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Ghana’s Day of Democratic Shame

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Yes, dear reader, you might have read about similar situations in other countries, but it never crossed your mind that it can happen in Ghana. The truth, however, is that it has happened – our revered Members of Parliament exchanged blows on the floor of the House.

Ghana has now joined the League of Nations whose House of Representatives have been turned into ‘boxing arena’.

On Monday, December 20, members of the public witnessed a brawl in the chamber of the Legislative House over the consideration of the Electronic Transfer Levy (E-levy) Bill.

The fisticuffs, which led to some members being slapped, whilst others were shoved or pushed onto the floor, was caused  by a motion moved by the Finance Minister, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, for the House to consider the E-Levy bill under a Certificate of Urgency.

By Certificate of Urgency, the Finance Minister wanted the House to forgo the normal processes that a bill is supposed to be taken through and passed the same day.

Although this practice is constitutional and also supported by Parliament’s Standing Orders, the Minority argued that the Sponsors of the Bill had not indicated in their earlier communication that they would want the Bill to be taken under a Certificate of Urgency, and displayed their disapproval for the Finance Minister’s application.

This comes to add to the many reasons that the Minority side had given to show their disapproval for the Bill, since its mention in the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy by the Finance Minister in November.

The E-levy, which is to come into force on 1st February, 2022 according to the Finance Minister, is a charge of 1.75% of the value of electronic transactions. It covers mobile money payments, bank transfers, merchant payments and inward remittances.

The originator of the transactions will bear the charge, except for inward remittances, which will be borne by the recipient. There is an exemption for transactions up to GH¢100 (US$ 16) per day.

The levy, according to the government, is to widen the tax net and rope in the informal sector.

Ever since its mention, the minority, usually led by their Spokesperson on Finance, Mr Cassiel Ato Forson, has argued that the levy will significantly impact on inward remittances and bring undue hardship to the people of Ghana and promised that the minority caucus in parliament will oppose the implementation of the levy.

On whether or not the bill should be considered under a certificate of urgency, the minority caucus on the Finance Committee had earlier on indicated to their opponents that some associations and institutions, such as the E-commerce Association, the Telecommunication Association of Ghana, Mobile Money Association of Ghana have petitioned and notified them of a possible demonstration against the bill, so there was the need to engage all these associations for their views before passing the bill.

They, therefore, prayed that the bill should not be taken under a certificate of urgency, but the majority caucus on the committee, together with the Chairman of the Committee, who is also a Majority Member, voted for the Bill to be taken under a certificate of urgency.

It came, therefore, as no surprise when the Finance Minister moved the motion for the Bill to be considered under a certificate of urgency, a Minority Member and Member of Parliament for Bawku Central, Mr Mahama Ayariga, however, raised concerns about it.

One of his arguments was that, the Finance Minister when laying the bill in the House for the first time did not indicate that it should be taken under a certificate of urgency.

“Speaker, I seek your leave to arrest the process of suspending Standing Order 81 for the purposes of doing away with the notice of 48hrs before we take away the second reading of the Electronic Transfer Levy 2021.

“Mr Speaker I do so pursuant to Article 106 (13), Article 103(1), Order 192, Oder 197 and Order 119. Mr Speaker the combined effect of these two constitutional provisions and these three Standing Orders of Parliament make it inappropriate for us to suspend the process for this bill to be taken under a certificate of urgency.

“Mr Speaker, if you take our Standing Orders, Order 119 is clear in its language. It reads that where it is determined and certified by the appropriate committee of the House, appointed in that regard that a particular bill is of an urgent nature, that the bill may be introduced without publication.

Mr Speaker, the point at which a bill is determined to be of an urgent nature is before its production. But the Minister, at the point when he was laying the bill, did not pray this parliament to consider it under a certificate of urgency, so the bill was referred to a committee as a non-urgent bill,” Ayariga argued.

Another argument he raised was that a committee that has been given a mandate by parliament cannot change its mandate when it is having its committee meeting.

“The Minister didn’t state that the Bill should be considered under a certificate of urgency, so the Speaker referred it to a committee, but it was when the Minister appeared before the committee that he made an application for the bill to be taken under a certificate of urgency and that is not how things are supposed to be done.”

The Bawku Central legislator opined that  a committee cannot vary a mandate  given to it by the House and cited Order 125, which deals with instructions to committee  as the basis for his arguments.

The Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu who also spoke in support of the Bawku Central MP’s argument asked the Finance Minister to show a proof of any document from the President indicating that the Bill should be taken under a certificate of urgency.

Making reference to a document titled – “Student Loan Trust Fund Amendment Bill 2021”, a document emanating from the Office of the President, which was duly signed by the Secretary to the President, Nana Asante Bediatuo, Mr Iddrisu noted that the bill came with a note indicating that it must be considered under a certificate of urgency.

“…In this communication signed by Mr Bediatuo Asante, the second paragraph reads, the president has granted an approval for the amendment of the Student Loan Trust Fund Act 2011, Act 820 and pursuant  to  the Student Loan Amendement Bill to be laid in parliament under a certificate of urgency.

“So Mr Speaker, I am challenging the Leader and Challenging the office of the President to produce the accompanying correspondence on E-Levy; where the President indicated that this matter be treated under a certificate of urgency.”

The Minority Leader said that the two bills [Student Loan Trust Fund Amendment Bill and Electronic Levy Bill] were laid at the same material time yet one was accompanied by an official correspondence from the Presidency while the other was not. This didn’t sit well with the Minority and so they called for a division.

At the time this division was called, the Second Deputy Speaker, Mr Andrew Amoako Asiamah, was the Speaker in the Chair. He called for a suspension of the House for some minutes, probably to make time for members to jaw-jaw and come to an agreement in order to avoid subjecting the issue to a division.

Unfortunately, when the House returned from suspension, with the First Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei-Owusu as Speaker, the Minority still insisted that the motion should be put to a vote.

The Motion was first put to a voice vote and the First Deputy Speaker declared the “Ayes” as having it, which favoured the Majority caucus.

But this did not also go well with the Minority Chief Whip, Mr Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak, who challenged the judgement of the Speaker and, therefore, called for a voice vote.

Before the Deputy Speaker gave the Table Office the go ahead to commence the headcount, he indicated that he was going to take part in the voting, a decision that didn’t sit well with the Minority Members, arguing that a Speaker presiding over a sitting cannot take part in voting.

The Majority also argued that the Speaker cannot vote when he is presiding, but as long he vacates the Chair, he has the right to do so. The ‘fire’ on this issue ceased for a moment and the House started the headcount.

The Second Deputy Speaker, who is an independent Member of the House, gave his vote to the Majority. A few Minutes after he took his seat, after being counted, he left the Chamber and went to put on his Speakership robe to enable him assume the Speaker’s Chair, to give chance to the First Deputy Speaker to also vote.

The Minority, sensing this, started approaching the Speakers seat with the intention of not permitting whatever the two Deputy Speakers intended to do, but that didn’t prevent the two Speakers and the Majority from carrying out their plans.

While the two were ready to change positions, the Minority and the Majority clashed and fighting started. The House was then adjourned to Tuesday 9:00am.

The Majority, led by the Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Alexander Afenyo-Markin, later indicated that the Speaker, Mr Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin‘s absence throughout the second part of Monday night’s sitting to debate on the E-levy appeared to be part of a grand plan by the minority to frustrate the approval of the E-levy bill.

He also claimed that Speaker Bagbin had failed to show leadership amid the controversy surrounding the passage of the 2022 budget.

“What we want to insist is that Mr. Speaker must show leadership. In Parliament, leadership is consulted and engaged. We have no information as to the whereabouts of Mr. Speaker. The leadership of the Majority has not been informed about the reasons why Mr. Speaker is unavoidably absent from the chamber of Parliament.

“We, therefore, say that we see this as a grand political partisan design by the Minority group to frustrate us. And we don’t want to suggest that perhaps Mr. Speaker is unavoidably absent to frustrate government business.

“We believe in Mr. Speaker. We believe that he stands for government business to go on and to allow this country to be governed by rule of allow and due process”

But addressing journalists yesterday, after the adjournment of the House to January 18, 2022 the Deputy Minority Leader, Mr James Klutse Avedzi indicated that Mr Bagbin’s absence in the House on Monday night was not a deliberate attempt to frustrate government business.

He said that on the contrary, Mr Bagbin’s absence was purely based on health grounds.

“He [Afenyo Markin] said Bagbin’s absence was a deliberate act to frustrate government business. That is a complete lie. It is not true. We all know Bagbin just returned from Dubai where he went for medical treatment, and he must obey the instructions of his doctors,” Mr. Avedzi said.

He also dismissed Afenyo-Markin’s claim suggesting that Alban Bagbin had failed to show leadership amid the controversy surrounding the passage of the 2022 budget.

“If Bagbin was not showing leadership, he would have reversed the wrongs by the first Deputy Speaker, but for the fact that he wanted the country to move on, he said he will not do anything to overturn the decisions, so for Afenyo-Markin to say that Bagbin is not showing leadership is very surprising.

“He is the only person who has served Parliament for 28 good years. Everybody should disregard the comments from Afenyo-Markin in relation to the leadership style of Bagbin.”

The Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, who also addressed the media yesterday, claimed that the First Deputy Speaker and MP for Bekwai, Mr Joe Osei Owusu, only asked the Second Deputy Speaker to take the chair so as to enable him to take his medication and also use the washroom.

According to him, the First Deputy Speaker took the action not to cast his original vote on the controversial e-levy, as the minority had suggested. He, however, said deputy speakers are not barred from voting, per the 1992 Constitution and the Standing Orders of Parliament.

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