Parliament breaks rule to listen to Duffuor
By Stephen Odoi-Larbi
Parliament, yesterday defied its rules and regulations to grant audience to the Minister of Finance & Economic Planning, Dr. Kwabena Duffuor, who appeared in the House very late, and at a time the members were busily working on the Public Health Bill, 2011, which was at the consideration stage.
The leadership of the House had informed the Speaker that Dr. Duffuor was engaged in an equally important event, and so would not be able to attend to the Legislature to perform his duties. His deputies were also not available.
This prompted the Speaker to defer the papers that were supposed to be presented by Dr. Duffuor, to enable the House carry on its other activities.
However, just as the members were busily deliberating on the Public Health Bill, 2011, which was at the consideration stage, Dr. Duffuor suddenly popped up.
After rendering an apology to the House, the Speaker brought deliberations on the Public Health Bill, 2011 to a halt, paving the way for the Finance Minister to present his papers.
Among the papers presented include (a) Credit facility Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Ghana and the Fidelity Bank Limited for an amount of the Ghana Cedi equivalent of €24.11 million to finance the purchase of the remaining two out of the four MI-171 SH Helicopters for the Ghana Air Force; (b) Financing Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Ghana and Stanbic Bank (Ghana) Limited for an amount of fifteen million, eight hundred thousand Euros (€15,800,000.00) for the purchase of 200 ambulances for the National Ambulance Service (NAS); (C) Financing Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Ghana and the International Development Association (IDA) for an amount of US$20,000.00 to finance the Regional Trade Facilitation Project-Phase II; (d) Financing Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Ghana and the International Development Association (IDA) for an amount of US$30,000,000.00, and a US$10,000,000.00 grant from the Statistics for Results Facility Catalytic Fund to finance the Ghana Statistics Development Programme; and (e) Request for waiver of Custom Duties, Taxes, VAT & NHIL, GCNet, Destination Inspection Fees, EDIF and ECOWAS Levies amounting to US$512,758.00 on goods to be procured under the Northern Rural Growth Programme (NRGP).
Moments after the papers were duly laid, and the Speaker referring them to the Finance Committee for consideration and report to the House, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament (MP) for New Juaben North, Hackman Owusu Agyemang, stood up to draw the Speaker’s attention to an error the House had committed.
He told the members that it was uncalled for to stop the transaction of business of the House, especially, when it was at the consideration stage, to attend to other issues which the Speaker had ruled on.
“Hon. Speaker, what we have just done is unprecedented. And I believe we have done it just because of the respect we have to the honourable Minister for Finance and Economic Planning. I hope he realises that. We have never arrested a consideration stage so that the minister will come in and lay his papers before he goes. I did not protest, because I thought that this Minister requires our sympathy; requires the support, and we are giving him that. I hope he recognises that, and that this mode of operation can never be repeated,” he noted.
He argued that the House would be at the decorum call of ministers if it continues to do what it had done.
“This House is as powerful as the Executive; as the Judiciary. And this must be recognised that if the time comes, and the honourable minister is unable to be here, we will not be dictated to by present or otherwise. There may be some difficulties in whatever he was doing, but there are scales of priorities,” he added.
Dr. Duffuor’s inability to attend to the House on time, initially sparked some concerns from the members, with some calling on the Speaker to use the Finance Minister as scapegoat by stepping down all his papers that were to be laid in the House, to serve as deterrent to other ministers who do not show seriousness to the work of the House.
The members of the House, on Friday, descended heavily on ministers of state who fail to appear to answer to questions, some of which they filed some three years ago.
This was after Dr. Kwabena Duffuor had failed to appear before the House to answer questions relating to his ministry.
The NPP MP for Akim Oda, Yaw Owusu Boateng, who was peeved by such an action, accused the Finance Minister of not taking the work of the House serious, even when he had been pressed upon.
However, the Majority Chief Whip, Gershon K. B. Gbediame, stood up to calm nerves down. He explained that the leadership of the House, after being informed that Dr. Duffuor “could not avail himself because of another equally important engagement,” tried to get one of his deputies, but to no avail.
In response to the concerns raised, the First Deputy Speaker, Edward Doe Adjaho, who presided over the sitting of the House, told the members that it was not for anything that when a minister was appointed, deputies were also appointed to assist, and so was expecting one of Dr. Duffuor’s deputies to act on his (Dr. Duffuor) behalf.
In his ruling, he deferred the papers and went ahead with other business of the House – the Public Health Bill, 2011, which was at the consideration stage.
At this stage, Mr. Adjaho handed over his duties to the Second Deputy Speaker, Prof. Aaron Michael Oquaye.
Surprisingly, when the members were busily transacting the business of the House, Dr. Duffuor appeared. The leadership of the House appealed to the Speaker to indulge the Finance Minister to enable him present the papers which he was initially billed to do.
The members did not protest, thereby giving Dr. Duffuor the go ahead to carry out his functions.
“I apologise for what happened this morning. I was trying to get one of my deputies to be here, but that failed. I am very sorry,” he pleaded, before going ahead to present the papers.
The Speaker, in a swift response to Dr. Duffuor’s plea, noted: “We appreciate very much the onerous duty of your ministry, only that we would have been glad if we could have got one of your deputies here. But, as you have explained duly, it was unavoidably so.”
The leadership of the House has from time to time pleaded with the House to step aside the presentation of papers or questions to ministers of state whose movements were known, but could not be present at the House at the commencement of public business.
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