19 June 2012

Ghana: PAC to Probe Five Billion Judgment Debt

A GH¢5,373,335 million (¢5.73 billion old cedis) judgment debt paid to the Otutoto family by the government in 2010 came under public scrutiny on Friday, with the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) set to conduct a forensic investigation into the accounts into which the money was paid.

"We want to conduct a special forensic examination to find out where the money subsequently went to," Albert Kan-Dapaah, Chairman of the PAC noted when his outfit interrogated the head of the Otutoto family, Numo Andrews Yobo Otutoto on the said award.

Speculations were rife that the above mentioned amount was diverted into separate accounts of interest groups who engineered it, other than the direct beneficiaries, the Otutoto family.

However, the head of the family, who was accompanied by his counsel, Peter Kwame Connor, answering to questions relating to the said award, disputed the claims and told the fully packed committee that "the amount was intact in the family's account."

He spoke in the Ga Dangbe dialect, which was translated to the committee by his counsel in the Queen's language. The PAC had sat to continue the discussion of the Report of the Auditor-General on the Public Accounts of Ghana (Consolidated Fund), for the year ending 31st December, 2010.

The amount was classified in the Auditor-General's report as judgment debt, but Mr. Connor in a brief statement on the matter, argued that it was compensation awarded to the family, after losing their 9,000 acres of land to the government by compulsory acquisition.

In 1969, the Government of Ghana, through L.I. 30 1969, acquired 9,000 acres of land belonging to the Yobo Otutoto family for the Asutuare Sugar Plantation, but failed to make any compensation to the family.

In 1970, the then family head, according to Mr. Connor, made an application for an undisclosed compensation, but only 10% of such claim was awarded. Several follow-ups for the remaining 90% did not materialize until 40 years later.

According to Mr. Connor, in 2007, the family instructed him to launch a passionately appeal for the payment after realizing that the government was not forthcoming with their request.

The appeal, he noted brought in the Land Valuation Board to thoroughly assess the land, leading to the offer of GH¢5,373,335 as compensation three years later. The amount, he noted, was paid in four installments, with the first payment being GH¢2 million.

When quizzed why it took the family 40 years to make another application, Mr. Connor swiftly answered that there were rival claimants of some portions of the said land, "and so the government wanted to be sure who the real owners were before making any payment for compensation."

Another issue, he argued, was due to the huge number of applications on the desk of the Land Valuation Board. "Mr. Chairman, I had to make a strong case before the Board that payment to the Otutoto family was long overdue, and thank God that they heard my plea," noted counsel to the Otutoto family.

When confronted with the question as to whether money exchanged hands before his plea was heard, Mr. Connor answered in the negative. "Mr. Chairman, forty years was long overdue. And our strong case was that we should be paid before cases that were less than forty years. In any case, it makes sense to, first, honour payments that are even more than forty years. So, our argument was to serve us on first-come basis," argued Mr. Connor.

Mr. Kan-Dapaah who was listening with rapt attention moments after Mr. Connor's argument asked whether it would be convenient for the family if his outfit conducts forensic examination into their accounts. The family head after hearing the request of the PAC through his lawyer consented to the call.

"Mr. Chairman, I have no problem, the money is intact in the family's accounts. No one has requested for a penny of the money," Numo Yobo Otutoto asserted. It was not clear when the said investigation would begin but The Chronicle is reliably informed that clerks to the PAC have been instructed to put their arsenals together for the said task.

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