General News of Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Accra, Dec. 23, GNA - A group of lawyers under the banner 'Lawyers in Search of Democracy (LINSOD),' say they are "utterly shocked and surprised" at the reaction of Parliament to an "innocuous statement" by Mr Koku Anyidoho, the Director of Communications at the Presidency, in which he portrayed the Minority Leader and the Minority Chief Whip as "irresponsible politicians".
"It is our advice to him, Koku Anyidoho, that he must resist any infringement on his right to free speech, and also wish to assure him of our support anytime any day," LONSOD said in a statement released by its spokesperson, Mr Chris A. Ackummey.
The lawyers said Mr. Anyidoho's statement was in reaction to a pronouncement by one of them that President John Evans Atta Mills must be impeached over the assertion by Mr. Kwame Pianim, a leading NPP member, that the President returned envelopes given or sent to him on two occasions. LINSOD said Minority parliamentarians, irked by the statement and led by Mr. Ambrose Derry, have made a formal complaint on the floor of the House necessitating the Speaker to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee in compliance with Standing Order 31 of the House. "LINSOD wishes to unreservedly express our misgivings at this reaction by Parliament.
"We deem this reaction as one that goes overboard; a reaction if not checked, will turn Parliament into a monster which will at the end devour its democratic children. It will also encourage the suppression of the rights of Ghanaians to free speech instead of guaranteeing or protecting same." LINSOD said the Standing Orders of Parliament, according to Article 110(1) of the Constitution, were meant to regulate the procedure of Parliament.
"Other provisions under same relate to Parliament and Parliamentarians only. The order to drag anyone who does anything to bring Parliament to a situation of embarrassment or disrepute is a sanction on the conduct of Parliamentarians themselves to act and live above board. This procedure cannot call for a general application.
"It is not meant as a tool to drag anyone who criticizes a Parliamentarian to appear before the Privileges Committee under the pretext of dragging the name of Parliament into disrepute except in extreme cases and not this one," LINSOD observed.
The group urged Parliament not to abuse the rationale behind the provision for a Privileges Committee in the Standing Order or use it as a protective shield to the disadvantage of the citizenry, adding that "it is not an immunity concept."
LINSOD said the Constitution of Ghana guaranteed freedom of speech to its citizens and that it allowed Mr Anyidoho and others to speak their mind and respond to statements made by any person including a Member of Parliament at any given time, just as Parliamentarians also criticize the President, who is the highest authority in the land.
"We think that the invitation extended to Koku Anyidoho is uncalled for and unnecessary, and at best an aberration. It is an indirect re-enacting of the Criminal Libel Law and also an attempt to steal the right of freedom of expression from Koku Anyidoho."