An Accra High Court has directed the Ada East District Assembly to pay nearly GH¢400,000 cedis after dismissing its stay of execution application against an electrical engineer, Prince Isaac Akplehey.
The Ada East District Assembly had contracted Mr. Akplehey in 2016 to rehabilitate a total of 458 malfunctioning streetlights along some principal streets in the district.
Court documents available to The Fourth Estate show that the project was in preparation for the arrival of former president John Mahama for the 2016 Asafotufiami festival of the people of Ada.
“From the evidence of PW1 and Exhibits ‘E’ and ‘F’, the Defendant did not follow due process in the award of contracts. The Defendant chose to award the second contract to Plaintiff who pre-financed the contract on political expediency in July/ August 2016 because the President of the Republic was attending the Asafotufiami festival of the people of Ada and Defendant promised to meet Plaintiff halfway with the documentation later,” part of the judgment reads.
“I find and hold that the Plaintiff has produced sufficient and reliable evidence in proof of his claim that there was a second contract for which he has not been paid. The said inconsistencies referred to do not controvert Plaintiff’s evidence in any way for a ruling to go against Plaintiff,” Justice Rebecca Sittie of an Accra High Court said, dismissing the assembly’s statement that the plaintiff had no agreement with it.
The judge directed that the Defendant (Ada East District Assembly) pay the Plaintiff (Mr. Akplehey) the sum of GH¢89,593.75 and an interest rate of 25 percent per annum.
“I order that Defendant (Ada East District Assembly) pay Plaintiff (Mr. Akplehey) the sum of GH¢89,593.75 being the contract sum due and payable to the Plaintiff for Rehabilitation of 458 Malfunctioning Street Lights under the contract.
“I award Plaintiff Interest on the said sum GH¢89,593.75 from 1st November. 2016 to date of final payment at the Prevailing Commercial Bank Rate. The interest awarded on the sum owed is to settle Plaintiff for the loss of the use of his money”
The total interest rate for the years since the contract was executed amounted to GH¢ 289,823.18
The court also awarded the contractor an additional GH¢20,000, a relief which brought the total payment owed the contractor to GH¢ 399,416.93.
However, the Assembly failed to observe the court’s order to pay the debt owed the plaintiff, leaving the court with no option but to impose further sanctions against the Assembly.
“Feigning ignorance” of the Contract
The contract said poles were to be installed along the routes of Pandora Junction in Ada Foah through Big Ada township to Tetsonya and Kasseh, with an initial contract sum of GH¢ 89,595.75.
After completing the contract in August 2016, the Ada East Assembly refused to pay him, stating that he had no such contract with the Assembly.
This triggered a 4-year court process which would later give him almost 400 percent of what was due him in 2016.
Mr. Akplehey said the leadership of the Assembly, which changed in 2017 did not pay attention to his demands despite a lot of appeals.
On November 27, 2018, he wrote to draw the attention of the Greater Accra Regional Coordinating Council and the former Regional Minister, Mr. Ishmael Ashitey, to his issues with the Assembly.
According to Mr. Akplehey, the former Regional Minister instructed the Assembly to ensure that he was paid but the Assembly ignored him and continued to sit on the fence.
Referencing the letter from the contractor, a deputy director at the Greater Accra Regional Coordinating Council, Prince Newman, directed the District Chief Executive of the Ada East District Assembly “to take necessary steps to resolve the issue” in a December 4, 2018 response.
The plaintiff, Prince Akplehey, told The Fourth Estate that after numerous efforts with no sign of results of getting his money from the Assembly, he decided to seek redress at the law court in March 2019 with documents of proof.
He demanded among others the sum of GH¢ 89, 595.23 for the rehabilitation of 458 malfunctioning streetlights and its associated interest from 15th November 2016 to the date of final payment at the prevailing commercial bank rate.
Issues of judgment debts in the past have been occasioned by the unlawful cancellation of contracts by the state, but this was not the case in the tussle between the Ada East District Assembly and the electrical engineer, Prince Akplehey.
Court documents available to The Fourth Estate show that the assembly denied knowledge of the contractual agreement with the electrical engineer, Mr. Akplehey.
Mr Akplehey said he was “surprised” to learn this. He said the assembly’s stance contradicts a report compiled by the Economic and Organised Crime Office, (EOCO).
“After some time, I was informed by the assembly that I could not be paid immediately resulting from a directive from the Economic and Organised Crime Office, (EOCO), that payments for all contracts awarded by the assembly had been suspended by the government pending clearance for payment by EOCO and that other contracts awarded by the Assembly, including mine, were affected
“EOCO, indeed, vetted my said contract alongside other contracts and produced a report on all the contracts EOCO had passed for payment, including my contract, but the assembly still failed to pay me,” he told The Fourth Estate in an interview.
A 2017, handing-over notes by the outgoing DCE, Mr. John Nurudeen Ahortu captured the contract, including the outstanding payment of GH¢20,602.25 on a former contract to the same contractor and the GH¢89,595.23 on the rehabilitation contract.
The Court said the attitude of officers of the assembly was shameful.
“Plaintiff is not the assembly and cannot be blamed for the infractions of the assembly. It is a shame that the Defendant chose to sidestep the law and after Plaintiff had executed the works for the assembly, in the full glare of the assembly and the community, turned round and accused Plaintiff for the said infractions only to deny Plaintiff the money due him.”
Garnishee of Assembly Accounts
Despite the court’s verdict in February 2022, the assembly failed to abide by the judgment.
The contractor sought the audience of the court again, asking it to compel the assembly to pay up the cost of the project.
The court ordered a garnishee of the assembly’s accounts.
When the assembly’s bankers appeared before the court on August 31, 2022, it was revealed that the only account that had the volume of money that could pay off the nearly 400K judgment debt contained funds for persons with disabilities.
The court said it would be unconscionable to garnishee that account to pay up the debt.
It, therefore, reached a compromise with the contractor.
The assembly had about GH¢ 370,000 in its GCB Bank account, which could be used to settle part of the debt. The court then ordered the contractor to be paid GH¢ 200,000 of the debt while the rest should be paid subsequently.
The Ada East District Assembly was not happy with the judgment and hence applied to the court for a stay of execution.
Ada East District Assembly engaged in “Wasteful litigation”
But a Court of Appeals judge, Justice Eric Baah, sitting as an additional High Court judge ruled on August 16, 2022, that the assembly was engaging in “wasteful litigation”. He dismissed the case for lack of merit.
“For the Court to grant an application for stay of execution, there must be some special or exceptional circumstances which will require that, unless the application is granted, some irreversible harm will be done to the Applicant on the success of his/its appeal. The main ground of the appeal was exhaustively dealt with by the trial judge in her judgment. I cannot fathom what next is to be done after the issue has been investigated by the EOCO and the Plaintiff/Judgement/Creditor/ Respondent cleared to be paid.
The Ada East District Assembly, on September 6, 2022, filed another process to halt the payment of the debt to Mr. Akplehey. This brings to two, the number of stays of executions the assembly has filed since the initial judgment was given in February 2022.
Order for Surcharge against officers involved
Delivering her judgment, Justice Rebecca Sittie, ordered that all officers of the Assembly who should have averted the over 400 percent increment in the initial contract sum due to the judgment debt should be made to pay the money to the state.
“In my view, this amounts to financial loss to the State, which I think should be surcharged against all the officials involved in this whole sordid exercise; i.e the DCDs, the Internal Audit Team, the District Planning Officer and Procurement Officer,” the judge ordered.
Mr. Akplehey, a native of Adjumanikope-Songornya in the Ada area shares similar sentiments.
“The law enforcement agencies must ensure that all the officers, including the DCE, face the full wrath of the law for causing huge financial loss to the state,” he told The Fourth Estate.
But in an interview with The Fourth Estate, District Chief Executive of the Ada East District Assembly, Sarah Dugbakie Pobee, said the assembly had rejected the court’s ruling and was lacing its boot for another appeal.
“We are going to appeal for another stay of execution on the ruling and after that, I’ll talk about it,” the DCE said.
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The writer of this report, Philip Teye Agbove, is a Fellow of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.