An Accra High Court has set December 16, to rule on whether to allow the State prosecutor to use witness statements as evidence-in-chief in the ongoing GHC 66 million SSNIT Operational Business Suite (OBS) trial.
Five accused persons are being tried over the $66million SSNIT Operational Business Suite (OBS project), which was meant to revamp the operations of SSNIT through Information Communications Technology.
The State Prosecutor, who is expected to call 10 witnesses to make up their case, prayed the court to allow the State, to instead, use witness statements as evidence in chief. This was, after the State and defence counsels in the matter had made varied submissions in the ongoing trial.
The State prosecutor, led by Mr Richard Gyambiby, Principal State Attorney (PSA), argued that, no harm would occur to the accused persons if witness statements are allowed as evidence-in-chief. According to the prosecutor, they would be relying on their witness statements and some other documents which would be tendered.
Mr Gyambiby asserted that it would be a complete waste of time for the witnesses to come and state what they have already written in their witness statement. He noted that it would defeat the objectives of fair trial, which the court is supposed to uphold.
The PSA added that the ‘Practice Direction of the Courts’ only act as a guideline, therefore, “a judge considering a matter could use his or discretion in favour of a fair trial.”
Citing Section 69 of the Evidence Act (the Evidence Act of 1975), Mr Gyambiby indicated that it lays in the bosom of the judge to order the mode, manner and order of how a trial should be done or conducted.
The prosecutor further argued that the overriding objective of a criminal trial is to ensure efficient and expeditious trial, noting that the accused persons’ lawyers have not been able to tell the court they would suffer any miscarriage of justice.
Defence Councils Mount Spirited Defence
The lawyers of the accused persons have variously submitted that prosecution witnesses should be made to mount the witness box, so that their demeanour would be ascertained.
Mr Abednego Tettteh Mensah, who represented Ernest Thompson, one of the accused, reiterated that, “We want the witnesses to come into the box so we can look at their demeanour.”
Mr Mohayideen, who is the lead council for one of the accused, contended that “what was stated in the Practice Direction is subject to agreement by both defence counsels and prosecutors.” He was of the view that the accused persons needed to be given all they needed to defend themselves.
The accused persons indicted in the SSNIT $66million scandal are: Mr. Thompson, John Hagan Mensah, former Information Manager of SSNIT, Juliet Hassan Kramer, Chief Executive Officer of Perfect Business Consult, Caleb Kwaku Afaglo, former Head of Management Information Systems, SSNIT and Peter Hayibor, a lawyer at SSNIT.
The accused persons have denied the various charges– conspiracy to wilfully cause financial loss to the state and wilfully causing financial loss to the state.
Thompson and Kramer were jointly held over three counts of contravening the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663). Afaglo and Kramer are also facing a charge of defrauding by false pretences.
Afaglo was also accused for securing his employment at SSNIT with fake Certificates and he is also said to have possessed forged documents and uttering the said forged certificates.
The five accused persons have pleaded not guilty before the court presided over by Mr. Justice Henry Kwofie, a Court of Appeal Judge, sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge.
The court has thus set 16th December, 2021 to determine whether the state prosecutor should call a witness or not.