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If the law is an ass… What are the courts and judges? (Part II)

Fri, 25 May 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

We insist that the Supreme Court’s ruling that the NPP’s Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey did no wrong in acquiring a state bungalow is appalling. It is disappointing and will go a long way to encourage thievery at the highest level and to the most frantic extent unless something else happens to curb it. The verdict has set a horrendous precedent that we must explore further.

Bad Precedent Number Four:

And here comes the most annoying aspect of the decision, which says that “the former erstwhile Kufuor appointee did not abuse any law of the land by purchasing the house.”

Of course, the Supreme Court might be focusing on “abuse of law” but it is obvious that we have no such law against acquisition of property. Fair enough. But what makes sense is that a government functionary occupying a state property must not use his position to acquire that property. What will happen if all government appointees rush to acquire state property at their disposal? Does the country have the resources to provide such property? And should public property be so (mis)appropriated at will?

Common sense may not be part of what the judges rely on but it pervades all human situations. It demands that what will not be in the public interest must not be encouraged. Unfortunately, that’s what the Supreme Court has just done. It has legitimized thievery and given it a new name.

Bad Precedent Number Five:

It seems the Supreme Court judges who favoured Obetsebi-Lamptey are confused. Here is why. In their ruling, one of them (Justice Brobbey) pointed out that allegations of conflict of interest and corruption against any public officer needs to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.” No problem with that requirement.

But here is the conundrum: “He was also quick to stress that Ghanaians should not see the verdict as support for the practice whereby public officers exploit their official positions for private gain.”

If this aspect doesn’t contradict the Supreme Court’s judgement, what else will? How can public officials acquire state property by virtue of their being government functionaries and yet still appear not to be exploiting their official positions for that matter?

Can any John and Jane Doe just get up to acquire a state property without any political connections? And if such people use their political connections (which are not available to all citizens, anyway), aren’t they exploiting their official positions for private gain? And isn’t that a matter to worry over or to factor into the court’s deliberations and verdict? These are some of the happenings in our Judiciary that reinforces the common saying that the law is not only an ass but it also favours those who know how to manipulate it.

Some of us are not surprised at all that the Supreme Court has favoured Obetsebi-Lamptey’s self-acquisitive spirit. We are all too alert to the ploy that motivates such decisions. Once a case before the court goes into the judicial maze and is “adjourned” or “postponed” anyhow because “one of the judges is sick,” we know how it will end. It is the usual ruse!! The decision on it is mostly likely to fly in the face of decency to favour the party least expected to win it. That is Ghana for you.

While all this muddying of the waters goes on, it is apparent that the judiciary itself isn’t doing anything to reassure Ghanaians that it is changing positively to reflect the dynamics of the democratization process. A judiciary of the sort that we have in Ghana cannot help us advance in any way to dispense justice. That is why it is still using anachronistic approaches to handling cases and retrogressing very fast. Others elsewhere are seeing the light of day and changing their operations to move their democracy forward. When the democracy can’t give the citizens justice, they have no respect for the judiciary. Mob justice takes over.

And that is why our judiciary doesn’t command the kind of respect and public confidence that will help it get the resources that it needs to reform itself. The status quo ante favours those who profit from the rot existing in the system; and they are the very people who will continue to be the bane of our democracy.

The judiciary has a long way to go to persuade some of us that it is ready to carry the burden imposed on it by democracy. What we have is a burden we are carrying on our shoulders, not the solution to our problems of under-development, injustice, and gross maladministration.

Workers who can’t make both ends meet should be pitied at this point. Their labour is in vain. It is so because no one in any arm of government is doing anything to promote and protect their interests. At best, everything that they are generating is reserved for the benefit of those who know how to manipulate the system. That’s what the Supreme Court’s disappointing verdict has led us to. By this worrisome decision, the Supreme Court will encourage anarchy in the country. Citizens who have no confidence in the court system will take the law into their own hands to seek justice as they know it. The Ga Youth Association that demonstrated against Obetsebi-Lamptey will be right if it revisits the issue to pursue it the way they deem fit if only it will prevent Obetsebi-Lamptey and those greedy politicians like him from grabbing state property anyhow. If the legitimate official institutions cannot help us get justice, other means should.

We must be reminded that state lands and other immoveable property have a direct relationship with the interests of many communities in the country that ceded those landed property to the state for the benefit of the entire country and its people. If the government functionaries turn round to acquire those assets instead of their reverting to the original custodians, their greed will trigger unpleasant events. I don’t support mob justice, but if that is what will help the citizens prevent theft of public property, then, that is what must be resorted to. I wish I were living in the country to start some action to ensure that this particular property doesn’t go to Obetsebi-Lamptey. At least, something drastic should be done to scare unscrupulous characters of this sort away from public property. That is how to ensure that what belongs to the people is not taken away from them with the blessing of those who should have known better not to legitimize white collar thievery but are hiding behind legal technicalities to promote it. I have no respect for these legal dinosaurs.

This decision by the Supreme Court has opened the flood gates, and we shouldn’t be surprised if those now in power also use similar means to acquire public property now in their hands. I foresee a terrible scramble for such assets, especially if indications become clear that Election 2012 will change the dynamics of governance in the country.

Is that what the Supreme Court is encouraging public officials to do? My heart bleeds for Ghana.

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.