General News of 2014-06-11

Barton-Odro named in judgement debt

It has emerged that former Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Ebo Barton-Odro, unilaterally raised the cost of the Asafo Market interchange project in Kumasi for the contractor.

According to David Kwabena Ofosu-Dorte of AB & David Law, Mr. Barton-Odro, who was the chairman of a dispute panel on the project, increased the debt owed by the government to Sarroch Grandulati/Gelfi Joint Venture to GH¢3.4 million instead of the agreed GH¢3.180 million.

Mr. Ofosu-Dorte, who has in-depth knowledge in construction and engineering laws, was testifying on behalf of AB & David Law, lead counsel for the government on the project, when the issue came up at the Commission of Enquiry investigating the payment of judgment debts yesterday.

The Evidence

Mr. Ofosu-Dorte told Sole Commissioner Justice Yaw Apau of the Court of Appeal that his firm was appointed to assess the project contract between Sarroch Grandulati/Gelfi Joint Venture and the Ministry of Roads and Highways at a time when Lithur Brew & Co. was already doing the same job; and his firm later became the lead counsel for the project saying, “We led them to the closure of the whole matter.”

He said the project contract was entered into in January 2004 but along the line, Gelfi exited the joint venture.

Project Commissioning

He said the project was commissioned on November 9, 2007 by President John Agyekum Kufuor when technically it was not supposed to be handed over yet, even though the time for completion had elapsed.

“Once it was commissioned, the question of liability shifted and the government fell into Sarroch Grandulati’s trick because two weeks after the commissioning, Sarroch Grandulati terminated its contract.”

The Arbitration

He said Sarroch Grandulati then put in a 4.7 million Euro claim and brought a revised claim of 272,427 Euro and GH¢6.1 million before initiating what he called a ‘Dispute Review Board’ proceedings to get the amount due, adding that “the two parties never appointed the board.”

Mr. Ofosu-Dorte said the case even travelled to international arbitration but the government was able to bring it home for settlement and when the dispute panel was set up, Sarroch Grandulati brought a bill of GH¢11,803,809 and 903,177 Euros.

He said the Attorney General, AB & David Law and Lithur Brew & Co. constituted the government’s dispute team while Sarroch Grandulati was represented by their lawyers as well as one Steve Mawunyega as their Power of Attorney who was later substituted for Nana Kwame Bediako.

Unfolding Drama

The witness said the government team refused to recognise Sarroch Grandulati’s GH¢11 million from the commencement of the dispute resolution and the construction firm finally accepted and signed in writing to be paid GH¢2.8 million.

“We thought the matter had ended but we were summoned later to the office of the Chair and informed that Sarroch Grandulati had revoked the acceptance of GH¢2.8 million,” Mr. Ofosu-Dorte underscored.

He said the assessment team again went through the records and realised that the best they could get to was GH¢3,180,000 adding, “that was the figure that was recommended.”

“So from the GH¢2.8 million which had been accepted after they revoked the paper agreement, we made a recommendation of GH¢3.180 million and it is actually a conversion issue as a result of the delay because we insisted in paying Cedis and nothing more. We actually offered the GH¢2.8 million, hoping that they will fall for the bait because we knew that the real amount we could recommend was GH¢3.180 million.”

Caucus Meeting

Mr. Ofosu-Dorte said that the Chair (Barton-Odro) then decided to call a caucus meeting because there was an impasse following Sarroch Grandulati’s decision not to accept the GH¢3.180 million.

“The time we hit the GH¢3.180 million he (Barton-Odro) called a caucus and asked if we could do anything about it and we said he is the Chair and he represents the government and whatever he thinks he can do about it he could tell us.

“We put everything on paper and he decided to increase the amount to GH¢3.4 million so we came back to the room but the claimant decided that he will take GH¢3.5 million and the Chair said GH¢3.4 million was his last offer and he thinks he can end the matter. That was why he increased it to GH¢3.4 million.”

Taking A Flack

“I think quite a lot of efforts were made by all sorts of people to let us go beyond that which I must say in all sincerity, I found surprising but we did not budge. We had said we would not go beyond our recommendation and we stuck to that.

But I hold the principle that you should not take a decision that you cannot account for later,” Mr. Ofosu-Dorte posited.

The Prediction

“Even at that time I asked that what if we are called tomorrow how do I explain how we arrived at the GH¢3.4 million when everything shows it should have been GH¢3.180 million. The attachments clearly does not show GH¢3.4 million.

“Five years ago, I did not know I was going to be called but here I am today, having to explain how we arrived at the figure,” he articulated.

He said, “Full settlement report was dated October 22, 2010 and the amount increased from GH¢3.180 to GH¢3.4 million because it was imposed by the Chair (Barton-Odro).”