The Parliament of Ghana was thrown into a state of confusion last Tuesday night with some members (MPs) even going to the extreme of exchanging physical blows. It all started when the First Deputy Speaker, Joe Osei Wusu, who was presiding over proceedings, told the plenary that since he was an elected Member of Parliament, he would vacate his seat to go and cast his ballot in a division that had been called by the Minority.
The division was called to decide whether the controversial Electronic Levy should be considered under a certificate of urgency or not. The Minority, knowing very well that they would lose the votes, should the First Deputy Speaker cast his ballot, kicked against the move. It, therefore, came as no surprise when the Minority members attempted to seize the Speaker’s chair after the Second Deputy Speaker, Andrew Amoako Asiamah, entered the Chamber to take over from Osei Wusu.
The resultant confusion compelled the First Deputy Speaker to later adjourn proceedings of the House to the following day. Unfortunately, the misunderstanding could not be resolved on the next adjourned date. The House has now risen and will reconvene for business next January. It is important to note that the whole drama occurred because the substantive Speaker, S.K. Bagbin, failed to preside over the meeting, allegedly on health grounds.
This is what forced both the First and Second Deputy Speakers to step into his shoes. The big question is: do the First or Deputy Speakers, who are elected MPs, whilst sitting in the chair have a voting right? This question has been answered by the Standing Orders, which prohibit them from voting. It was upon the basis of this that the Joe Osei Wusu wanted to swap position with his Second Deputy, who had earlier voted, so that he could also go and cast his vote.
This brings us to the issue as to whether the First and Second Deputy Speakers should be elected from among the MPs, as specified in the law.
According to the Parliamentary Act, 1965 Act 300: “There shall be one more Deputy Speakers elected from among the Members, not being Ministers.” Per this law, the Deputy Speakers have to be Members of Parliament, and this is what, in our view, is creating the current problem.
Obviously, the drafters of this law did not anticipate that one day there could be a hung Parliament in Ghana. Indeed, if they had anticipated this, they would not have insisted that the Deputy Speakers should be selected from among the MPs.
In our view, the Parliamentary Act, as it stands now, is not serving the interest of the state and must be reviewed, so that these deputies can be elected from outside Parliament.
If Joe Osei Wusu and his deputy were elected or appointed from outside Parliament, the Majority side of the House will have the full complements of their members to vote on major bills such as the E-levy without any hindrances. Clearly, both the First and Second Deputy Speakers represent constituents in Parliament and have every right to vote on behalf of the people who elected them. The position of speaker should not stop them from fulfilling the mandate for which they were voted for.
This is the reason why we are insisting on an amendment of the law for the positions of First and Second Deputy Speakers to be appointed from outside Parliament. Obviously, the drafters of the Act had good intensions – nurture possible future speakers – but as the situation stands now, that intension is no more relevant, since it is rather bringing confusion into the practice of our democracy and must be discarded.