Ghana: Woyome, AFAG, and the ugly side of our judicial system

By IndepthAfrica
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May 14th, 2012
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By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

The inadequacies of our justice administration system have once again been brought to public attention. The Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG) has issued a press statement decrying the circumstances surrounding the trial of Alfred Agbesi Woyome over the huge judgement debt paid to him.

The substance of the case and the fact that the case is before court notwithstanding, AFAG’s concerns should be shared by all well-meaning Ghanaians.

To a large extent, though, the AFAG might not have endeared itself to the hearts of those who see it as an NPP-motivated pressure group milking the Mills government to fatten the NPP. In its composition, public statements, and actions such as street demonstrations against the government, the AFAG appears to be an extension of the NPP, though registered as a civil society group.

That coloration aside, AFAG has served some useful purposes, reacting to government’s decisions and (in)actions that have grave impact on life in the society. It must be commended for that watchdog role.

Its latest public statement on the Woyome case stands out as another important intervention. It draws attention to problems that go beyond Woyome to highlight the bottlenecks in the entire government bureaucracy that has hindered the prompt administration of justice. Indeed, AFAG’s complaint touches a raw nerve and focuses our attention on the judicial system, particularly, as a problematic sector of our national life.

Many of us have already identified the Judiciary and its analogous bodies (not forgetting the Ministry of Justice/Attorney-General’s Department and the Ghana Police Service) as such and won’t be surprised that they have incurred the displeasure of AFAG too, although the veiled politicization behind AFAG’s concern is a different story altogether.

In substance, AFAG’s complaint at the unnecessary delay in the trial of Woyome—and the suspicion that the government is tele-guiding the proceedings to get the case quashed for Woyome to be freed—reflects the deep-seated public discontent at our Judiciary.

Too many cases have piled up at the courts, accused persons on trial are suffering injustice as if already convicted, but nobody in authority seems concerned enough to do anything to solve the problem. New cases get added to the pile every day to make our court system a graveyard of injustice. That’s the issue.

AFAG is only being bold to raise this matter, even if it is doing so by using the Woyome case as a crutch. It is right in every sense to challenge the Judiciary (the third arm of government) in this case, which makes nonsense of the reaction of a so-called “The Alfred Woyome Communication Team.”

Let’s get the issues in the correct perspective. The payment of that huge sum of money to Woyome as judgement debt is before court, indicating that no one should make any comment on it that may prejudice the trial. Fair enough; but the case has assumed so wide a dimension that anything that portrays it as being stalled or delayed unnecessarily by technicalities must be brought up for public discussion.

No one is prejudging the case, even though sentiments already indicate wrongdoing on the part of government officials whose laxity (or complicity?) facilitated the payment of the judgement debt to Woyome.

The fear is that just as the prosecution failed to pursue the initial case to its logical conclusion, which enabled the trial judge to dismiss it for want of prosecution, resulting in the payment of the judgement debt to Woyome, what has begun unfolding in this trial is following that same path and must be condemned. No one who knows the implications of this “go-and-come” or “adjourned sine die” will sit down unconcerned for such a case to be pushed into the maze. It must be expeditiously dealt with.

That’s the substance of public outcry, which AFAG has succinctly picked up for reiteration. There is nothing wrong about this re-articulation of a genuine public concern in a matter that affects the national coffers from which the 51 million Ghana Cedis was taken and given to Woyome for no work done for the country!!

We know how weird the labyrinth in the judicial system is to be worried that if the prosecution doesn’t play its part properly, the case will end up just like all those piled up over the years. There is nothing wrong for the public to monitor goings-on and voice concerns when necessary. That is the beauty of democracy and we must appreciate it instead of viewing it as a demonstration of jaundiced political interests.

This Woyome case reinforces public apprehensions against the bureaucracy in the Judiciary that hinders a timely dispensation of justice. In fact, public concern against the protracting of cases being prosecuted is real and must be addressed.

What is the problem that prevents the Judiciary from expediting action on the tons of cases that have piled up in its purview? There are many unfortunate people on remand in the prisons and other holding cubicles. A thorough scrutiny of the cases of these unfortunate people will prove some of them to be innocent of the trumped-up charges that have sent them into the cooler. Why should those whose duty it is to dispense justice be so callous as to preside over a system that unjustifiably punishes fellow human beings?

The Judiciary must carry the blame because it is not doing much to help administer justice unconditionally and expeditiously.

Some may cite logistic problems, technicalities, or inadequate staffing as constraints. I blame the Chief Justice and the entire administration of the Judicial Service for the lapses. The Chief Justice lacks innovative ideas to initiate judicial reform and seems smug, presiding over an institution that is riddled with age-old problems.

The government too is part of the problem because it is not working hard to upgrade the Judiciary. In this 21st century with advancements made in technology, it beats one’s understanding why judges/magistrates should be recording court proceedings in long hand. Or why things should continue to be done manually—and the authorities feel satisfied within these confines of mediocrity. Appalling, isn’t it?

The court computerization project for which the late Victor Selormey and Dan Abodakpi misappropriated funds and were punished comes to mind. What has become of it? Or what has the Chief Justice done to introduce alternative measures (such as trial by jury) into the workings of the Judiciary so that cases can be tried expeditiously?

The basic problem that AFAG’s apprehension touches on has to do with the State Attorneys and prosecutors at the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General’s Department, whose conduct raises serious questions that will boil down to the unsatisfactory conditions of service that doesn’t attract competent “Learned Friends” to work there. It is so because the government doesn’t provide incentives to motivate staff. Not much is being done to change the situation for the better because that is what will serve the purposes of those who don’t want to ensure the prompt administration of justice.

These frustrating delays in the trial of cases at the courts have only negative implications, which discourages Ghanaians from turning to the courts for redress. In effect, the consequences are clear:

  • Vigilante justice which we see as mob lynching of suspects or innocent people wrongly framed up and dealt with physically on-the-spur-of-the-moment and on-the-spot;
  • Trial by ordeal, especially at the courts of the traditional rulers and ridiculous fines/sanctions imposed on the guilty person without any intervention by the institutions (police, courts, etc.);
  • Intensification of bribery and corruption. The Judiciary and the Ghana Bar Association may be quick to deny this allegation and browbeat those making it but the people know the truth of the matter.
  • Loss of public confidence in the Judiciary, which doesn’t augur well for our democratization process because a competent Judiciary is needed to administer justice. Democracy entails justice for the people.
  • Law enforcement will be hampered because a demoralized citizenry will not be willing to cooperate with the police and other law enforcement agencies, knowing very well that the cases won’t be prosecuted conclusively.

The government stands to benefit from an unimpeded trial of Woyome because its image has been dented by this judgement debt scandal. That is why the State Prosecutors must be made to do the right thing and soon too.

Other cases still dragging on don’t say anything good about the government or the Judiciary. The Asamoah Boateng one is getting on for four years without any sign of its being concluded soon.

No one is calling for any interference in the affairs of the Judiciary; but the state prosecutors are in the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General’s Department, an integral part of the government machinery at the beck and call of the President, who should be prompted to act conscientiously to conclude cases.

Unless President Mills doesn’t know or care about the negative fallouts from the constant losing of cases (especially the politically motivated ones) by his government, he should sit down unconcerned for the situation to worsen. In losing all the high profile cases against former government functionaries, the government has lost face too.

What else does a President seeking re-election need to be told before he acts to ensure that the justice delivery system is enhanced to serve purposes that democratization entails? This Woyome case has already dimmed the government’s light and the more it drags on, the better chances are that it will continue to cause havoc till Election 2012. Maybe, thereafter, the wool will fall off from eyes—but it will be too late for self-redemption!!

 

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