Judgment Debt Commission commences public hearings

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Accra, Nov 28, GNA – The Commission of Inquiry to investigate issues of judgment debts commenced public hearings on Wednesday indicating its readiness to issue arrest warrants for witnesses who failed to appear before the Commission.

     Justice Yaw Appau, Commissioner of the body, gave that warning in reaction to the absence of the Controller and Accountant General and the Chief Director of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning who were billed to give evidence before the Commission.

     “This Commission has the powers of a High Court and can order the arrest of any witness subpoenaed and who refuses to appear…If such witnesses fail to appear and give reasonable excuses, those witnesses could be arrested as a consequence. Let me remind the public that this Commission even has the powers of the police and can direct its investigators to arrest, enter any premises to seize whatever evidence that would aid the work of the Commission”, Justice Appau cautioned.

     “We would not like to evoke those powers at this point, so we will renew the subpoena to those individuals and when they failed to appear at our next seating, the Commission would then not hesitate to evoke those powers”, he said.

      But later in the day, both witnesses appeared and furnished the Commission with documents that were requested of them. The Auditor General, Richard Quartey, who appeared before the Commission earlier in the morning, tendered a number of records on judgment debts from 2000 to 2012 as evidence to the Commission.

      He, however, could not make available records dating from 1992 to 1999 as demanded by the Commission, asking for more time to glean the archives for such reports.

      The Auditor-General assured the Commission of his outfit’s readiness to assist with all relevant information and technical know-how to ensure the body achieves it mandate.

       Naana Donkor, a Chief State Attorney, who represented the Attorney-General because the Attorney General is out of the country on official businesses, asked the Commission to give the Department more time to gather the records it demanded.

       She noted that the Attorney General’s outfit had not been fully computerized and that it would be cumbersome putting all that was required of them together.

       An astonished Justice Appau remarked thus: “It is surprising to hear that the AG’s office is not computerized…It is supposed to be the legal brain of the State and if it is incapacitated to that extent it is unfortunate”.

      He asked the Department to make all relevant materials on judgment debts ready by the Commission’s next sitting.

      The Chief Director of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MOFEP), Mr Enoch Cobbinah also furnished the Commission with budget statements covering judgment debts from 1992 to date except that of 1993 and 1997.

      He also tendered to the Commission all records, with supporting vouchers, on all outstanding judgment debt and negotiated settlements from 2008 to 2012, revealing that there was an outstanding balance of some GHc158.269 million judgment debt and compensations to be paid out by the MOFEP, excluding other claims which were being held by government agencies without their notices.

      Mr Cobbinah could, however, not give a full figure on the amount so far paid as judgment debts by the Ministry, asking the Commission to grant more time for that reconciliation to be made.

      He insisted that every judgment debt and negotiated settlement honored by the Ministry was that which was approved by Parliament.

      James Ntim, Deputy Controller and Accountant General in charge of Treasury, who represented the Controller and Accountant General Rafael Tuffuor, also furnished the Commission with documentation on the issue covering 2008 and 2009, and indicated that because of the limited time frame his outfit was notified to appear before the Commission, it was unable to get the rest of the records.

      He said the Department was working round the clock to put together available documentation for the Commission.

      Justice Appau thus adjourned the sitting to December 17, asking the witnesses to stand in readiness to respond to the call of the Commission after it peruses the documents given it.

      The Commissioner, before the day’s proceeding, reiterated that the mandate of the body would not conflict with the statutory duties of the Economic and Organized Crimes Office and the constitutional mandate of the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament.

      He also indicated that the Commission’s mandate was not at variance with the duties of the Police and security agencies to investigate crimes or allegation, even when they related to judgments debts.

      Justice Appau pointed out that the Commission was not established to persecute anyone or institution involved in the payment of judgment debts as was raised by many when the idea was mooted.

      “The existence of this Commission cannot therefore place a bar on the criminal prosecution of anybody found to have fouled the law with regard to the payment of judgment debts owed the state; neither can it stop the police, the BNI or the EOCO from investigating any such crimes”, he noted.

      The Commission, set up to investigate questionable judgment debts paid to various individuals and organizations, has one year to submit its report to the government.

      Its terms of reference includes ascertaining the causes of any inordinate payments made from public funds in satisfaction of judgment debts since the 1992 Constitution came into force.

      The Commission will also ascertain the causes of any ordinate payment from public funds and financial losses arising from arbitration awards and negotiated settlements since 1992.

      The Commission will make recommendation to help ensure that government does not incur undue financial losses when it does business with private persons or institutions.

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