Home » SML Launches ¢10 Million Legal Battle Over Defamation by Fourth Estate

SML Launches ¢10 Million Legal Battle Over Defamation by Fourth Estate

by Oluwatosin Racheal Alabi

In an unfolding legal drama that strikes at the heart of Ghana’s media and political landscapes, Strategic Mobilisation Ghana Limited (SML), a company embroiled in a contentious contract saga with the Ghanaian government, has launched a lawsuit against the Fourth Estate and investigative journalist Manasseh Awuni. The legal battle stems from the publication of “The GH¢3bn Lie Documentary,” a report that SML contends has significantly marred its reputation and adversely affected its operations. Filed on February 15, 2024, the suit represents a critical juncture in the discourse on media freedom, corporate accountability, and governance in Ghana.

At the core of the controversy is a disputed 10-year contract purportedly awarded to SML by the Finance Ministry, a deal that the Fourth Estate’s investigative piece scrutinized, suggesting potential irregularities and prompting public outcry. SML’s lawsuit, seeking ¢10 million in damages, underscores the company’s stance that the documentary’s allegations are not only unfounded but have also led to substantial financial and reputational losses. This claim is itemized into ¢1 million for defamation and an additional ¢9 million for exemplary damages, pointing to what SML describes as reckless and malicious reporting.

The lawsuit also highlights the company’s efforts to counteract the narrative set forth by the Fourth Estate, including the publication of rejoinders aimed at clarifying its position and operations. Despite these efforts, SML argues that the media outlet and Awuni have not taken steps to retract their statements or apologize, leading to the current legal action. SML’s demand extends beyond financial compensation, seeking a perpetual injunction to prevent further publication of what it deems defamatory content, alongside a retraction, apology, and any other remedies the High Court may find appropriate.

This legal confrontation arises against the backdrop of a broader investigation into the contract between SML, the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), and the Ministry of Finance. The Fourth Estate’s December 2023 report brought to light allegations of a 10-year, $100 million annual contract, raising significant concerns about the deal’s transparency and the procurement process involved. Contrary to the documentary’s claims, SML maintains that the contract in question was for a five-year term, a position seemingly supported by a GRA statement affirming adherence to proper procurement protocols.

The unfolding saga took a pivotal turn when President Akufo-Addo intervened, calling for a suspension of SML’s revenue assurance operations and an audit of its contractual engagements with the GRA and the Finance Ministry. In response to the President’s directive, renowned audit, tax, and advisory firm KPMG was appointed to undertake a comprehensive review of the contract, with SML expressing confidence in the audit’s potential to vindicate its operations and contractual integrity.

As the legal battle unfolds, the implications of this lawsuit extend far beyond the immediate parties involved. It raises critical questions about the balance between investigative journalism and corporate reputation, the transparency of government contracts, and the mechanisms in place to address grievances arising from media reports. The case also underscores the challenges facing media outlets in Ghana, navigating the thin line between holding power to account and facing legal repercussions for their investigative efforts.

Moreover, the situation highlights the Ghanaian government’s efforts to ensure transparency and accountability in its dealings, as evidenced by the swift response to the controversy and the involvement of an international audit firm to examine the allegations thoroughly. As the legal proceedings progress, the outcome of this case will likely have lasting effects on the media landscape, corporate governance, and the broader discourse on transparency and accountability in Ghana.

In conclusion, the lawsuit filed by SML against the Fourth Estate and Manasseh Awuni is a landmark case with the potential to redefine the boundaries of investigative journalism, corporate responsibility, and government accountability in Ghana. As the legal process unfolds, it will be imperative to monitor the developments closely, understanding their broader implications for media freedom, corporate governance, and the pursuit of truth in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

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