GH₵283m judgement debts paid in 3yrs- Finance Minister

Government has paid a total of about GH₵283m in previously accumulated judgement debts since assuming office in 2017, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta has told Parliament.

Appearing before Parliament to answer a question on how much government has paid in judgement debts from January 2017 to date, given that it is a cost to the tax-payer, the Finance Minister indicated that GH¢94million has been paid as judgement debt annually over the last three years.

“In January 2017, the outstanding judgment debt we came to meet totalled GH₵482m. In addition, a number of cases had been pending in court; out of this, a further GH₵197m has crystalised – bringing the total amount to GH₵679m. Government’s approach is to renegotiate most of these judgement debts and ensure that we make as much savings as possible, and continue to protect the public purse.

“For example, in one instance we managed to save the taxpayer GH₵90m through negotiations. In another instance, we negotiated a savings of GH₵130m on a claim of over GH₵180m. In total, we have had no choice but to pay 42 percent of the outstanding debt – which is approximately GH₵94m yearly, due to the garnisheeing of our accounts and the renegotiations held. Due to our focus on protecting the public purse and obtaining value for money, we have made it a policy to negotiate with the beneficiaries,” he said.

He added that the Akufo-Addo government is committed to minimising the levels of judgement debt as much as possible, and has begun prioritising judgement debt cases within the legal department – ensuring proper settlement records and other records are kept, attending government hearings and working closely with the Attorney General.

Others measures include: certain wording in contracts indemnifying government; enforcing the Public Financial Management Act; negotiating with claimants to avoid expensive court cases and judgement; and negotiating with applicants’ post-judgment.

The phenomenon and quantum of judgement debts, which result from unpredictable breaches in contracts and unethical behaviour of officers who have been entrusted with the responsibility to take care of the public purse, he noted, can distort central government’s budget.

The Finance Minister noted that government continues to pay several millions of cedis in judgement debts to individuals and companies due to court orders for breaches of contracts; largely compensations for personal injury claims and acquisitions, which cannot be ignored.

The Ranking Member of Finance, Ato Forson, however maintained that the previous government did not leave behind such high debt; also, payments made so far are questionable.

He also added that rather than paying judgement debts, the monies can be used to carry out developmental projects.