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AGRICULTURE MINISTER TREATS OMBUDSMAN WITH CONTEMPT: FLOUTS FINDINGS ON UNLWFUL ACT

By Mohamed Abdulai

In the matter of a complaint lodged at the office of the Ombudsman against the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, the SCP/GAFSP and others, the Ombudsman’s ruling by way of recommendation has found the Ministry guilty of wrongful and unlawful deduction of emoluments contrary to law.

This matter which has dragged on since January of 2017 relates to unlawful action by the Ministry with the consent of the Minister. In a complaint to the Ombudsman, it was also claimed that the Ministry wrongfully dismissed an Expert employed by it under spurious cover and fabricated evidence of gross insubordination. The Ombudsman has issued a report on the substantive matters complained of, however, the claimant has submitted that the Ombudsman’s findings are flawed for several reasons.

Firstly, the Ombudsman failed to take into account the date sequence of events in his deliberations. Such date sequence clearly shows that the purported queries levied against the complainant were made by someone who was not employed by the Ministry nor someone who had a contractual arrangement to occupy any official position in the Ministry at the material time. In such instances, the Ombudsman should have had regard to the locus standi of the person who originated any such query and thereafter dismiss such query as lacking of legal authority.

The Ombudsman in accepting that the complainant was engaged in the Ministry on the invitation of the Minister, furthered that such an engagement was without legal or contractual agreement with the Ministry and as such the claimant is not entitled to recompense from the Ministry for such period of engagement. In the same vein, the Ombudsman should have averred that no obligation must be imposed on such a person to reply to a query when in fact such a person is not properly engaged with the Ministry but that any measure of complaint against such a person could only have been brought under the authority of the Minister in a personal capacity and not by the Ministry under Civil Service rules.

In light of the arguments above, the complainant stated that the Queries issued against him were for specific actions to be done and that such actions were done without delay. However the Ministry failed to inform the Expert of any obligations under the Civil Service Code nor was the Expert, as a Volunteer at the material time, subject to the Civil Service Code as stipulated by the Ombudsman. The finding of the Ombudsman in this aspect is contradictory and flawed. As the Ombudsman has decided that the Expert was a volunteer in the Ministry, and that there was no binding contract of terms or agreement it stands to reason that no Civil Service Query could have applied to the Expert at such times.

The Ombudsman’s attention is also drawn to the sequence of events leading to the issuance of a letter of dismissal to the Expert. It was a complaint of unlawful deduction from the Expert’s salary that triggered the said events leading to the issue of such a letter of dismissal. In the event, the dismissal should not hold nor substantiated under natural law as it was triggered by an event that has now been upheld by the Ombudsman as unlawful and wrongful.  The dismissal came as a result of the Expert’s complaint of unlawful deduction raised to the Minister, who peremptorily issued an emailed instruction to the Permanent Secretary to resolve the matter amicably.

However, the result of the Permanent Secretary’s investigations was to have the Expert summarily dismissed based on fabricated evidence backed by historical queries which in themselves are questionable as to their legality or legal authority. The Ombudsman failed to take account of these issues and date sequences nor consider the weight that the timing of the letter of dismissal and the offer of a contract had on the minds of the Permanent Secretary and the Ministry in contriving to dismiss the Expert from his position. In this regard, the Ombudsman’s dismissal of the Expert’s case for lack of merit should not stand.

Finally, the Ombudsman’s attention is drawn to the fact that despite his ruling, the Ministry has failed to act on the decision or in deed to make good any residual payments due to the Expert. The Ministry has failed to pay the Expert for the month of January, nor has the Ministry paid the Expert the statutory one month’s emolument in lieu of dismissal notice. The Ministry has also failed to account to the Expert for the deductions on his emoluments to meet the repayment installments of the loan offered to him and to make any residual deduction and pay any final balances accordingly.

These failures to act on settling the financial aspects of the dismissal of the Expert show clearly that bad blood exists in the fabrication of these events and that the Ministry continues to use its power and authority to further cause harm to the Expert. For these reasons, the Ombudsman must have considered punitive damages or order appropriate compensation for such grave financial loss caused to the Expert

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