We must be mindful of judgment debts

The revelation by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo that his government had saved the country more than GH¢10 trillion in judgment debt, although can be celebrated, is a clear indication that as a country we have a problem with judgment debts.


When the Attorney -General (A-G) and Minister of Justice, Godfred Dame, supported the President’s claim and added that the savings in judgment debt were in excess of Gh¢14 trillion, people wondered how a country with a gross domestic product (GDP) of about GH¢960 billion ($80bn) would be fighting judgment debt claims to the tune of such astronomical figures.

Is it the case that some public officials who are paid with taxpayers’ money sometimes sign contracts which are detrimental to the interest of the country, or as a country, we lack adequate capacity in the execution of contracts, especially international contracts, or we are fond of breaching our contractual obligations?

During a workshop to sensitise civil servants to the work of the A-G last year, a Deputy A-G, Diana Asonaba Dapaah, said there was the need for ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to collaborate with the Office of the A-G during contract negotiations with third parties in order to come out with contracts that would not saddle the state with unnecessary and unmanageable liabilities.

Such collaborations, she said, would also ensure that certain clauses were included in the contracts to protect the state against judgment debts in the case of future disputes.

Again, she said, it was important for MDAs to provide the A-G with the relevant documents that would enable it to adequately defend the state against civil claims that might result in judgment debt.

The Daily Graphic agrees with the call by the Deputy A-G and reiterates that such collaborations are not only crucial in protecting the public purse but they also ensure that the country derives maximum benefits from such contracts.

Another solution to the issue is to build the capacity of public officials and the state’s lawyers on contract formation and the nuances of international contracts.

Apart from capacity training for public officials, some legal experts have suggested that the country should put in place a kind of committee of experts whose work would be to vet contracts that the state intends to sign to ensure that we get value for money, while protecting ourselves from unnecessary judgment debt.

One issue which consistently comes up in relation to judgment debt is the issue of the country sometimes breaching its obligations under contracts.

Most of these judgment debts would actually not come about if the country sticks to its obligations under such contracts.

Although the Daily Graphic appreciates the fact that sometimes it is in the interest of the country to abrogate such contracts or the other party not fulfilling a condition precedent or a condition subsequent, it is important for such abrogations to be done with recourse to the terms of such contracts and the law to prevent unnecessary judgment debts against the state.

It is also a matter of public record that some of these judgment debts came about as a result of connivance between public officials entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding our public purse, and external entities who come together and cook judgment debt claims against the country.

The popular adage, “create, loot and share” was coined in a judgment by the Supreme Court relating to a judgment debt against the state, in which the apex court held that the said judgment debt was a clear case of an attempt to loot the state’s resources.

We therefore call for the prosecution of any public official found culpable of deliberately cooking up judgment debt against the state, or allowing the occurrence of judgment debt as a result of his or her negligence.

It is refreshing that the current Attorney - General has made a commitment to challenge any judgment debt claim against the state.

This will help us get to the root of such claims to ascertain their veracity or otherwise.

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