(Swans - November 15, 2010) In September 2010, I wrote a piece entitled "The Untenability of Justice Georgina Wood's position." In said article, I wrote, inter alia:
In many other societies the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Republic of Ghana, Madam Georgina Wood, would have resigned her position.
To maintain her personal integrity and safeguard the integrity of the institution of the judiciary, Madam CJ should have thrown in the towel.
The CJ occupies such an exalted position that any whiff of impropriety will easily bring it to dis-repute. But we live in a society where people cling tenaciously to office when their position has become simply untenable.
No less an institution that the ruling party, the National Democratic Congress, NDC has, through its regional chairmen seriously indicted the CJ and passed what goes for a vote of no confidence in the CJ, yet she made no reply and she clings to office. This is not good enough.
That she was made CJ in very murky circumstances should be bad enough, but that she should be perceived to be politically biased should be totally unacceptable. What about the allegation that she has taken over the task of allotting cases?
In justice, as in politics, perception is everything. But whereas the executive and the legislature can afford to have their images dragged though the mud, it is a price the judiciary cannot afford to pay. The authority and legitimacy of the judiciary is based on the perception that it is an impartial arbiter of the law. Remove that and the judiciary has lost it all.
Whereas a Minister or an MP can survive a scandal, a Judge cannot. He must always be above reproof. He must always appear sober and carry himself with an air of piety. And no Judge can survive been tainted with political biasness. And for a judge to be accused of trading judicial gossip at a drinking bar is totally noxious.
And the situation where we have a sitting judge openly trading political mudslinging with an official of the Attorney General's office is unwholesome. It shows that Madam CJ is not in control of her turf. There should be no need for a senior judge to come out publicly and open his mouth 'anyhow.' Verbal pugilism is not among the credentials we expect from our Judges.
Sans the perception that our judges will deliver impartial justice, there is little sense in appealing to the law to settle disputes. Comprehending this simple logic is what is appearing to be missing in the many jejune arguments being postulated by political jobbers [who are supporting Madam CJ's obstinacy]."
The CJ later released a statement castigating those of us calling for her resignation as a pack of ignoramuses.
Madam CJ didn't directly address the grave ethical issues raised in our criticism of her compromised position; she rather hid herself behind a fog of obtuse legalese and not so cleverly dodged the issue of impropriety that constantly and consistently dogged her.
I penned my piece without realizing that the chief justice of Ghana in whom we are expected to get impartial, unbiased, apolitical judicial pronouncements when we run afoul of the law has been compromised beyond measure. Little did I know that what irked us so much about Madam CJ was just the tip of the iceberg in her can of worms.
The Insight newspaper (29th-30th September 2010 and the 6th-7th October) did Ghanaian journalism a big service when it published the long list of those who benefited from the sale of government land in the choicest part of the capital, Accra.
Conspicuously, on page 10 of the 6th-7th October edition of the paper was the name: Mrs. Georgina Wood, Chief Justice of Ghana!
Naturally, the revelation generated lots of heated debates. The hullabaloo apparently led Madam Chief Justice to relinquish her share of the, what else to call it, loot.
According to a statement quoted by large section of the media, Madam CJ rationalized her gross ethical lapse thus: "In order to protect the high office of the Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana, I would like to relinquish my interest in the plot of land under reference."
She stated, "I have served this nation conscientiously for the past thirty-eight years as a public servant. About five years ago, I applied for the first time in my capacity as a public officer to be allocated a government land. I did not acquire the subject matter illegally or through some other unorthodox means."
Challenging the media rumors that suggested malfeasance in the transaction, she noted that "this is the only piece of land that I have acquired from the Lands Commission, for which reason I have supplied my full maiden name to enable the facts stated to be verified."
I don't know who her advisers are but those who advised (mis-advised in my opinion) the CJ to release that capricious statement did her a terrible disservice.
It is best to shut your mouth and let people wonder whether or not you're a thief than to open it and remove all doubt.
Madam CJ's statement revealed a pathetically amoral soul with absolutely no capacity of ethical or moral consideration whatever. To her, it is all about legality, legality, and legality!
Sadly, for our CJ, as long as something is legal, then it must be right. But this should not be so. In our actions or inactions, thoughts should also be spared for the ethical dimension.
Sorry Madam CJ, do you mean that your serving "this nation conscientiously for the past thirty-eight years as a public servant," entitles you to engage in free-booting on government's property?
I simply hate it when I hear people like the CJ telling us how conscientiously they have serve Mother Ghana. We are all in our own little ways serving our country. And heaven knows that we have well-remunerated high officials like the CJ without their dipping their hands to loot from the government property.
HIPCed (Highly Indebted and Poor Country) as we are, we still manage to pay our officials well -- at least by our modest standards.
What exactly is Madam CJ talking about? Is she telling us she is a more deserving public servant than the poor farmer or the poor teacher both of whom are toiling under great deprivations to contribute to our nation's development? Did Madam ask herself since when did the government of Ghana become a land seller? Were the lands sold to the CJ and her fellow travellers advertised and disposed off according to laid-down regulations? Was our CJ unaware that she was paying an unusually low price for her land in that part of our blessed republic? When lands acquired for government services were under-handedly sold off at thieving prices, where did our CJ expect the government to get the land when the needs arise, or is our CJ suggesting that the government will not undergo natural growth?
And she had the temerity to tell us about "serving conscientiously!" Kindly sing us another song, Madam.
She further said: "I did not acquire the subject matter illegally or through some other unorthodox means."
I pray that Madam CJ is not suffering from an inadequate grasp of basic English. My dictionary defines unorthodox as "unconventional: failing to follow conventional or traditional beliefs or practices."
There are well-laid-down rules governing the disposal of government assets, part of which I understand is that such sales must be publicly advertised. What manner of banana republic are we running when people can meet in secret and sell state properties to themselves and their cronies!
And Madam CJ is mouthing some effluvial about following an orthodox path in acquiring her land. Madam should kindly tell us when and where the land she purchased was advertised. If it was not advertised, how did she hear about it?
It is sad when people like Madam CJ simply cannot get it into their heads that public service is a calling. It is sad indeed that those privileged to be called to serve their nation did not consider it great honor indeed. Sadder still when they consider it a ways and means to loot their proverbial share of the national cake.
It was recently revealed that seventy-five percent (yes, 75%) of our national income is devoted to servicing the machinery of government -- read concurrent expenditures like salaries and emoluments.
So, our blessed republic is left with ONLY 25% for its capital expenditure -- roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructural projects.
Do you now begin to understand why we are mired in a seemingly intractable poverty quagmire? Do you now know why our leaders need to go around the world with begging and supplicating like common beggars? Do you now know why any announcement by the Japanese and the Chinese about grants always sends our rulers dizzy with excitement? Do you now begin to realize why we are perpetual recipients of "aid?" Do you now begin to know why we command no respect in any part of the world and why the other races keep looking down on us?
That is not all about the sad state of our affairs. Our elite (remember greedy bastards?) are not satisfied with collaring 75% of our budget for their comfortable upkeep, they still want a share of the paltry 25% left for our development.
Remember that it is from the 25% that government must pay compensation for lands acquired for state's use. So, when our greedy bastards (sorry elite) started parceling out these lands to themselves at simply ridiculous prices, they are literally stealing what belongs to the commonwealth.
Methinks that it is this culture of entitlement by our public officials that must be disabused. Why do our public "servants" think that because "I have served my country, so I am perfectly entitled to loot her meager resources."
We had a departing speaker of parliament, not satisfied with his whopping ex-gratia award, literally and figuratively stripping his bungalow of every item his thieving hands could grab. No sanction was imposed on him. A departing minister also bought his official residence for a song; today he chairs one of our major parties!
Our MPs "serve" for four years and believe that they deserve ex-gratia to the tune of 800 million cedis.
According to Madam CJ: "In order to protect the high office of the Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana, I would like to relinquish my interest in the plot of land under reference."
Methinks that this is simply not enough. By purchasing government land under very questionable circumstances, the CJ has severely compromised her ethical authority. The government of Ghana is not a land-seller, period. Madam CJ, like any other Ghanaian, should know better whom to approach when in search of land to buy.
How on earth does Madam CJ expect to be taken seriously whenever she pontificates about the virtues of honest living? Does she still expect to be taken seriously when she admonishes people about crime not paying? How would she adjudicate in a land dispute when she herself is a beneficiary of a dubious land deal?
While it might be true that she breaches no law in acquiring the land, she patently breached the ethical standards her high office demands. Her behaviour might not be strictly illegal, it is certainly not ethical.
And this is precisely where the CJ's problem lies: Her lack of capacity to either comprehend or appreciate the ethical dimensions of her judgments reveals a person whose moral standards are questionable, to say the least.
Ethics (Greek ethika, from ethos, "character," "custom"), principles or standards of human conduct, sometimes called morals (Latin mores, "customs"), and, by extension, the study of such principles, sometimes called moral philosophy.
And what was Madam CJ trying to tell us when she wrote: "this is the only piece of land that I have acquired from the Lands Commission, for which reason I have supplied my full maiden name to enable the facts stated to be verified."
I guessed she expected Ghanaians to dance with joy because she had acquired only one piece of government land.
Sorry, Madam CJ, I refused to see the logic of your argument. I wonder how you'd treat a criminal who pleaded in your court that he had stolen only once. And pray, what Madam CJ trying to do by employing her maiden when she was a married woman!
Land is a highly-prized finite commodity and a visit to our court houses will reveal heart-breaking stories of land cases stretching back to time immemorial.
There are serious allegations that many judges had received parcels of land over which they sit in judgment. How do we expect to get impartial judgment from such judges? And our judges expect to continue to receive our adulation!
The big question Madam CJ failed to address is: Was it right for you to surreptitiously buy government property?
Sorry Madam CJ, but it is not the frequency of your UNETHICALLY acquiring government property that is worrisome: it is your failure, as the chief justice of Ghana, to adhere STRICTLY to the rules and procedures of how government's properties should be disposed off. It is your lack of moral etiquette that is most baffling. Your action might not be illegal but it is grossly unethical. And it is your inability to distinguish between illegality and unethicality that is making your holding the position of the chief justice of our blessed republic quite untenable.
I will, once again, advise that you advise yourself about the ethicality of your continuing to hold your current exalted position. You may quote all the law books to support your position, but on the ethical or moral scale, you simply have failed, miserably.
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Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/. (back)