By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Folks, when the New Statesman revealed that steps were afoot by the government to “tamper with” the salaries for 49 Circuit Court judges and 145 Magistrates, we glossed over it in our discussions. The matter is too serious to be neglected. It has a negative sequel and must be understood in context.
According to available information, the government claimed that “a mistake was made in increasing their salaries.” Thus, in a letter to the Controller and Accountant-General, Finance Minister Seth Tekper requested that the payment of the new salaries be stopped and that the judges and magistrates will refund the “excess payment.”
Before his death, ex-President Atta Mills had set up a Presidential committee to review the pay levels for the Lower Bench. He couldn’t live to see the committee’s recommendations. On succeeding Mills, President Mahama accepted the Presidential committee’s recommendations for the increase.
The Finance Minister consequently wrote to the Controller and Accountant General on February, 27, 2013 for the new salaries to begin being paid with retroactive effect from 2009. Accordingly, appointment letters of new Judges and Magistrates employed about four months ago indicated that they would be paid the new salaries. The Finance Minister confirmed so in a letter that said, in part:
“Following His Excellency the President’s acceptance of the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on emoluments for Article 71 Holders and the Report of the Presidential Committee of Emoluments for Justices of the Superior Court of Judicature, approval is, hereby, given for the salary levels in Appendix A to be used to effect the payment of salaries of the Lower Court Bench.”
That letter further instructed that “the effective date of implementation is 1st January, 2009. The payment of the outstanding arrears is to be effected in one installment. We wish to reiterate that the new salary levels are consolidated and, therefore, payment of salary-related allowances should cease.”
Following this directive, the Judges and Magistrates were paid all the outstanding arrears accordingly and have been enjoying the new salary levels for close to a year now.
WHAT IS NEW AND SHOCKING
All of a sudden, the Office of the President has turned round to say that the approval for the payment of the new salaries was “inadvertently” done and that the government will revert to the old salary levels (which will slice off 50% from their pay). Worse still, the Judges and Magistrates are to refund the “excess salaries paid to them”. Reacting to the issue, the Office of the President wrote to the Office of the Chief Justice to explain matters.
The Office of the President, in a letter dated April 10, 2013, informed the Ministry of Finance about its decision to withdraw an approval by the Ministry for the payment of new levels of salaries for members of the Lower Court Bench, as approved by the late President John Evan Mills, after his administration had accepted recommendations by a committee set up to review the conditions of service of the judges and magistrates.
I see a lot of mediocrity and dangerous incompetence here. On what basis did the Office of the President approve the Presidential committee’s recommendations to enable the new salaries to be paid to the beneficiaries? Don’t tell me that it was ex-President Mills who approved the recommendations.
Was any scrutiny done of the committee’s recommendations to weigh their impact on the national economy before being approved and implemented for four months now?
I strongly disagree with the manner in which the government is handling this matter. Not only is the government displaying gross insensitivity to the plight of the beneficiary Judges and Magistrates but it is also giving a very nasty account of how it is handling important assignments related to the management of the national coffers. Do we know if any other instance of shoddy work has been done to the detriment of the national economy?
What was the basis for the President’s approval of the new salary scale for the Judges and Magistrates? Putting aside any other consideration, how much diligent work did the Office of the President do in this matter? The sour taste wrought in our mouths by this flim-flammery can’t be neutralized with the lame explanation given by the Chief of Staff that “the new levels of salaries members of the Lower Bench have been enjoying for close to a year now, and which was used to employ new Judges and Magistrates in July this year, “was inadvertently approved.”
So also do we take exception to this aspect:: “The salary levels for the Lower Court Bench as conveyed in the Ministry of Finance letter No. ERDF/13/SAL.1 of 17th February 2013 was inadvertently approved. The approval has therefore been withdrawn. The members of the Lower Court Bench are to refund the excess salaries paid to them. However, in order not to impose undue financial burden on the members of the Lower Bench it has been decided that the excess payment should be recovered through regular monthly deductions over a period of time.”
What “undue financial burden” is Prosper Bani talking about again? Over the years, the Circuit Court judges and Magistrates haven’t been paid anything substantial to motivate others to join the Bench. The high degree of incompetence and mediocrity at the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General’s Department can be attributed to lack of incentives to attract the capable hands needed to enhance the administration of justice in the country.
Now that the government has flip-flopped in dealing with the Lower-Court Bench, it has set in motion a troubling event that will have nasty consequences. Already, we’ve heard threats from the affected beneficiaries to resign if the government goes ahead to “punish” them through the withdrawal of the new salaries and their being forced to refund what they had already enjoyed. Others said they will remain at post and adopt lackadaisical attitude towards their work.
Won’t this situation create fertile grounds for bribery and corruption? Yet, everybody is complaining about the rot in the Judiciary. How will the Judiciary not be corrupt if the authorities disincentivate the Bench and rather incite them to use unorthodox means for survival?
Granted that the government sought to streamline affairs, its manner of handling this particular matter is disturbing. It lacks the “democratic element” for an amicable resolution of the matter and serves as a disincentive.
It is clear that the Office of the President goofed in approving the Presidential committee’s recommendation and going ahead to authorize the payment of the new salaries. Worse still, it has given a very worrisome account of its approach toward handling such human-centred problems, asking for a refund when the beneficiaries had no hand to play in the matter. I am highly disappointed!!
I shall return…