Why Ghana needs a special office for State compensation matters

BY: By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

It’s intriguing that when a litigant has to pay a court fine, money going into State coffers, there is a clear process where and even when the payment has to be done.

Yet, when it comes to the same State paying compensation to an individual, it’s a different story.

According to informed sources, a court may direct payment of compensation and in some cases the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice handles payment through the Finance ministry.

However, I couldn’t find any information about the existence of a dedicated office for State compensations.

Recently, ‘compensation’ has been on my mind and, noticeably, the word has been featuring in headlines this week, after the release on September 27 of the report of the Ejura Committee.

The following are some of the headlines in the dailies of Tuesday, September 28:

Daily Graphic: “Ejura committee recommends compensation for families”.

Ghanaian Times: “Ejura C’ttee Report: 2 bereaved families to be compensated”.

Daily Guide: “Ejura Victims’ Families To Get Compensation”.

As directed by President Nana Akufo-Addo, a three-member committee was set up in July by Minister of the Interior Mr Ambrose Dery to conduct a public enquiry into the disturbances at Ejura, Ashanti Region, on June 29, 2021.

The disorder led to the death of two persons and injuries to others when security forces were called in to calm the situation.

The mayhem was allegedly triggered by the death on June 28 of a popular Ejura social activist, Mohammed Ibrahim, also known as ‘Kaaka’, allegedly murdered.

Part of the report says: “The committee recommends adequate compensation (emphasis added) for the families of two deceased persons, namely, Abdul Nasir Yusif and Murtala Suraj Mohammed.Adequate compensation must also be aid to other injured persons ….”

Chaired by Justice George K. Koomson of the Court of Appeal, the two other members were Dr Vladimir Antwi-Danso, a security expert and Dean of the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College and Ms Juliet Amoah, Executive Director of Penplusbytes, representing civil society.

What I find curious is the expression “adequate compensation”. How is the “adequate” to be determined?

This suggests to me that there are no specific guidelines which can be referred to, or applied, in such cases, to help decide how much intended beneficiaries should get from the State.

It also seems to imply that whenever a compensation is deemed appropriate, for example when directed by a court, it is then that a figure is worked out.

As indicated above, my checks with legal experts indicated that indeed there is no dedicated agency or institution that handles issues of payment of compensation by the State.

The response to my enquiry at the Office of the Attorney-General, was: “there is nothing like that”.

But why shouldn’t Ghana have a standing body tasked with the responsibility of State compensation affairs?

I believe that such an office would ensure speedier settlement of compensation matters.

It should also make it easier for proposed beneficiaries to apply for what is due them without necessarily having to find money to hire a lawyer to assist them.

If such an office were to be set up, among other things, it could categorise entitlements and the time frame for payment, especially in relation to victims of human rights abuse, or wrongful conviction.

Furthermore, conceivably, it would also relieve the Office of the Attorney-General of some of its heavy workload.

In my column of September 4, I canvassed the need for compensation to be paid to Ama Forson, an unlettered banku seller, who in 2016, aged 64, was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for a crime she didn’t commit.

After serving four years, Ms Forson regained her freedom in 2020, after an appeal through the Justice for All Programme.

Her appeal was also reportedly supported by the POS ('Perfect of Sentiments') Foundation, a human rights organisation, founded by Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu.

My information is that Ms Forson hasn’t received any compensation from the State.

Seemingly, although she was acquitted and discharged, nothing was said about compensation for her lost years.

Why should that be the case?

Isn’t the State thus continuing the huge injustice she has already suffered?

Yet, the national (1992) Constitution recognises the need to compensate victims in such cases: “Where a person who has served the whole or part of his sentence is acquitted on appeal by a court, other than the Supreme Court, the court may certify to the Supreme Court that the person acquitted be paid compensation” (Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, Article14, 7).

I believe that an office to determine compensation amounts, as well as those entitled to it, would help those who, sadly, fall through the cracks – like Ms Forson.

No doubt victims of injustice who have money or connections will have the right advice as to how to apply for compensation, but what about the voiceless and the powerless?

In my view, this is why Ghana needs this office.

Some people might see such an office as likely to add to the already heavy burden of the Consolidated Fund.

However, if the national Constitution itself envisaged that there would be the need for the State to pay compensation to victims, why can’t there by a special body for that?

Another aspect of the compensation concerns is that even where the State has been known to offer compensation, usually the amount is so small, that it even becomes an embarrassing reflection on the State.

Recently, more and more calls have been coming from many quarters for the Government to deal with the long pending finalisation and implementation of the review of the Constitution, with suggestions for more add-ons.

When the wrap-up finally begins, it is hoped that a dedicated office for streamlining State compensation matters will be one more on the list of amendments to be included.

And, of course, it could also be established earlier.

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