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Opinions of Sunday, 28 November 2021

Columnist: Isaac Boadi

Speaker Bagbin got it right, Majority in Parliament headless

Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, Speaker of Parliament Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, Speaker of Parliament

The Majority in Parliament should just admit that their colleagues in the Minority are far ahead of them in terms of strategy and how to get things done at their own pace and will. In fact, the earlier the majority side of the House comes to terms with reality that they lost the motion to get the 2022 budget approved, the better for them.

Instead of giving false hopes to their supporters with an article 104 or order 108 alibi, they must look for ways, if there is any, to work on the budget to meet the 'taste' of majority of Ghanaians and get it approved. The 2022 budget was rejected and nothing can be done about it. The majority side were completely bankrupt in strategy and lacked the wit to outsmart their colleagues on the other side.

THE NUMBERS

It was obvious that the NPP side of the House did not have the full complement of their members on the day of approval of the budget. The leadership of the majority, particularly the majority Chief whip, Frank Anor Dompreh and his deputies, must be partly blamed for this.

Those of us who are not MPs even knew the date for approval of the budget. If this information was public knowledge, an effective Chief whip should have made arrangements for MPs from his side who were out of the country for whatever reason, to make themselves available on or before the date for approval.

The Majority chief whip and his deputies failed the NPP on this. If they indeed attempted to get all their members into the Houses but they were unsuccessful, then they have themselves to blame. Unlike the NPP side, the NDC side, through their Chief whip, Muntaka Mubarak and his deputies, made sure all their 137 MPs were present in the House and ready to go for the kill. From the word go, the NPP side had their back against the wall. It was obvious nothing was going to work for them. There was no coordination and their side looked headless.

30 MINUTES SUSPENSION

A number of apprehensive NDC supporters took on the Speaker of Parliament when he suspended sitting for 30 minutes due to the absence of members from the majority side. Most of them did this because the Minority had argued that their 137 was more than enough to constitute quorum for business of the House. Though it was true the issue of quorum was not good grounds to have suspended sitting for 30 minutes, Speaker Bagbin went ahead to suspend sitting.

Some have offered unsolicited education that the Speaker wanted the majority side of the House in the chamber in order for them to move the motion for the passage or rejection of the budget. Beyond this, I think Bagbin's decision to suspend sitting was also more of strategy. Whether we like it of not, he is the most experienced legislator under the Fourth Republic who knows the rules of Parliament very well. Speaker Bagbin knew there was articles 102 and 104 conditions to satisfy in the scheme of things. In the case of article 102, there was no problem because the Minority MPs alone satisfied the one third requirement.

What was left was how to satisfy the condition in article 104 which requires that, 'at least half of all MPs present' before a question could be put. To satisfy this, what Bagbin did was to have suspended sitting and allowed the majority side of the House to join their colleagues in the minority before proceedings started. Immediately the majority side joined their colleagues, the number of MPs in Parliament or the House were more than half of all MPs as required by article 104. Take note that until an MP is captured or marked as present, he cannot be said to be in Parliament.

Evidence from this can be gleaned from the votes and proceedings of Friday, November 26, 2021. The votes and proceedings of this day captured all MPs who showed up in Parliament. Even though the majority side staged walk out, the votes and proceedings would not capture them as absent. Indeed, on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 when the votes and proceedings of Friday, November 26 is printed, it will capture the NPP MPs as present in Parliament.

ARTICLE 104 ARGUMENT

The majority side have consoled their supporters that what Speaker Bagbin did was unconstitutional. Their argument was that at the time the question was put, the number of MPs in the chamber were not up to half of all MPs as stated in article 104 and order 108. According to them, Speaker Bagbin overlooked this provision by relying only on article 102.

Article 104(1) provides that "except as otherwise provided in this constitution, matters in PARLIAMENT shall be determined by the votes of the majority of members present and voting, with at least half of all members of Parliament."

Order 108(1) on the other hand, provides that "No Question for decision in the HOUSE shall be proposed for determination unless there are present in the House not less than one-half of all the Members of the House, and, except otherwise provided in the Constitution, the Question proposed shall be determined by the majority of votes of the Members present and voting."

Take note that while article 104(1) used the word PARLIAMENT, order 108(1) used HOUSE. The question then is, is Parliament the same as House? This question is answered in the affirmative by order 7. The next question is, is Parliament or House as used in article 104(1) and order 108(1) respectively, limited to the Chamber within the context of the two provisions? My answer to this question is NO. If the framers of the Constitution had wanted to use Chamber instead of Parliament or House in article 104(1) and order 108(1), they would have done so with ease.

This therefore means that an MP who showed up in the Chamber and was captured as present but walked, say to the lobby, before an article 104(1) is triggered could be regarded as present in Parliament. In the case of the majority, they showed up in the Chamber and later staged walk out and remained at the lobby. They were in Parliament when the speaker put the question and it was affirmed by a vote of 137 - 0. The majority cannot, after this, say the Speaker breached article 104 and order 108. This provision is not about the number of MPs present in the CHAMBER at the time of voting but the number present in PARLIAMENT at the time of voting. Whoever relied on article 104(1) and order 108(1) to ask the majority to stage walkout in order to prevent the Speaker from putting the question, misconstrued the provision.

What the majority should be seeking to prove to quash the rejection of the budget is that their members present were more than minority members present. Unfortunately for the majority, they will not succeed because the votes and proceedings would give them out.

The motion, as the Speaker rightly pointed out, was lost and the budget was constitutionally rejected.

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