14 February 2013

Ghana: More Judgment Debts Pending

It has come to the attention of the judgment debt commission, set up to investigate judgment debts paid by government from 1992 till date, that there are a number of pending garnishees likely to criticize into more judgment debts, when the Bank of Ghana (BoG) took its turn before the commission.

Mr. Patrick Atta Opoku, Head of Foreign Banking and Assistant Director at the Bank of Ghana, yesterday told the commission, presided over by Sole Commissioner, Justice Yaw Apau, an Appeal Court judge, that the court orders were made against government accounts held at the Bank of Ghana.

According to him, the debts are made up of local and foreign payment including the controversial Isofoton debt owned by government.

Mr. Opoku presented documents on debt payments to off-shore accounts and domestic accounts from 2002 to 2011, but pleaded with the court to be given some time to enable his outfit retrieve the rest from the archives.

The witness further noted that the monies so far paid could not be that the Bank of Ghana has exhausted all the payments directed to them to pay.

The Head of Foreign Banking also added supporting documents, which give the bank the authority to effect payments of debts own by government, adding that the bank never deals on the directives of the Ministry of Finance, even though the directives come from there but had to await final directives from the Controller and Accountant General before any debt payment was made.

Mr. Opoku pointed out that when the Bank of Ghana receives the final directives from the Controller and Accountant General, it conducts some checks on the issue before payments are made, after which feed-back is given to the Controller and Accountant General.

Regarding the mode of effecting such payments, the witness told the commission that the Bank of Ghana pays directly to beneficiaries by placing the monies into off-shore accounts, in cases of judgment debts arisen from foreign transactions.

On his part, the Head of Domestic Banking and Assistant Director at the Bank of Ghana, Mr. Leslie Akrong told the commission that his outfit had been able to provide details for payments made for 2009 and 2010, and are working on that of 2011.

According to him, because of time constraints and looking at the large volumes of documents to deal with, his outfit would go back into the archives to retrieve the rest of the documents needed for the commission to do its work.

Mr. Akrong told the commission that Controller and Accountant General with supporting reasons resulting from the debt, specifically directs the bank as to where payments should be made from, adding that the bank does not only make payments to chief directors of ministries to pay beneficiaries but also gives monies to the Ministry of Justice to execute judgment debts.

Witness noted that the bank does not deal with individuals but pay into government accounts for the various government agencies to issue payments to claimants, as Metropolitan, Municipal, Departments and Agencies (MMDA's) have sub-accounts with the Bank of Ghana.

The Head of Domestic Banking at the Bank of Ghana further indicated that the accounts held on behalf of the MMDA's are committed accounts for purposes known to them and monies are taken from those accounts as and when instructions are given.

Meanwhile, the court gave the Bank of Ghana up to April 15, this year to submit the rest of the documents required by the commission. Sitting continues today.

The judgment debt commission was established by Constitutional Instrument 79 of 2012, which was gazetted on October 2012 and has a period of 12 months to submit its report to the presidency.

The commission is expected to ascertain the causes of any inordinate payments made from public funds in satisfaction of judgment debts since the 1992 Constitution came into force, causes of any inordinate payments from public funds and financial losses arising from arbitration awards, negotiated settlements and other processes since the 1992 Constitution came into force and to make recommendation to government.

The effect of the commission's recommendations to the government is expected to ensure that public funds utilized to make payments in satisfaction of judgment debts and public debts arising from others are limited as well as ensuring that government does not incur undue financial losses when it does business with private persons or institutions.

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