Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the procedure for settling disputes without litigation, such as arbitration, mediation, or negotiation. ADR also allows the parties to come up with more creative solutions that a court may not be legally allowed to impose. It provides a confidential and alternative method of tackling legal disputes which avoids going to court.
In Ghana, the ADR is recognised and accepted to work with the courts in delivery of justice, so when some cases bothering on marital, rent, child responsibility and custody among others are taken to the courts, the ADR practitioners are invited to use their dispute resolution expertise to resolve them.
The ADR centre has been operating in an unbefitting wooden structure near the Ashaiman Government Cluster of School for the past 20 years. The structure was left behind by a road constructor who used it decades ago as a store for his equipment.
“This building has been here for years. We were told the contractor who constructed this road put up this place. Governments in and out had used this place for offices. We also used this place when we were working with the defunct National Mobilisation Programme, and We have remained in this building, rendering services to the community for the past 20 years; September we will be 21 years in this building. In our small way, we have been trying to patch parts but it is not helping,” Justina Mawulawoe Ativor, chairperson of the ADR told Pulse Ghana.
The centre settles rental, marital, debt, land, child management, family, utility unaccepted pregnancy, neighbourhood dispute among others.
It is a quasi-judicial private organisation with links to the judicial system and serves as a neutral arbitrator to help litigants resolve their issues amicably rather than going through the laborious court processes.
It is public knowledge that Ghana’s courts are overburdened with cases some of which have been pending for years, so the ADR is helping to give both the courts and the public a substantial amount of respite by assisting parties of disputes to resolve them out of the courts.
“Whatever case that comes to us the case belongs to those who came to us, we just sit as third-party neutrals to help them resolve their difference. And after resolving cases amicably, they [litigants] put their signatures and that is all but when one party defaults, then that is where it is referred to the court for enforcement, Justina Mawulawoe Ativor explained.
Sometimes, during some of their proceedings, tempers rise among parties to disputes and some of them scream and bang the tables, making the center chaotic but at the end of it all, the resourceful arbitrators apply their dispute resolution expertise and cool heads prevail eventually.
By the end of 2019, the ADR centre had received one thousand two hundred and fourteen (1,214) cases out of which one thousand one hundred and fifty (1,150) were settled successfully, while fifty (50) were referred to the court with fourteen (14) pending.
Out of all the cases reported by litigants at the centre, rent related dispute topped with 871 cases, with debt-related cases following with 161 cases while land issues came third with 33 cases.
In respect of rent-related disputes, the Rent Control Department, a government agency under the Works and Housing Ministry is supposed to be addressing them but it claims and it is apparent that the agency is so under-resourced that it is not in a position to discharge the very function it was established for effectively.
Ashaiman and its environs being a low-class area dominated by mostly low-income earners who may not be able to afford the cost of heading to the court to have their issues resolved, it is obvious that ADR has been their saviour over the period and will continue to be, hence the need to give the centre all the necessary assistance to enable them to serve the community better.
“This place has become so beneficial to the community because Ashaiman is a shanty area. It is not a high-class area, so we feel it difficult to be thinking of going to court, even when people are cheating us. So, with the onset of the ADR, I mean people have become comfortable to come down here to have their cases resolved.
"The location of this place makes it easily accessible to people around. It is not in a corner where people might have to be asking many questions. When they direct people it is easy to get to this place,” said a man who has patronised the centre's services before.
Well, despite the amazing services it has been rendering to the community, the ADR centre has been ignored by the Ashaiman Municipal Assembly (ASHMA) over the years after several appeals to its successive chief executives for help.
According to the centre, although the assembly has always acknowledged and verbally appreciated the work they have been doing to foster peace and harmony in its jurisdiction, it has always paid lip service to their plight.
The ADR centre has to reiterate its call on the ASHMA and this time around, other well-meaning Ghanaians and philanthropists to come to their aid. All they are asking for is a befitting office conducive for their work.
“We are appealing through this medium to every well-meaning Ghanaian, especially those who know what we are doing for the Ashaiman community should help us. The assembly should come in. The MCE said he would want to relocate us; we would plead with him not to relocate us. We prefer where we are now but he should try and help us renovate the whole building,” Justina Mawulawoe Ativor pleads.