contention of the plaintiffs that Dr Oteng-Adjei kept the car for 222 days and with the AG’s defence that the former ministers were given three months to return the cars, the court is expected to investigate the plaintiffs’ claims.
The plaintiffs averred that in the course of the trial they would impress on the court that the Lexus vehicle belongs to the government and that Dr Oteng-Adjei used it as an official vehicle while in office as Minister of Energy and subsequently as Minister of Environment, Science and Technology.
They further said they would impress on the court that Dr Oteng-Adjei was removed from office as Minister of Environment, Science and Technology on 16th July, 2014 and upon his removal from office, ‘failed or refused’ to hand the vehicle over to the government and instead ‘continued to keep and use same for his private purposes until a media exposÃ© compelled him to admit to his reprehensible conduct and return the vehicle to the government on 23rd February, 2015.’
They also averred that they would let the court know that Dr Oteng-Adjei ‘wrongfully and illegally’ kept the vehicle and used it for a total of 222 days and that the government was ‘negligent or otherwise complicit’ in not ensuring that he returned the vehicle when he was removed from office as Minister on 16th July, 2014.
‘The Government owes a general and constitutional duty of care towards the plaintiffs and the people of Ghana to secure and protect the principles of probity and accountability, pursuant to which the Government had an obligation under the Constitution and general law, to demand the immediate return of the vehicle by 1st Defendant on his removal as a Minister,’ the plaintiffs averred.
They said the government ‘breached its duty of care to the plaintiffs and the people of Ghana when it failed to demand the return of the vehicle by 1st Defendant, or take any appropriate steps to compel 1st Defendant to return the vehicle.
‘Plaintiffs and the people of Ghana have sustained damages as a result of the breach of this duty by the Government, which deprived them of their interest in, possession of, access to and use of the vehicle.’
They maintained that notwithstanding the government’s negligence or complicity, Ghana and the people of Ghana ‘are entitled to be restituted and compensated by 1st Defendant for his conversion of, and detinue with respect to the vehicle.’
As at press time, it was not clear if Dr Oteng-Adjei had filed his defence.
By William Yaw Owusu
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