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October 3, 2023
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The Herald & others win GH¢800, 000 defamation case after 7 year trial

An Accra High Court, last week dismissed a GH¢800, 000 lawsuit against The Herald and two others by a former Director of Finance of state-owned Intercity STC Coaches Limited, Nuhu I Jansbaka, after an almost seven-year trial.

In her judgement, Justice Audrey Kocuvie-Tay, rubbished claims of “malice” on the part of the Managing Editor of The Herald, as well as the paper’s publishers Prime Mark Company Limited, and admonished those occupying sensitive public positions of trust to always be ready for a stricter standard of scrutiny.

“The plaintiff being a public officer, his life and the performance of his responsibilities ought to be subjected to the litmus test. The slightest finding of impropriety against him ought to be carefully scrutinised. It is high time that persons occupying public positions are held by stricter standards. They ought to realise that they occupy a sensitive position of trust and must not cry wolf at the slightest criticism meted out to them”, the trial judge stated in her 52-page judgement.

The Herald’s lawyers, led by David Annan of Nii Odoi Annan & Co, Asere Chambers, refused to take costs against Mr Jansbaka.

Mr Jansbaka’s conduct as Head of Finance and Administration, had come under severe criticism by colleague workers at the STC Coaches Limited between 2012 and 2013, leading to a series of petitions and demonstrations against him with calls for his removal over conflict of interest.

He was accused of profiting from workers’ provident fund by paying himself a whopping GH¢13, 019.67 for an activity he was mandated by virtue of his position as the Director of Finance and Administration of STC, to do.

He had failed to carry out the responsibility and later convinced some of the workers into paying him for doing so, and ended up paying himself from the fund he had access to, sparking a wave of anger against him and senior staff of the state-owned company.

The unrest eventually led to his  interdiction with a committee of Inquiry, as well as a disciplinary committee  set up to investigate him and other officers of the company.

Adverse findings, comments and recommendations were levelled by both committees against the ex-Director of Finance, including a refund were made in reports one of which was dated  November 28, 2013 which confirmed that indeed, a GH¢13, 019.67 was paid to him from workers’ provident fund.

The report also confirmed that travelling allowances paid to Jansbaka, were far in excess of what was due him in line management, staff condition of service.

He also received illegal payments as extra duty allowance.

Interestingly, Mr Jansbaka was brought back into the company and rather sent to Kumasi to head its northern sector, sparking another wave of protests from the workers.

Management headed by the late Nuamah Donkor, had him taking over his former role as Director of Finance and Administration.

Despite receiving all his benefits which were withheld for the period that he was away, he did not refund monies he was asked to by the two committees to pay back.

In 2017, when the Nana Akomea administration took over the management of the STC Coaches Limited, he quickly resigned from his position as Director of Finance and Administration, and within days brought a legal action against the Managing Editor of The Herald, its publishers and two officers, Samuel Korle Clotey and Hope Kofi Klu, who are workers’ union leaders, claiming they had contracted the newspaper to soil his reputation.

Through his lawyer, Michael Akanbek of Akanbek, Atuilik & Associates, dragged the four to court demanding GH¢200, 000 each for defamation.

But at the end of the trial, Justice Kocuvie-Tay, said Mr Jansbaka failed to establish the nexus between Mr Korle Clotey and Mr Klu and Larry Dogbey and Prime Mark Ghana Limited, to have aided the publication.

“Once 1st and 2nd defendants denied this allegation that they were not the ones who published or caused to be published the statements, the plaintiff ought to have led evidence to prove that indeed, they were complicit. This, in my opinion, he failed to do. It is trite that proof is not just by going into the witness box to repeat the averments contained in your statement of claim. It requires the production of sufficient documents to support a party’s claim”, the judge said.

Mr Korle Clotey and Mr Klu, who were represented by Eno-Amah Andoh and Nana Amah-Andoh of Anoh-Amah & Co, had written to the Institute of Chartered Accountants – Ghana (ICAG) on the conduct of Jansbaka, a member, but Justice Kocuvie-Tay, argued that she does not think the letter to ICAG requesting for an investigation to be conducted in the professional work of the plaintiff constitutes culpability on the part of the union leaders.

She added that during cross examination, Mr Jansbaka, had sought to say that Mr Korle Clotey and Mr Klu granted media interviews on various media platforms to repeat the alleged defamatory statements, however, he failed to provide any such publication or recording to establish that the two indeed, granted those interviews.

Justice Kocuvie-Tay, further noted that although the use of “chop chop” in The Herald’s publications on Jansbaka, may be have been harsh, but “as admonished by Lord Denning no matter that the defendant’s opinion was wrong or exaggerated or prejudiced; and no matter that it was badly expressed so that other people read all sorts of innuendoes into it; nevertheless, he has a good defence of fair comment as long as there is no element of malice adding, “the plaintiff being a public officer, his life and the performance of his responsibilities ought to be subjected to the litmus test. The slightest finding of impropriety against him ought to be carefully scrutinized”.

She insisted that “in as much as the description of the plaintiff by the 3rd and 4th defendants may be exaggerated, I find no malice in the statement and I hold that the defence of fair comment will avail the 3rd and 4th defendants”.

“Having found that the 3rd and 4th defendants have put out a valid defence to the defamation action, analysing the other defences raised would only be academic and I do not intend to engage in that exercise in this judgement. From the foregoing, I hold conclusion that the plaintiff has not sufficiently discharged the burden found a claim of defamation against the 1st and 2nd defendants. He, however, made a valid claim of defamation against the 3rd and 4th defendants.

However, the 3rd and 4th Defendants, have duly raised reasonable defences to the action. I therefore dismiss the action of the plaintiff in its entirety”, Justice Kocuvie-Tay said.

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