By Agnes Ansah
Prof Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of Parliament, on Tuesday, indicated that the decision to allow Mahama Ayariga, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bawku Central, to honour a court invitation, was to show respect and to avoid a battle between the legislature and other organs of state.
Mr Ayariga was to appear in court at 1:00 pm on Tuesday, this week, to answer five charges, including evasion of duties and taxes, levelled against him by the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP).
But the MP, who was in Parliament that same day, stood on Order 72 of the Standing Orders, which allows a Member of Parliament (MP) to make a personal statement, and that said he was ready to attend the court, but not on days when the House is in session, hence wants the Speaker’s ruling.
He explained to the Speaker: “I have stated several times that I am ready and willing to go to court to defend myself and prove my innocence, but I want us to appreciate the fact that under the Constitution of Ghana, there is a limited immunity granted to honourable MPs, the Speaker and clerk, so that at a time when Parliament is in session and sitting, they may not be taken away from the business of Parliament. It is a simple principle that I am inviting you, Mr Speaker, to rule on, so that we can set a proper precedent for the governance of our democracy and the running of our country.”
He added that “it will be a very dangerous precedent if charges can be brought against any MP, and on the day when the House is in session, that member will be obliged to leave Parliament and go elsewhere to respond to charges. This will create a situation whereby MPs will be prevented from taking part in decision-making.”
Ayariga’s statement ushered the House into close to an hour’s break to enable the Speaker and leadership of the House to deliberate and take a decision on the issue raised by the member. After the break, the Speaker indicated that the 1992 Constitution Ghana provides that no person is above the law, and MPs are not above the law, and it’s obvious that members are mindful of it.
Nevertheless, the Constitution gave certain limited immunity to MPs, and it’s for good reason. Any invitation that will obstruct a sitting MP is not acceptable by the 1992 Constitution, and all law-abiding citizens must respect this as a provision of the highest law of the land, he said.
The Speaker quoted 117 of the Constitution, which reads: “Civil or criminal cases coming from any place out of Parliament shall not be served on or executed in relation to the Speaker or MP or Clerk of Parliament while he is on his way to, attending at, or returning from any proceeding of Parliament
He also quoted Article 118, which reads: “Neither the Speaker, nor the Clerk to Parliament, shall be compelled while attending Parliament to appear as witness in any court or any place out of Parliament.”
The Speaker went further and quoted article 112, which also reads, “An act or omission which obstruct or impedes a member or officer in the discharge of his duties or affect the dignity of parliament is contempt of Parliament,” and asked citizens to abide by the laws of the country.
Mr Oquaye also noted that the House does not sit all year round, or undertake its activities all year round. There are periods of recess, and there are periods within a week when the House does not sit or work, and a process from court may be served on those days and periods.
It is my prayer that any agency desirous of serving civil and criminal processes on the Speaker or any MP or clerk in Parliament remains mindful of what article 117 says, and the gross that time-tested practices has conferred upon it.
He said that though Mr Ayariga has agreed to go to court today, he trusts that reasonable arrangements will be made to try him, as he is surely not above the law, but in the manner which will enable him to represent the good people of Bawku C