AG’s office needs ‘wholesale reform’ to prevent further judgement debts

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The Center for Social Justice Ghana (CSJ), a social change activism group, has called for ‘wholesale’ reforms at the Attorney General’s Department if the country is bent on reducing instances of judgement debts.

CSJ made the call after releasing a report on the judgement debts the country was compelled to pay within the last 20 years.

The report disclosed that “in equivalent 2019 cedi terms, the total judgement debts paid from 2000 to 2019 amounted to GH¢1,893.7 million equivalent to about 135 percent of new multilateral loans contracted by the government in 2019, 112 percent of total central government grants received in 2019, and about 30 percent of total health expenditures in 2019.”

The report also cited contractual breaches as accounting for the majority of the judgement debts incurred.

“Of the total, judgment debt payments arising from contractual breaches was GH¢1,384.7 million (73 percent), GH¢479.2 million from failure to promptly pay compensation for compulsory land acquisition by the State/Government million (25 percent), and GH¢29.9 million (about 1.5 percent) from tortuous/statutory breaches by public officials.”

While launching the report on Thursday, July 1, 2021, the group said it identified lapses at the AG’s office as major causes of the judgement debts.

The report posits that the “recent judgement debts awarded against the State provide enough grounds for the State to give careful consideration to reforms around the conduct of government business. We cannot afford to allow these huge financial losses to continue.”

More concerning for the centre is the fact that the debts are coming at a time when the country is saddled with a high level of public debt, public health crisis, persistent fiscal deficits, a high youth unemployment rate, and over 30 percent of its population living in poverty.

Among other things, the Center cited the use of inexperienced lawyers, lack of coordination at the AG office, aversion to the use of technology, paper-heavy administrative work, and culture of reacting rather than being proactive in dealing with contingent liability as major hitches hampering.

To reverse the trend and save the country from future judgement debt, the Center is proposing institutional mechanisms that will ensure that lost public funds are recovered, with public officials causing financial losses to the State being held accountable for their actions.

During a virtual forum on Thursday on the topic; ‘A 20-year review of judgement debt payments in Ghana: Impact, Causes and Remedies, Dr. Theresa Mannah-Blankson a CSJ Fellow for Finance and Economy emphasized the need to reform the AG’s office to reduce Ghana’s increasing judgement debts.

“The Attorney General’s Office should embark on wholesale reform, which should look at the overall vision and mission while addressing matters such as strategy structure systems and processes across the board”, she said.

Aside from that, other generic solutions with legal dimensions the group proffered included to make the AG’s office more robust:

  1. Have a strategic project with clearly defined outcomes regarding the reduction of judgement debt. A dedicated department whose singular aim is to arrest errant contracts and where necessary be empowered to negotiate or renegotiate on behalf of the Government.
  2. Have a government department-wide case management system that is plugged into the court system to inform lawyers of their impending cases.
  3.  Clearly set out and be measured by Key Performance Indicators which touch and concern judgement debt among other things.
  4. Have a performance appraisal that measures and punishes loss to the state.
  5. Be subject to a systems review and audit by an external party, such as the Audit Service which holds departments and individuals accountable for loss.

GPGC judgement debt

The report comes at a time when discussions are already ongoing on the many costs awarded against Ghana in the arbitration of various matters related to terminated agreements.

Recently, it emerged that Ghana was slapped with a $170 million judgement debt over the termination of a power purchase agreement with the Ghana Power Generation Company (GPGC).

Officials of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition National Democratic Congress are currently blaming each other for the $170 million judgement debt Ghana has been slapped with.

Also, a $15 million judgement debt was awarded against the government of Ghana in its fight against illegal mining.

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