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SSNIT Scandal: Bring sufficient charges against Ernest Thompson and 4 others - Supreme Court

BY: Justice Agbenorsi
Mr Ernest Thompson, former Director-General of SSNIT leaving the court after the judgment.  Pictures by GABRIEL AHIABOR
Mr Ernest Thompson, former Director-General of SSNIT leaving the court after the judgment. Pictures by GABRIEL AHIABOR

A former Director-General of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Mr Ernest Thompson, and four others have, for now, no case to answer concerning the charges of causing financial loss of $14.8 million to the state and others levelled against them.

In a unanimous decision given Wednesday [March 17, 2021], a five-member panel of the Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Yaw Apau, held that the Attorney-General (A-G) failed to provide sufficient particulars of offence to the charges levelled against the five individuals.

It said the failure by the A-G to provide sufficient particulars meant the charges did not meet the constitutional requirement of fair trial, as stipulated by Article 19 (2) of the 1992 Constitution.

It, therefore, dismissed an appeal by the A-G challenging the decision of the Court of Appeal which had held that the particulars were not sufficient.

However, if the A-G was still interested in pursuing the charges against the five individuals, the state would have to provide enough particulars of offence to be able to get the High Court to try the case, it said, reports Graphic Online's Justice Agbenorsi who was in the courtroom for the judgment.

The individuals

Mr Thompson; a former Information Technology (IT) Manager at SSNIT, Mr John Hagan Mensah; a former Head of Management Information Systems (MIS) at SSNIT, Mr Caleb Kwaku Afaglo; the lawyer for SSNIT, Mr Peter Hayibor, and the Chief Executive Officer of Perfect Business Systems (PBS), Ms Juliet Hassana Kramer, were, in July 2018, charged with wilfully causing financial loss to the state, conspiracy to commit crime, defrauding by false pretence, in contravention of the Public Procurement Act, and authoring of forged documents.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges at the High Court.

Legal tussle over particulars of offences

However, as a result of a legal tussle between counsel for Mr Thompson and the A-G over the particulars of the offences, the case has not been able to commence at the High Court.

For every charge sheet, there is a statement of offence which states the particular offence an accused person has been charged with and the particulars of offence which further provide details of what an accused person is alleged to have committed in relation to the offence.

It was Mr Thompson’s case that the prosecution failed to provide sufficient particulars on the offences levelled against him, as required under Article 19 (2) of the 1992 Constitution and Section 122 of the Criminal Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30).

His lawyers argued that the particulars were so scanty that they did not afford their client any concrete information to enable him to mount his defence.

The prosecution, on the other hand, insisted that the particulars of offence contained adequate information, and argued that Mr Thompson’s contention, when allowed to hold, would amount to the prosecution providing evidence in the particulars of offence.

Application

Mr Thompson, who wanted the charges against him struck out on the basis that the prosecution failed to provide adequate particulars of offence, as required by law, filed an application to that effect before the trial court, presided over by Justice Henry A. Kwofie, a Justice of the Court of Appeal sitting as a High Court judge, on April 19, 2019, but it was dismissed.

Dissatisfied, Mr Thompson filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, on the grounds that Justice Kwofie committed an error of law and also erred by dismissing his application.

On April 3, last year, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 majority decision, upheld Mr Thompson’s appeal, and held that, indeed, the particulars of offence on the charge sheet were not sufficient.

It, accordingly, directed the prosecution to “provide reasonable information to enable the appellant (Mr Thompson) to prepare adequately for his defence”.

A-G’s appeal

The A-G too decided to appeal against the appellate court’s decision at the apex court because it was not satisfied with the decision.

The Supreme Court, which had Justices Agnes M.A. Dordzie, Avril Lovelace-Johnson, Gertrude Torkonoo and Issifu Omoro Tanko Amadu as the other members of the panel, in its ruling, upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision on the grounds that there was no merit in the A-G’s appeal.

Justice Yaw Appau urged the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Attakorah Obuobisah, who represented the state at the apex court yesterday, to go back and look into the charges again in order to provide sufficient details of the offences.

He said the country had gone beyond the regime where accused persons were surprised by the state.

Alleged OBS scandal

In June 2010, SSNIT initiated the $34-million OBS project to use information and communications technology (ICT) to revamp its operations to enable it to provide a state-of-the-art pension administration system in the country.

It is the case of the prosecution that between September 2013 and September 2016, the five accused persons engaged in various illegalities that caused financial loss to the state in relation to the said project.

The contract sum, the prosecution said, also ballooned from $34 million to over $66 million, even though the OBS system failed to perform efficiently, as the project contract had envisaged.