Bagbin Causes Chaos Flies To Dubai

Alban Kingsford Sumana Bagbin

The decision by the Speaker of Parliament, Alban Kingsford Sumana Bagbin, to allow a vote by the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) who are the Minority Caucus, on the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government for the year ending 31st December 2022, as presented by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government through Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta recently, has sparked a constitutional chaos.

After the Speaker’s actions which have left in their trail a heated political debate, he jetted to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates amidst reports that he was going to seek medical treatment.

Pyrrhic Victory

The NDC has hit the rooftop, claiming they succeeded in rejecting the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government, but the Majority Caucus (NPP) said the whole exercise supervised by Mr. Bagbin, who is a card-bearing member of the NDC, is unconstitutional because the Minority Caucus did not have the quorum to take such a major decision.

Per the 1992 Constitution, current Parliament’s quorum is just 1/3 of the 275 members and to take such a decision, Parliament needs more than 1/2 of members, which is currently set at 138 after the 2020 general election.

The NDC has 137 members and the NPP also has the same number (137) and there is one independent MP.

However, the NPP has the majority in Parliament because the Independent MP called Andrew Amoako Asiamah from Fomena Constituency in the Ashanti Region, who is now the Second Deputy Speaker, and first entered Parliament as NPP MP, identifies with the NPP and therefore, on January 7 when there was a hung in Parliament, he decided to join his own people (NPP) to form the majority for the 8th Parliament of the 4th Republic (2021-2025).

Unruly Scenes

There were unruly scenes in the chamber last Friday after the Majority NPP said they were boycotting the process.

Mr. Bagbin aided his NDC colleagues to claim a rejection of the budget despite not having the legal muscle to do so, according to legal experts.

The confusion started building up since the Finance Minister read the budget on Wednesday November 17, after which the Minority and even the Speaker, openly said they were going to reject the budget in its entirety.

Post-Budget Workshop

Ahead of the debates, there was a post-budget workshop for the MPs at Ho in the Volta Region where the Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, claimed the legislature had the powers to remove President Akufo-Addo from office but the President did not have such powers to remove the Speaker from office.

It was also at the same post-budget programme that the Speaker again said that he is the number two most powerful person in the country after the President, despite the position of the Vice President.

MPs from his NDC have been making a series of threats over the budget and the whole thing reaching a crescendo on Friday night when they claimed they had voted to reject the budget.

E-Levy Fears

The introduction of the Electronic Levy (E-Levy) expected to be at the rate of 1.75% when approved appears to be the main concern of the NDC because they are claiming that when the budget is approved the E-Levy has the capacity to bring in more money to enable the NPP government to fulfill its manifesto promises and at the same time dwindle the fortunes of the NDC by 2024 when the country goes for general elections.

The E-Levy when passed is expected to come into effect on February 1, 2022, and will attract a charge of 1.75% of the value of electronic transactions, particularly Mobile Money (MoMo) transactions.

The Finance Minister presenting the budget said that “Electronic transactions covering mobile money payments, bank transfers, merchant payments and inward remittances will be charged at an applicable rate of 1.75% which shall be borne by the sender except for inward remittances, which will be borne by the recipient.”

Per the arrangement, a sender, and not the receiver, would bear the cost of the 1.75 per cent charge on e-transactions that are above GH¢100.

Despite many other goodies in the budget which experts say is forward-looking, the E-Levy component in the budget has especially triggered accusations and counter accusations, often along partisan lines.

Cynical Views

Ken Ofori-Atta and his team on the side of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government decided to name the 2022 budget as the ‘Agyenkwa’ (Saviour) Budget whilst the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has cynically termed it ‘Awudie’ (Killer) Budget.

NDC MPs therefore, resolved to see the failure of the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government and vowed to reject it following a series of meetings held with their leaders which reportedly included former President John Mahama.

Majority Fight Back

Members of the Majority Caucus (NPP) have been fighting Mr. Bagbin for engaging and supervising what they consider an act of “unconstitutionality” over the government’s budget proposals for the 2022 fiscal year.

Mr. Bagbin had ruled on Friday night that the motion moved by the Minister for Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, for the House to approve or otherwise the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government for the year ending December 31, 2022, had been lost after a vote which was only participated by members of the Minority Caucus.

The NPP MPs had walked out of the chamber to protest the Speaker’s refusal to accede to a request by the Finance Minister to further engage the leaders of the House.

Mr. Bagbin ahead of the so-called voting, in a bizarre move, had ordered the Finance Minister who is a key stakeholder in the process, to leave the chamber, while the NDC General Secretary, Johnson Asiedu Nketia was not asked to leave the place.

The Speaker said the absence of members of the Majority Caucus could not prevent the House from proceeding with the business of the day, and declared, “The nays have it. The motion is accordingly lost.”

Public Affairs Statement

Shortly after the decision, the Public Affairs Directorate of Parliamentary Service issued a statement, saying Speaker Bagbin was “fully aware of the national nature of the budget and the need to do what is best for the entire citizenry” and was committed to “ensuring that Parliament conducts its business with this in mind.”

“The Parliament of Ghana, in consonance with the 1992 Constitution and the Standing Orders, is going through the processes that govern the presentation of the Budget and Economic Policy of the Government for the year 2022, as provided for in Chapter 13 of the Constitution.”

“As is common in all Parliaments, these processes are sometimes characterised by disagreements but usually, the House is able to come to some agreement. The events that have characterised the scrutiny of this particular budget is no exception,” the statement noted.

“Parliament will like to assure citizens that allegations of bias are unfounded and should not be entertained,” it added.

Majority Adamant

But the Majority Caucus insisted that the Speaker was biased in his action on the floor and carried out an action of unconstitutionality.

It said the motion for the House to approve the budget still stands, intimating that the action of the Speaker and the decision said to have carried by the House “is a complete nullity,” urging Mr. Bagbin, who presided over the voting, to “bow down his head in shame.”

Majority Leader and Minister of Parliamentary Business, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, told the media at a press conference that “the Speaker was totally wrong in the business that he purportedly undertook in the House in our absence.”

“What exercise he let our colleagues on the other side to take a decision on related to a request for the Minister to be allowed to engage both sides of the House in order to have some consensus on the positions the two sides of the House had adopted,” he explained.

Finance Minister’s request

Finance Minister Ofori-Atta had requested for an opportunity to accommodate the comments made by the Minority into the budget, which included the Keta relief efforts, adjustment of the E-Levy, but the request was turned down and the Majority bluntly accused the Speaker of acting in bad faith and kowtowing to partisanship at such a crucial moment.

Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu explained at the press conference that the Speaker’s action to put such a request to vote was unheard of in the parliamentary history of Ghana.

“By this resort that okay I will not pronounce on it and let me put it to vote has not happened before. We are all living witnesses in this House. When has this happened?” he asked rhetorically.

“Be that as it may, he went ahead, did what he did in our absence – because we were not in the chamber, and then went ahead to state that the motion on the budget as moved by the Minister of Finance on Wednesday, November 17, 2022, is lost.”

The Majority Leader said “That whole procedure is unconstitutional. As far as we are concerned, it is null and void. It has no binding effect on anybody. And to that extent, the motion moved by the Minister for Finance has not been lost; it still stands.”

He read Order 109 (1) of Standing Orders of Parliament, which provides that “No Question for decision in the House shall be proposed for determination unless there are present in the House not less than one-half of all the Members of the House, and, except otherwise provided in the Constitution, the Question proposed shall be determined by the majority of the votes of the Members present and voting” to buttress his point.

“Assuming without admitting that he had 137 Members in the Chamber, they were still less than one half of the 275, and by necessary implication, that exercise he (Speaker) engaged in or supervised is a complete nullity and I believe that whoever presided should bow down his head in shame,” he stressed and added that the proper thing would be done in the fullness of time.

“The motion on the budget, as far as we are concerned, has not been pronounced on by Parliament. It is still standing in the name of the Minister for Finance, and in the fullness of time, a properly constituted House, not the one presided over by the Rt. Hon. Speaker, will make the decision,” the Majority Leader fired.

Clear Mischief

Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu (NPP Suame) said Speaker Bagbin mischievously quoted Article 102 of the Constitution instead of Article 104 to justify his action.

“Out of mischief, the Speaker quoted Article102 of the Constitution that a quorum of Parliament, apart from the person presiding, shall be one third of all Members of Parliament. He was right, but a quorum is for the transaction of normal business,” he explained further.

“When it comes to decision-making, it is not Article 102 that applies. Article 104 comes into play. You will recollect that yesterday (Thursday) the Minority Leader signaled that they were going to invoke Article 104.”

“It was not for nothing. I thought the Speaker knows the fundamentals of the Constitution. What happened today (Friday) involved a decision of the House and in that case it is not Article 102; it is Article 104 (1).

“The number that the Speaker quoted reflected the entirety of the membership of the Minority Caucus in Parliament. But assuming that is right, because we have reason to believe that two of them were not in the Chamber, and yet, out of mischief they said 137 were in the chamber,” he asserted.

The Majority leader said Speaker Bagbin knew that at least two of the Minority members were not in the chamber, and quizzed, “Why did he do that?”

Caucus Majority

He asserted that “nobody has said a party has a majority in Parliament, but the caucus has a majority and the leader of that caucus is the Majority Leader, and that is whether or not he likes it.”

“Let’s say the NDC has 137 as they have now, and the NPP could have maybe 120 and will be a minority party. The NDC will be the majority party. If all the other minority parties decide to join ranks with the NPP to form the Majority Caucus, the leader of that group is the Majority Leader. “

“This is commonsensical. Whoever refuses to accept this it is his own problem. There are no co-leaders in the House. There is only one Majority Leader and he is the leader of government business,” he declared.

Dubai Trip

The Speaker was expected to depart Accra on Saturday, November 27, 2021 to Dubai to undergo a medical review.

He was to be accompanied by his wife, Alice Adjua Yornas; Dr. Prince Kofi Pambo, Head of Parliamentary Clinic; Patience Bagbin, Speaker’s Secretary and Speaker’s Aide, Justice Norvor.

The Speaker and his delegation will depart Dubai on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 at 7:35 hours and arrive in Accra the same day at 12:05 hours on flight EK787, a correspondence to the Head of Mission at Ghana’s Embassy in UAE said.

Legal Opinions

Some top lawyers have shared their opinion on what transpired in the chamber last Friday.

Ace Ankomah, one of such legal brains gave an insightful education on the whole incident, saying “Parliament’s quorum is just 1/3 of members. But to take a decision, Parliament needs more than 1/2 of members, which now is 138. So the issue is, at which point the matter was put to the vote. At that point, there should be at least 108 members in the House. If there wasn’t, the decision is invalid. If there was, the decision is valid. Life is very simple. Don’t allow politicians to make it complicated.”

Dr. Poku Adusei was emphatic saying also on social media that “the argument that after presenting your case on a matter in Parliament it was too late for the Majority to walk out since the Speaker was seized with jurisdiction to put it to vote is flawed. Parliament is not like the Courts; the Speaker is equally not like a Judge. Whereas in Court, the Judge could deliver a decision if you walk out after submissions, the same cannot be said of the Speaker.”

He added “the reason is simple: the power to decide matters in Court lies with the Judge. But in Parliament, the power to decide matters lies with the members themselves. As such, if at the time of taking a vote, the total members present was not at least half of the membership of the House, that exercise is void; it is unconstitutional and thus of no effect,” saying “the ‘decision’ of Parliament yesterday over the Budget Statement, even though is brutum fulmen, gives a cause of action in constitutional law, and same must be vindicated to forestall its recurrence.”

By Ernest Kofi Adu