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Op-Ed: Ghana’s Chief Justice hit with bribery accusation

The episode has reignited doubts about the integrity of the judicial service in Ghana dating back to damning revelations from a 2015 undercover documentary, writes Kobi Annan

GHANA’S Chief Justice has been accused of demanding a $5 million bribe to influence the outcome of a case. At this stage, it is an allegation only and could not be classified for our purposes as a credible assertion.

Nevertheless, the episode features prominently in the local press and has reignited doubts about the integrity of the judicial service in Ghana dating back to damning revelations from a 2015 undercover documentary. Remedial action taken at the time focused on specific individuals as opposed to practices/processes or oversight of the judiciary. In their absence, bribery risks persist at similar levels.

Significance – weak allegations

Ghana’s current Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin Yeboah has been accused of demanding $5 million to influence a case involving a central region traditional leader, known as Ogyeedom. Akwasi Afrifa, Ogyeedom’s former lawyer, says the chief revealed this to him years before Anin Yeboah’s January 2020 appointment as Chief Justice, while they were suing Ghana Telecom and the Lands Commission.

Afrifa made the allegation while defending himself at the General Legal Council against claims that he owes the Ogyeedom  $75,000. Both Anin Yeboah and the Ogyeedom have denied the accusation and the Chief Justice has requested that the Ghana Police Service Criminal Investigations Department (CID) carries out an investigation.

Members of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) are calling for the Chief Justice to stand aside in face of the allegations and local press are carrying the story with alacrity. But there appear to be no independent witnesses nor any evidence that monies were ever paid.

There is also the context for Afrifa’s allegations i.e. his indebtedness to the Ogyeedom and the General Legal Council process. Finally, other claims made by Afrifa have been credibly denied by parties involved, further reducing the weight of his bribery accusation.

With that said, Ghana’s judicial service has been under the spotlight since September 2015. When an investigative journalist, Anas Aremayaw Anas, released an exposé on corruption in the service that implicated 34 judges and magistrates as well as dozens of other court workers.

They were filmed undercover receiving cash bribes and other goods to find in favour of a particular party. The cases involved crimes including murder and rape as well as land disputes. Following the establishment of a committee, 20 of 21 indicted judges were removed from office. However, substantive reform such as the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism has not followed.

Outlook – Lack of reform means risks remain

The referral of the allegation to the CID may be indicative of willingness on the part of Anin Yeboah to open himself up to independent scrutiny. And unless information not yet public is made apparent, the NDC’s demand that the Chief Justice resign, be dismissed or otherwise punished is a distant prospect.

Nevertheless, the mere allegation of the most senior judge in the country being involved in corrupt practices weighs on the reputation of the judicial service. Moreover, in our research, private and commercial sources continue to cite instances of bribery pressure to influence the outcome of legal proceedings. This, at a time when governance failings are a particular focus for the country.

Kobi Annan is a consultant with Songhai Advisory, a consultancy that  provides local knowledge, strategic analysis and risk assessment facilitating transformative and sustainable investment in Sub Saharan Africa

 

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