By Bruce Asemota
Appeal court judge, Justice Basiru Mahoney, has declared that the minister of regional administration has the power to set up a commission of inquiry but cannot “give power of attorney of a high court judge to the commission to provide protection or to order the attorney general to provide counsel”.
He made this declaration on Friday while delivering judgment on an application by the Kanifing Municipal Council for the high court to quash the commission of inquiry into allegations of fraud and malpractice at the council established by the minister.
Justice Mahoney said the Local Government Act empowers the minister to institute a commission but that “there is no provision in the act or any other law” empowering him to establish the KMC commission as he did.
He said the Commission of Inquiry Act gives power to the president to institute a commission of inquiry and specifically gives the commission powers to summon and examine witnesses.
He further said that the Public Enterprises Act gives the president the power to direct any person to hold an inquiry and requires staff to furnish information as required.
“But under what law does the minister have the power to also give power to the commission to examine witnesses, et cetera?” Justice Mahoney queried.
He pointed out that in the circumstances, since the decision of the minister is only to set up a commission of inquiry, the council will have every opportunity of being heard and know the allegations against it so that the rules of natural justice were not infringed in the decision of the minister to institute a commission of inquiry without first sharing the inspection report with KMC.
Justice Mahoney said the Commission of Inquiry Act that the state relied on for the power of the minister to examine witnesses do not apply to a commission set up by any other person but the president.
Justice Mahoney therefore declared that he will not quash the whole decision of the minister to set up the commission but let it be done in accordance with the law.
He also rejected KMC’s demand for costs saying that the application “is in the public interest and both sides cooperated extremely well in getting an expeditious resolution of the dispute… [and] each side shall bear their own costs…”