The Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has deferred giving ruling on recommendations of the Privileges Committee on the fate of three MPs who had absent themselves for fifteen continuous sitting days without the Speaker’s permission.
Of party interest to all prior to the deferment was whether or not the seat of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) for Dome-Kwabenya, Sarah Adwoa Safo, should be declared vacant for absenting herself more than the 15-sitting threshold giving the fact that she failed to appear before the committee.
Mr Bagbin said given the legal complexity of the issues at heart, he needed adequate time to submit to the House “a reasoned written ruling” when the House resumed in October this year.
“I cannot, in the haste of today, give you the ruling and in the circumstances, I would urge this House for us to call it a day,” he stated.
Addressing Parliament prior to the House adjourning sine die, on Thursday July 28, 2022, the Speaker said “On return, I will deliver the written ruling.
“So, I will proceed, looking at the time to adjourn the proceedings after you have listened to the closing remarks of the leader, if any,” he said.
In the view of the Speaker, the ruling deferment on the fate of Ms Safo had become necessary since issues raised by the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, was both of substantive and procedural law and therefore needed time to submit to the House consider the issues.
The Committee of Privileges, by a majority decision, recommended that the Dome-Kwabenya should be declared vacant since Adwoa Safo absented herself from Parliament for more than 42 days without permission from the Speaker, and also refusing to take advantage of an opportunity offered her to provide an explanation.
The Minority, however, according to the report, acknowledges that numerous opportunities has been given her, but wanted the entire House to rather take the decision on the way forward.
Raising issue with procedure on the floor today, Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, expressed concern over why a motion for the House to adopt the report of the Privileges Committee on the alleged breaches of article 97(1) (c) of the Constitution and Order 16(1) of the Standing Orders by three MPs during the first meeting of the Second Session of the Fourth Parliament should found space in today’s Order Paper.
He said his candid assessment of the situation was that once the Privileges Committee had made a determination in respect of the three MPs, the imperatives of Article 97 would automatically be triggered.
“So Mr Speaker, my thinking is that the purpose of a motion is for the House to make a determination and I am thinking that really this is not for the House.
“It is not for the plenary to make a determination; so, Mr Speaker even locating it on the Order Paper is unfortunate and indeed unnecessary as it should have not been listed on the Order Paper,” he said
But challenging the views espoused by the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader said the House was governed by the 1992 Constitution and the Standing Order that required the House to consider the motion advertised on the Order Paper.
Mr Haruna Iddrisu, therefore, questioned why the Majority Leader failed to move the motion and rather made an application to the Speaker for the House not to consider the motion.
In his view, Parliament of Ghana was not the Speaker of Parliament, the Chairman of the Subsidiary Legislative Committee nor the Majority Leader or the Minority.
He argued that Parliament of Ghana constituted the 275 MPs elected and mandated to exercise the legislative authority of Ghana on behalf of the people.
Calling for the House to be guided by precedent, Mr Iddrisu said the Speaker, in his judgement, referred the cases of the three absentee MPs to the committee which had come by a motion.
He reminded the Majority Leader that he was in the House in 2005 when a former MP for Nkoranza North, Eric Amoateng, was arrested on criminal charges in the USA for drug offence.
Following the arrest, he said the Privileges Committee was called to exercise a duty similar to “the duty we are exercising today.”
“In November 2005, Parliament took a decision on Eric Amoateng through the Privileges Committee but this decision did not find favour in the judgement of our respected judges of the Supreme Court,” he said, saying that it was not the first time that the Privileges Committee was making a recommendation to the House.
“Let me caution that let us not see precedent that tomorrow the Privileges Committee will come and submit a report and on the basis of that report an elected MP will be asked to go and the seat declared vacant,” he said.
Making reference to Article 97 of the Constitution, he said an MP shall vacate his or her seat on dissolution of Parliament or if the person was elected as the Speaker or “if he is absent without the permission in writing of the Speaker.”
Evident abound that those three affected MPs did not seek the permission of the Speaker in writing when they absented themselves for 15 days, he said.
The Tamale South MP argued that he did not have problem with MPs who were in breaches to be held solely responsible and that there should be no cover up for any elected member when they absented themselves without permission in writing from the Speaker for 15 days consecutively.
“The 275 elected MPs is the Parliament and therefore if a report has been submitted to us, we must take a decision as a House on that report. That was what happened in 2005 when Eric Amoateng case happened.
“So, let us not change the rules today because we may not want Adwoa Safo or Henry Quartey or Kenney Agyapong to be subjected to the full requirement of the constitution under Article 97,” he said.
Arguing further, Mr Iddrisu said Parliament was the guardian and protector of the fundamental rights and freedom and it was not for nothing that there was no provision in the Constitution on how to remove an MP.
“Because the Constitution respect the weight of an elected person who wields the power and authority of the sovereign. It is because we have cheapened ourselves that appointees are heavier or holier than us,” he said.
He, therefore, said any motion or removed moved on the floor today must be subjected to debate by the House,
He expressed strong disappointed over the failure of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to show “with and will in dismissing” Adwoa Safo for staying away from her ministerial post for long.
“Why will you be keeping an absentee minister and thinking that you will find comfort in Parliament dismissing and declaring her seat vacant?” he asked.
Let’s debate report
The NDC MP for Bawku Central, Mahama Ayariga, said it was not the Privileges Committee’s recommendation that should concluded the case on the three MPs.
He said Order 164 of the Standing Order made it the duty of the Privileges Committee to enquire into any complaint of contempt of Parliament or breach of privilege which might be referred to it and to recommend to the House such as action as the committee might consider appropriate.
He added Order 212 (1), which dealt with reports of committees, required that every committee, to which a matter was referred to, shall report to the House before the end of each session of Parliament.
Quoting Article 296 of the Constitution, Mr Ayariga said the Privileges Committee should be mindful that it was given a Constitutional obligation to determine the fate of an individual.
He, therefore, said in the exercise of discretionary power implied a duty to be “fair and candid and shall not arbitrary, capricious or bias either by resentment, prejudice or personal dislike in accordance with due process of law.”
He, therefore, said the report of the committee must be debated, interrogated and examine the reasonableness of the committee’s conclusion and recommendation.