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Politics of Thursday, 21 November 2019


MPs abandon core business in Parliament as Minority takes Majority to the 'cleaners'

The issue of Members of Parliament (MPs) not always showing up in the Chamber is not news, but the fact that numbers the that are marked present do not reflect what is seen on the floor has become a major problem, which the leadership is struggling to deal with.

The 2nd Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei Owusu, who has expressed concern over the issue, blamed the rule that Members should register their presence in the Mails Room, an office outside the Chamber, as the cause.

According to him, the presence of an MP should be marked in the Chamber, which he believed would solve issues of inconsistencies over how many MPs were physically present, and what the votes and proceedings actually reflect.

His proposal followed development on the floor yesterday, with regards to a constitutional requirement of the House to form a quorum before business starts.

As it stands, the current Parliament needs 91 members out of the total 275, which is one-third of the total number of MPs, to form a quorum.

However, when the Speaker, Prof Aaron Michael Oquaye, entered the Chamber yesterday, the members were not up to the required number, compelling the MP for Bawku Central to raise the issue of a quorum.

Coming under Article 102 of the Constitution, which talks about quorum of Parliament, he raised “an objection to our (House) capacity to start business today, because we don’t have a quorum.”

Supporting his colleague, the MP for Asawase, Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak, stated that the sad thing was that the Minister for Finance, or any of his deputies, were not present, though he admitted that they stayed in throughout on Monday.

Muntaka, who is the Minority Chief Whip, chipped in with the usual politics that the case of the Minority was better than the Majority, as far as the numbers were concerned, but came back to say that both sides were guilty of the act.

He then appealed to the Speaker to adjourn the House to send a signal to those who were absent to take the business of the House seriously.

“Mr Speaker, if we look at our colleagues opposite, even though those of us in the Minority are equally guilty of it, because fewer members are in the Chamber, but our colleagues in the Majority, who are supposed to support the government, are less than 20.

“Mr Speaker, it is my humble appeal that you stick by the rules. You allow Order 48(2) to run. You ring the bell for 10 minutes, and if after ten minutes we do not still have the requisite number of 91 to proceed, Mr Speaker, I will crave your indulgence to adjourn the House so that the rest of the Members of Parliament will take what we do serious.”

He later brought in the issue of the register. “When you take the votes and proceedings for yesterday, it is shocking to note that the votes and proceedings will always be full, showing that yesterday there were as many as 211 members in this House.

“But Mr Speaker, you will agree with me that yesterday 211 were not in the Chamber, so I want to crave your indulgence to apply the rule fully this morning to send the right signal to members that if they are not ready to work, you will always adjourn the House and the public will come at us, why we are not in the Chamber.”

First Deputy Speaker Joseph Osei Owusu said the record of the House shows clearly every day that it has a quorum, suggesting that either the members come to the precincts of Parliament but do not enter the Chamber, or they may have been at a Committee meeting.

“So I look at the Order paper, how many committee meetings are advertised today. I see three committee meetings. One is supposed to start at eleven, it is not eleven yet. The others are supposed to start at two o’clock. It is not two o’clock yet.

“But how it happens that the record reflects that we have the numbers but the numbers do not reflect in the Chamber, is because probably, we permit members to just go and record their presence in the Mails Room. I think that we should change. Presence must be counted in the Chamber.

“Mr Speaker, if you are to adjourn now and go for the records, you will find that there will be no justification for you adjourning the House, because the record will reflect that more than the number we require have marked as present, but where are they? Should Mr Speaker use the record at the Mails Room to determine whether we have a quorum or not?

“So Mr Speaker, I suggest that we should even change the method of counting those who are present. Even though the rule says that you go and register at the Mails Room, we are abusing that. In fact, I can speak to the fact that some people don’t show, but their names are marked. I have seen people who have sought and been granted leave to be absent, but they are marked present, because somebody else is doing that on their behalf,” he opined.

Giving a ruling on the matter, Speaker Oquaye said: “I do not think any of us will want this House to be associated with taking this imperative function lightly. I will suspend sitting and meet with the leaders, because I believe we all agreed that this is not good enough, and I am glad that no one is rising in defence of what is manifestly facing us. We shall have a little meeting and honourable members will come and sit by at the hour of 11.30. I thank you very much.”

The House was suspended for an hour and sitting resumed till about 5pm, when the 2nd Deputy Speaker, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, who had taken over from the 1st Deputy Speaker, brought the day’s debate on the 2020 Budget to an end till today.