Opinions Mon, 26 Mar 2018

Sterling boardroom performance – The NIB example

In the past 15 years, due to the noxious political and media landscape, I consciously decided not to comment any longer on topical national issues. However, today I elected to set aside this vow temporarily, in other to comment on last week’s supreme court validation of its own judgement of June 2017, involving the National Investment Bank and Dominion Corporate Trustees Limited.

If the apex court had subscribed to the arguments filed by the plaintiffs, led by Dominion Corporate Trustees Limited, as agreed by both the High Court and Court of Appeal in 2013 and 2015 respectively, the NIB would have been compelled to dole out US$150million (about Ghc600 million Ghana cedis) as damages to the plaintiffs. This would have qualified NIB to join the sorrowful family of Capital Bank and UT Bank.

Dominion Corporate Trustees Limited (DCTL) had gone to court in 2010 seeking US$60million as damages from the NIB. The High Court and Court of Appeal in 2013 and 2015 respectively, upheld the application of Dominion Corporate Trustees Limited and ordered the NIB to pay damages, including  11% interest annually from the day of the judgement. But the Board of NIB appealed to the Supreme Court which nullified the earlier rulings by the two other courts.

But for the persistence and tenacity of the NIB Board Chair, Togbe Afede XIV, and his team, Ghana would have lost this huge sum to Dominion Corporate Trustees Limited. The victory of the NIB brings three distinct factors to the fore.

First, is the firmness of President Akufo-Addo to re-appoint Togbe Afede XIV and Dr John Asamoah as Board Chair and Managing Director respectively, of the National Investment Limited despite the alleged pressures from internal government circles to replace them with more loyal NPP sympathizers/supporters. The reason adduced by those against the duo was that they were president Mahama’s appointees. This singular act of maturity and patriotism by President Akufo-Addo courted the anger of some fanatical NDC supporters against Togbe Afede; they questioned why Togbe Afede would accept President Akufo-Addo’s appointment.

Second, is the belief of the Togbe Afede XIV - led Board that they shall win this case and save Ghana taxpayers some US$150million despite earlier humiliating defeats at both the High Court and Court of Appeal in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

Third, is the alleged refusal of the Board for ‘amicable settlement’ with DCTL to end the protracted litigation since the defendant lost twice in the lower courts.

President Akuffo-Addo demonstrated good leadership by accepting to re-appoint Togbe Afede XIV and Dr Asamoah to these positions. The Supreme Court judgment is a remarkable feat and extraordinary victory for NIB’s shareholders and importantly the Ghanaian taxpayers. It is also a vindication of the president’s mature decision to downplay extreme politicking in employing experienced hands to support his government.

The irony is that this alleged breach against the investors happened under NPP’s Daniel Charles Gyimah yet an appointees of President Mahama defended it holily and lost in the lower courts under Mr Mahama's presidency. Yet luck shined on NIB and Ghana that president  re-appointed the same Board chair & MD who fought fiercely to avert this monumental loss of about US$150 million to the NIB.

The president should continue to use more of such nation-building approaches as recently witnessed in the case of Mr. Kweku Awotwe as VRA Board Chairman and Mr. Martin Amidu as the Special Prosecutor. I am certain it would have been a different story if a new Board Chairman and Managing Director were appointed into these positions.  But the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a review application by DCTL seeking to overturn its own decision amplifies the inherent benefit our democracy and Ghana can derive when leaders make informed appointments irrespective of one’s political ideology.

Worthy of observation is the recalcitrance of NIB Board to sit for ‘amicable settlement’ since the pendulum swung against them in both lower courts. In the past, Ghana had suffered many times through negligence and daylight thievery in the hands of foreign companies and some custodians of national trust. Where some of these gang of international consortiums and their local partners, mostly public officials, could not arrange and receive bogus judgement debts, they resorted to “amicable settlements’’ on important national matters to the detriment of the state. These types of cases are suitable for such deals and pure assault on the state, hence it is commendable that the Board of NIB, in this specific matter, resolved to travel the full length of the legal journey to ensure that NIB and Ghana won.  

Building a prosperous nation requires strong institutions and incorruptible judiciary. The seven-member Supreme Court bench were apt in summarizing DCTL review application thus; “This review court will not allow the applicant (DCTL) to re-argue the same case which it had lost before the ordinary bench’’. Our judges are shinning more light on activities of the investor community, which is a sign of good governance, boosting investor confidence.

The NIB Board, by the outcome of this case, exhibited exemplary leadership worthy of emulation by other Public Boards. They showed deep commitment to protecting our country’s kitty and engendering public confidence in persons appointed as custodians of public trust.

It is also not out of place for the nation to establish ‘Office of Public Standards’ to annually measure, evaluate and reward leaders whose singular decision saved the tax payers from corrupt corporate and individuals attempting to plunder the nation’s meager wealth.

Undoubtedly, this landmark judgment would breathe a new lease of life into the National Investment Bank and spur investor confidence in the bank.

Ghana cannot celebrate enough, the perseverance of Togbe Afede XIV and the Board of NIB in their pursuance of justice for the bank and the people of Ghana. Also, worth celebrating is the resolute apex court which saved the NIB and the taxpayers some US$ 150million. It is a reflection of the inherent strength and success our country would chalk when leaders work with the right people and not only party stalwarts.

The writer is Executive Chairman of Northern Ghana Aid, a Tamale based NGO. He also Chairs the Board of four corporate bodies.

Columnist: Mustapha Sanah