A High Court in Bolgatanga has terminated the post-retirement appointments of Prof. Eric Magnus Wilmot as Vice-Chancellor and Dr. Vincent A. Ankamah-Lomotey as Registrar of the C.K. Tedam University of Technology and Applied Sciences (CKT-UTAS), a public higher institution in the Upper East Region.
It seems the university’s governing council, chaired by Prof. Gordon A. Awandare, saw it coming three years ago.
Prof. Wilmot was 58 and Dr. Ankamah-Lomotey 59 when the council reportedly was under intense political pressure to dispatch the appointment letters to them.
The four-year appointments, due to expire in 2024, would elapse after they had crossed the mandatory retirement age of 60. And if the governing council bowed to pressure, the two retirees would remain in active service at the university, drawing salaries— and allowances.
Prof. Awandare foresaw trouble ahead. So, he contacted the Executive Secretary of the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) at the time, Prof. Mohammed Salifu, for direction.
Subsequently, Prof. Salifu forwarded to him a letter he said the Minister for Education at the time, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, had asked him to write. The letter has Dr. Prempeh, also known as Napo, endorsing the four-year appointments.
The following year, the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC), which later emerged as the union of the NCTE and the National Accreditation Board (NAB) with Prof. Salifu as its Director-General, warned public-funded higher education institutions in a letter to desist from appointing university retirees to substantive positions.
The two men initially were each granted an interim appointment as vice-chancellor and registrar for only one year by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in 2020. The president’s appointment elapsed in July 2021— seven months after the governing council had issued its own four-year appointments to the men.
Public opposition and defence
As time passed by, members of the public launched a protest against the post-retirement appointments handed Prof. Wilmot and Dr. Ankamah-Lomotey.
The GTEC letter became a major source of reference critics used to back their disapproving voices against the council’s decision.
When the author of this story contacted the former education minister on Monday, 3 October 2022, for his comments on the controversial appointments, he said he did no wrong.
“If such an appointment was made in an official capacity, why ask me? So, seeking my advice because this is a nascent university broke which rule? My advice was sought and [I] acted within the legal system,” he stated.
Prof. Salifu had told the writer of this report on Friday, 30 September 2022, that he was not aware Prof. Wilmot had gone on retirement at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) before he was appointed as vice-chancellor at CKT-UTAS.
“This letter is about those who remain to continue working after 60. It’s not about conditions for the appointment of foundation vice-chancellors or registrars. So, you are referencing a wrong letter [or] regulation,” the vice-chancellor had told the writer of this report in 2022.
The registrar, a former deputy registrar of the College of Science at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), said he did not apply for the job at CKT-UTAS.
He said he took up the appointment after he was invited by the Ministry of Education to “come and serve”.
“I did not apply for any job,” he said. “I was sitting somewhere in Kumasi when I got a call from the minister’s office, that the minister said I should come to Accra because they were going to inaugurate governing councils of three new universities.”
Per the rule for hiring a vice-chancellor or a registrar, a search party usually is set up to advertise the vacancy locally and internationally.
After shortlisted candidates are invited and interviewed, the search party selects the top two on the candidates’ list and submits the names to the governing council to hire one of the finalists.
The author of this story met with Prof. Awandare at the University of Ghana Legon over these controversial appointments in 2022.
The governing council’s chairman failed to provide evidence that due process was followed in appointing the vice-chancellor and the registrar.
When contacted, a former pro-vice-chancellor of the University for Development Studies (UDS), Prof. David Millar, told the writer of this report the appointments of Prof. Wilmot and Dr. Ankamah-Lomotey breached the university’s rule and did not follow the normal practice.
When pushed further, Prof. Salifu and Prof. Awandare said it was considered that the two men remain in active service even after attaining the compulsory retirement age of 60 years because the university was new.
Both CKT-UTAS and its sibling in the next-door Upper West Region, SD Dombo University of Business and Integrated Development Studies (SDD-UBIDS), evolved anew from the UDS in 2020 as autonomous institutions.
But checks revealed that the governing council of the SDD-UBIDS followed due process in appointing Prof. Philip Duku Osei as the school’s vice-chancellor. The council also did not offer him an appointment that would go beyond his 60th birthday.
A nightmare come true
As the two retirees remained in office, Johnnie Hughes, a senior broadcast journalist at Media General Ghana, shed the spotlight on the impropriety of the post-retirement appointments.
After the findings made by the author of this report were published by The Fourth Estate on Monday, 3 October 2022, the vice-chancellor and the registrar remained at post for months.
On Monday, 20 March 2023, Joseph Pwoawuvi Weguri, a native and resident of Navrongo, where the university is located, filed a suit against the two retirees as well as CKT-UTAS and the Attorney General at the High Court ‘1’ in the region’s capital, Bolgatanga.
Weguri sought to have the court terminate the appointments and order the retirees to refund all the salaries and allowances they received since their appointment took effect in 2020.
Weguri is a public figure. A veteran politician and acclaimed proposal writer, he had contested elections in the past as a People’s National Convention (PNC) parliamentary candidate in the Navrongo Central Constituency.
He is as very tall as his command over the English language is very good. Even the presiding judge, Charles Adjei Wilson, said of him:
“The plaintiff is a well-respected, outspoken, forthright citizen who has a genuine, serious interest and demonstrable willingness to litigate the issue in public interest and in the service of upholding the constitution and the rule of law.”
The lawsuit, initiated by an outspoken Weguri the governing council probably least expected, was a nightmare come true particularly for Prof. Awandare who, uncertain about the future, had sought the view of Prof. Salifu on the ages of the vice-chancellor and the registrar prior to the appointments.
The arguments from both sides
Weguri’s lawyer, Raphael Alijina, argued that the appointments of the vice-chancellor (referred to as the 3rd defendant) and the registrar (referred to as the 4th defendant) were illegal because the 1992 Constitution made it unlawful to appoint a person above the prescribed retirement age of 60 years.
He submitted that public officers who were not required to retire at 60 were those appointed by the president in accordance with article 70 of the constitution.
He furthered his argument by pointing out that the 3rd and 4th defendants had not been appointed under article 70 of the constitution.
The defendants’ lawyer, Louisa Babilah, dwelt on article 70 (1) (e) which recognises the right of parliament to empower the president to appoint key public officeholders who are allowed to serve the number of years stated in their appointment letters regardless of their ages. The assistant state attorney said her clients belonged to the class of such key public officeholders.
She maintained that the appointments of the 3rd and 4th defendants and their continuous stay in office, despite attaining and going beyond the age of sixty years, were neither unlawful nor unjustifiable.
As the case ran for months, both sides quoted more authorities and cited precedents to support their arguments.
On Monday, 27 November 2023, the months-long case came to an end, with the judge, after listening to the cases and studying all the exhibits tendered in evidence before him, delivering verdict in favour of Weguri in front of a large audience.
“The argument that the retirement age of 60 does not apply to the 3rd and 4th defendants because they are foundation officers of the institution is not captured in the C.K. Tedam University of Technology and Applied Sciences Act, 2019, Act 1000, the guiding document for appointing principal officers for the 1st defendant institution.
“There is no evidence to support the proposition of the learned state attorney that foundation officers of the institution were exempted from the retiring age requirement. I find myself unable to agree with this view. The mere use of the term foundation members in law does not give rise to a contract to the 3rd and 4th defendants,” the judge said in his 14-page judgement.
Contrary to the assertion the former education minister made that he did not break any rules, the judge said: “The council of the C.K. Tedam University of Science and Technology and Applied Sciences, therefore, erred in appointing the 3rd defendant vice-chancellor and the 4th defendant registrar for a 4-year term, when they could not serve full terms before they attained the age of 60.”
“Certainly, the 3rd and 4th defendants do not fall under Article 70 officeholders. The only basis on which a public officer of a tertiary institution can continue in office after he has attained the retirement age is by virtue of a contractual employment.
“In this case, as far as this court is able to ascertain, no contract was sought nor was obtained by the 3rd and 4th defendants for the grant of extension of time to remain in office beyond the retirement age. The university council is not clothed with authority to extend the term of office of the 3rd and 4th defendants,” the judge read further.
He added: “I agree, therefore, the contention that the 3rd defendant and the 4th defendant cannot remain in office and continue to perform the duties of vice-chancellor and registrar after attaining the mandatory retirement age of 60.”
As the judge continued reading the judgement, the defendants’ side looked very tense. The anxiety decreased when the judge dismissed Weguri’s petition for Prof. Wilmot and Dr. Ankamah-Lomotey to refund all the salaries and allowances they had received at CKT-UTAS.
“Now, looking at the 3rd and 4th defendants’ letters of appointments, it is unlikely that the defendants would be able to pay back all arrears of salary. For the reasons herein given I dismiss the plaintiff’s reliefs for a refund of salary and allowances from the consolidated fund,” he stated.
But the anxiety shot up when the judge delivered the final orders, dissolving the defendants’ appointments and stripping them of their positions.
“An order of perpetual injunction is hereby made restraining the 3rd and 4th defendants from holding themselves out as vice-chancellor and registrar of the [C.K.] Tedam University of Technology and Applied Sciences.
“The 3rd and 4th defendants are prohibited from taking any steps to perform any duties and functions on the appointed post forthwith,” he pronounced.
It was joy on the other side. But the judge was not done yet. He told Prof. Awandare’s governing council what to do immediately in the wake of the verdict.
“The university governing council shall nominate/appoint an interim management board for the general administration and management pending the fresh appointment of a vice-chancellor and registrar to replace the retired officers,” the judge concluded.
It was not clear if the vice-chancellor and the registrar were heading from the court back to the campus immediately to pack their belongings and leave.
But it was certain that Prof. Awandare, who seemed to have seen this catastrophe coming three years ago, would not make the same mistake again if there are rules to follow in nominating or appointing an interim management board as the judge has ordered.
“We are very elated about this judgement,” a CKT-UTAS student reacted on Monday afternoon. “The vice-chancellor should go with his yomo hair dye. He has been doing yomo. We don’t know if it was Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh who advised him to be doing yomo so that we would not detect that he has passed sixty years.”
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org