By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The court order restraining the government and its agents from constructing any structure on the plots of land (No. 34 Airport Residential Area, also known as International Student Hostel) to house the Foreign Affairs Ministry and two state institutions is without merit. It is a clear demonstration of the decadence that has engulfed our judicial system. That verdict is a recipe for disaster.
This land in question was leased to K.T. Hammond, Emelia Addai, and Mrs. Gladys Des-Bordes, among other people in 2008 under the Kufuor Administration, but re-possessed in 2009 by the current administration, following unavailability of land to construct offices for government agencies.
How on earth will a judge behave the way Justice Kofi Essel Mensah, an Accra High Court judge, has done to endanger the interests of the state in upholding those of private individuals who have no right to own the land in dispute, in the first place? The land is a public property and must remain as such.
In imposing this restraining order, Justice Mensah must have thought that he was interpreting the law to serve its purposes; but he has misfired big time. He is a disgrace and must be told the plain truth.
I disregard the fact that the case is sub judice (still being tried) and comment on it, categorically stating that the judge’s restraining order will not serve the good interests of the state. It has only one objective: to stall the construction of new offices to house the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and two other government Agencies. Does Justice Mensah really know the value of public property?
Is this judge happy that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is “homeless” or is he satisfied that the state agencies to benefit from that project are not housed at all? What would he do if it was the Court Complex that had been gutted by fire and was to be relocated on such a plot of land? Would he impose such a restraining order and deny himself the space in which to function as a judge?
There is every justification to condemn this verdict. The circumstances surrounding the acquisition of this land by such private individuals do not even justify the court’s decision. We are all aware of the uproar that the sale of such government lands to the NPP bigwigs provoked and how relieved we were for them to be re-possessed and put to use to serve national interests.
Until the Kufuor government went out of its way to parcel out government-acquired lands to its functionaries and praise-singers (including these plaintiffs), that piece of land was firmly in the hands of the Ghana Government. The demolition of the International Students’ Hostel and other structures in that area did not provide any basis for the government to be divested of the land or for it to be handed over to the plaintiffs as this case is. And to imagine that they will own that land for 99 years on a renewable lease alone is irritating to the full.
Lands in the country are vested in the state, making the state the custodian; the state can use any piece of land in its custody to serve the national interests. That’s exactly what the case is in this matter. What authority do KT Hammond and the others have to want to take back from the state what was wrongfully given them and re-possessed by the legitimate custodian (the state) and is being used for legitimate national purposes? Forget about those appeals to the Constitution and African Charter on human rights!
This particular decision by Justice Essel Mensah is horrible. It sets a nasty precedent that has the potential to trigger something explosive. What will happen if the chiefs and people of La(badi) who originally owned that piece of land before it was acquired by the government in 1894 also mobilize themselves to claim back that land? Or all other lands in other parts of the Ga state? Or even throughout the entire country where the government has vested interests in lands belonging to the various paramountcies?
KT Hammond and the others must not begin to celebrate this pyrrhic victory yet. They won’t get the chance to do so. Until the government makes decisive moves to rectify the situation, this court verdict stands repudiated in the court of public opinion.
The government has only two options—one strong and the other weak—to take in swift reaction to this madness from Justice Mensah.
The strong option is to disregard this verdict and go ahead with the construction of structures to house the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the other government agencies for which the land was re-taken. In doing so, it must send a strongly worded warning to characters on the Bench who think that they can play their kind of mischievous politically influenced legal game to harm the state’s interests. Let nobody see such an action by the government as an affront to the judiciary. It is not; it is simply a matter of righting the wrong by placing the national interest above private and selfish ones that this court decision doesn’t seem to address.
Then, the government may consider the weak option, which is to appeal against the judge’s decision. But considering the inadequacies of the government’s legal arm (the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General’s Department), I doubt if anything good can come from such a move. Once there is public perception that the judiciary is dominated by anti-government elements who cannot de-politicize the cases before them, it is obvious that any move to contest this case will yield nothing beneficial. The government stands to lose the appeal even before it initiates action on it. Such politically motivated cases seem to be decided long before being looked into. Such is the problem that we have in our country. Somebody wants to ditch the government and will do so with premeditated manouevres. At the expense of the collective good that the state and its institutions should serve!!
I had all along been thinking that a High Court judge’s verdict early last year that freed Kwadwo Mpiani and Wereko-Brobbey in the infamous “Ghana@50” corruption case would be the last demonstration of irresponsible behaviour wrought by legal technicalities. Little did I know that more would follow.
This particular case demonstrates nothing but absolute waywardness and insensitivity to national interests. Justice Mensah has made nonsense of common sense and thrown open the judiciary to ridicule. Even lay people like us can do better. His judgement defies common sense and raises very serious questions about the integrity of our judiciary. I doubt what such judges take the national interests for.
Justice Mensah doesn’t deserve to be where he is. Short of instigating public contempt for him, let me say that he deserves some lashing.
The Judicial Service shouldn’t have any room for such characters; but who is to take action to rid it of them when the top hierarchy of the Judiciary themselves are known to have benefited from the Kufuor government’s senseless policy of land-grabbing under the dangerous mantra of “property-owning democracy”? Have we not been told that the Chief Justice also acquired part of the land that had been divested from the state by the Kufuor government and handed over to selected public figures at ridiculously low rates?
I am apprehensive of this situation and wonder what kind of future we are preparing for later generations of Ghanaians. With the population quickly rising (I hear it’s now 24.5 million) and the madness that exists in the public and private sectors of our national life heightening, it shouldn’t be difficult for us to foresee the danger into which we are pushing our country. We are laying the foundation for disaster, which will make life far worse for posterity than what we are grappling with.
In a country plagued by corruption and negative partisan politics, enough justification exists to conclude that if personal interests continue to be placed above those of the country this way, it won’t take long before individuals with political connections begin pushing the boundary too far in their drive to acquire wealth. I won’t be surprised at all if individuals and organizations begin manipulating the judicial system to divest the state of what has been its own over the years.
Indeed, something nasty is in-the-making. We must act expeditiously to nip in the bud this kind of dangerous greed and paralyzing self-acquisitive spirit. If we allow people like KT Hammond and the other plaintiffs (together with judges of Justice Essel Mensah’s kind) to have their own way of fulfilling their urge for “ours is ours but mine is mine,” we risk throwing our country into chaos. We must separate national interests from selfish, parochial, and private ones to defend against encroachment. That’s the only way to preserve the little national dignity that we have left.
Putting everything together, I blame nobody but John Agyekum Kufuor, former President, whose own unbridled self-acquisitive spirit and pursuit of a wayward “property-owning democracy” misled him into authorizing the sale of state lands to characters of KT Hammond’s sort and many more who, until they found safe havens in the corrupt political network, were mere nobodies. Today, politics has given them the weapon they need to twist arms for personal benefits. But they will not be allowed to enjoy what doesn’t belong to them.
The government must stand firm to teach them the lesson they need to learn. No legal technicalities or recourse to useless rhetoric should be tolerated. The state’s interests must be protected. That’s the only way to reassure Ghanaians that they have something to die for. The looters brigade must be shown the door forever.