The ‘business’ of Judgement Debts in Ghana

One of the major challenges facing the country is the multiple judgment debts that the country has been riddled with.

Some have argued that, some public officials deliberately plan to steal from the state by engaging in acts that lead to judgment debts.

Governments, business entities and individuals will at any point in time want to make the best out of resources at their disposal.  Government awards contracts for projects purposely for the development of the country.

Sometimes, some of these contracts are executed with some challenges ending up in the court with huge judgment debts awarded.

Most of the time, the reasons assigned to these debts are attributed to negligence by public officials.

Whatever the reasons are, Ghana continues to be threatened with judgment debts by local and international companies due some infractions in the execution of the contracts.

A section of the public and some personalities have argued that some of the actions that lead to the courts awarding judgment debt against the country are deliberate with the sole purpose of officials making fortunes out of the court orders.

Some have even posited that, it has become a business venture where some time and resources are invested in to rip off the country for personal gains.

How substantial is this argument in the minds of analysts?

Senior Lecturer at the Department of Finance at the University of Ghana Business School, Dr. Lord Mensah is convinced some public officers deliberately engage in these acts for personal gains.

“There are incentives to subject the state to judgment debt, that is why we see people and mangers of the economy going in that direction. Other than that we will never have these problems. We don’t have the state at heart, sometimes people take decisions on behalf of the country, the country runs at a loss and you ask yourself questions why was such a decision taken”, Dr. Lord Mensah said.

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A private legal practitioner, Christian Malm-Hesse, wondered why some of these contracts end up in the court leading to judgment debts.

He said; “definitely there will be a technical officer, there will be a lawyer somewhere when contracts are signed, but at the end of the day when such abrogation happens, the question one seeks to ask is whether there was a lawyer involved in taking such a unilateral decision”.

The Judgment Debt Commission chaired by a sole judge, Justice Yao Apau who is now a justice of the Supreme Court, heard a lot cases focused on judgment debts.

Some of these cases after the commission ended its sitting were sent to court due to some disagreements.

For instance, the Woyome case, the commission found that “either through inadvertence or pure mischief through connivance, both the Chief State Attorney Samuel Nerquaye Tetteh who was charged with the defence of the suit in the trial court, and the trial judge did not scrutinize the processes filed before them with judicious eyes. If the trial judge, particularly, had done so, he would not have granted the application for default judgment in the first place.”

Although this was captured in the report of the sole commissioner, the Court of Appeal ordered the complete removal of conclusions on Alfred Agbesi Woyome in the sole commissioner’s white paper concerning the 51 million cedis judgement debt.

The Court of Appeal set aside the findings of sole commissioner justice Yao Apau, citing a breach of the principles of natural justice.

In dealing with this, Dr. Lord Mensah is of the view that public officers should be held responsible for any judgment debt that occurs under their stewardship.

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“It is about time we hold people accountable for their financial decisions as far as the country’s coffers is concerned. If we cannot hold people accountable for the financial decisions they take for the country, then trust me this judgment debt is going to go on”. Dr. Lord Mensah added.

The alleged act of intentionally fixing judgment debt by officials for personal gains obviously falls under corruption. 

And there are laws that sit in the statutes of the country meant to deal with corrupt acts by public officers.

“We have the Financial Management Act that deals with the roles that government officials need to put up when it comes to financial prudence and responsibilities.  Where there has been negligence on the part of government officials, the Criminal Offences Act also comes which deals with financial loss, section 179 (a), the provisions are express and clear”, Christian Malm-Hesse said.

The issue of judgment debt becomes big in the media space especially when it has to do with an international entity but one aspect that is overlooked is the frequent judgment debts that occur locally.

Taking critical observation of the judgment debts assessed by the Justice Yao Appau’s Commission, over 80 per cent of the debts were internally generated.

This means local contracts that are abrogated often occur more than that of the international entities which is most often focused on by the media and citizens.

From the report of the Justice Apau commission, it was observed that poor record keeping, the decision of the government in 2009 to liquidate most of the judgment debts in the country due to the neglect of previous governments to save the economy from collapse; the failure of the Attorney General’s Department to properly defend the state; and the ill-intent by corrupt state officials, civil servants, citizens and expatriates to milk the state by taking advantage of the loopholes in the country’s legal and administrative systems, were some of the major factors that accounted for the numerous judgment against the state.

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By Godfred Taanam||Ghana