The bizarre manner and the alacrity at which President Atta Mills’ Cabinet on Thursday May 24 issued a statement to defy a Supreme Court ruling concerning a suit brought before it by Dr Edward Omane Boama, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports and Mr. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, a Deputy Minister for Information against the NPP Chairman Mr. Jake Obetsebi Lamptey has become a serious concern for many law abiding Ghanaians. This is so especially when the President is a law professor and the fact that he has sworn to protect the Ghanaian constitution of which all Ghanaians have opted for. The two took the action against Jake who was then the Minister of Tourism and National Orientation in 2008 seeking a declaration from the court that he had no right to buy the government bungalow at Number Two Mungo Street in the Ridge residential area that he was occupying at the time.
But the Supreme Court on Tuesday May 22 dismissed the application holding that the plaintiffs failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the accusations of conflict of interest, cronyism and arbitrariness they had levelled against Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey. The Court presided over by Mr Justice William Atuguba ruled that Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey did not acquire the said property as a Minister but as a private citizen after he had resigned from public office. Earlier on, the plaintiffs had argued that the action of the respondent contravened articles 20 (5) and 20 (6) of the Constitution of Ghana and smacked of cronyism and gross abuse of the discretionary powers of a public officer.
Two days after the judgment was issued, the Executive met with Cabinet and issued a statement attempting to defy the Supreme Court ruling by stating that they were not going to sell the land which Jake had already bought any longer. “In the supreme interest of the people of Ghana, and taking cognisance of the Supreme Court ruling in the matter of Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey’s immoral acquisition of a state property he occupied as a Minister of State, Cabinet, at its sitting yesterday, decided not to sell the said property,” a press statement signed by the Minister of Information, Mr Fritz Baffour, said. The statement also continued to state that “the property in question therefore remains the property of the State,” and that “no political appointee may ever engage in such an unacceptable transaction.”
The question that many Ghanaians are asking is whether the Government’s action is lawful. The government however is basing her arguments not on law but on morality. Should a civilized country be governed by law or morality? The dismissed Attorney General of the Atta Mill’s administration has condemned Cabinet decision. “Morally the Government may be right to oppose Ministers or former Ministers buying the bungalows in which they live. But legally and constitutionally the Government’s directive overruling the Supreme Court’s 6-3 majority decision constitutes executive judgment over judicial judgment,” Mr. Amidu said. He maintained that government action was meant to incite Ghanaians against the judiciary. “The statement incites the people of Ghana against the Supreme Court’s ruling with the innuendo that the Supreme Court acts contrary to the supreme interest of the people of Ghana in the exercise of the Judicial Power entrusted to it under Article 125(3) and its independence under Article 127(2) and (3) of the Constitution.” Mr. Amidu further stated, “Coming from a President vested with the Executive Power to be exercised in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the statement further violated Articles 3(3), 12, 58(1) and (2), of the Constitution.”
Counsel for Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey, Mr. Nii Ayikoi Otoo, intimated that the decision by Cabinet not to sell the property to Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey could lead to the removal of President J.E.A. Mills from office. He stated that the “ownership of the property was not in doubt because the lease of the property had already been given to Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey, who had satisfied all the conditions, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court,” He further stated “that the decision by Cabinet not to release the property to Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey had rolled back the constitutional gains chalked up by the country since the inception of the Fourth Republic.
Quoting articles 25 (3), 2 (2) and (4) of the 1992 Constitution, he said “it was due to the experiences of interference and refusal by some Presidents in the history of the country that the drafters of the 1992 constitution ensured that such interference was not entertained.” He first quoted Article125 (3), which states, “The judicial power of Ghana shall be vested in the Judiciary, accordingly, neither the President nor Parliament nor any organ or agency of the President or Parliament shall have or be given final judicial power.”
According to Lawyer Nii Ayikoi article 2 (2) also states, “The Supreme Court shall, for the purposes of a declaration under Clause (1) of this article, make such orders and give such directions as it may consider appropriate for giving effect, or enabling effect to be given, to the declaration so made,” while Article 2 (4) says that “failure to obey or carry out the terms of an order or direction made or given under Clause (2) of this article constitutes a high crime under this Constitution and shall, in the case of the President or the Vice-President, constitute a ground for removal from office under this Constitution”.
The convener of the Forum for Governance and Justice, Mr. Clement Apaak has espoused the moral argument stating that “common sense should tell Jake Obetsebi Lamptey that he is wrong in his attempt to own the state bungalow he previously purchased even if the Supreme Court decision Tuesday paves the way.” He continued that “common sense alone shows that the NPP chair stinks of the conflict of interest allegation. We can rest assured that when you look at the evidence of proving whether or not there is a conflict of interest, there are certain obvious indications that may not be on paper but common sense will indicate that those indications and circumstances will suggest a conflict of interest,” he said. “…How could anyone believe that somebody who was a Chief of Staff and was assigned a government bungalow to live in; became a minister and got it renovated to his taste; and subsequently left and applied to buy the same bungalow, could not have been in a conflict of interest?” he asked.
Mrs Gloria Ofori Kwafo of the Ghana Integrity Initiative on her part said, “the GII respects the decision by the Supreme Court and takes consolation in the fact that the judges even in their ruling which was in favour of the respondent made it clear they were not condoning the practice in which public officers buy state properties.”
During the colonial times, the government acquired state lands of which some were developed for the use of government ministers and functionaries. Most of the vast lands are now laying idle so the government of Ghana made a policy to sell the lands for private use. It was based on this policy that Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey purchased a bungalow which he occupied during the reign of the NPP. The NDC is saying that it is morally wrong for government appointees to buy state lands which they occupied when in government. They have now decided to change the policy and to also refuse Jake access to the one he already bought. But the NPP members are saying that Jake was not the only person that took advantage of the policy and cited many people including president Mills and his Vice John Mahama who also bought the state land. “Why then the selective justice?” they ask.
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