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Opinions of Thursday, 31 December 2020

Columnist: Joseph Opoku

4 Years, 11 Walkouts – The Minority’s aggressive record in the 7th Parliament

This minority has been fierce and voracious in how it has put government on its toes This minority has been fierce and voracious in how it has put government on its toes

The 7th Parliament which’s proceedings I’ve reported on eagerly from its birth on the dawn of 7th January 2017 till date, will go down in history as one of the most contentious in Ghana’s history.

By every measure, what we have witnessed over the last 4 years has been an aggressive minority that has taken advantage of every single opportunity it can lay hands on to push government beyond its thick walls of convenience in parliament.

There is a lot that this Minority can claim credit for. Including helping stop the controversial Agyapa Royalties deal and pulling breaks on the new AMERI power deal that Boakye Agyarko took to parliament for approval in July 2018.

But they lost some fights too. Including their efforts to pull breaks on the US$12 million Fly Zipline drone distribution service for the health sector, the push to get sanctions against Trade Ministry officials for what became the cash-for-seat scandal, the push to stop the controversial Ghana-US Defence Cooperation Agreement, and the push to stop the Electoral Commission from compiling a new voter’s register.

And then there were the moments when the Minority was disappointing in its posture. Including when they failed to stand up for journalists when the Speaker threatened them with eviction if they conduct interviews at times on the premises when parliament is in session.

And when they did not push back on the plan to build a new parliamentary chamber until social media exploded with the #DropThatChamber campaign. Not forgetting how they treated Ayawaso West Wuogon MP Lydia Seyram Alhassan by calling her “bloody widow” with placards in the chamber.

Off course there is the good, the bad and the completely ridiculous in every facet of life. So that was expected. But through it all, this minority has been fierce and voracious in how it has put government on its toes over the last four years.

Minority Chief Whip Muntaka Mubarak has been the ‘star boy’ of the squad, having led a good majority of the activism, along with colleagues like Ato Forson and Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa.

Walkouts were key tools they used in registering their opposition. Sometimes, walking away entirely as the house approved deals, other times debating issues and walking out when it was time for a vote, and sometimes, walking out after they lost vote counts.

I counted 11 different such walkouts over the last four years. Here is a catalogue of all 11 incidents:

3rd February 2017: Minority’s first walkout over Otiko Afisa Djaba’s appointment

The Minority in Parliament’s first walkout was a partial one. Maybe, they were now warming up to the game. It was over the approval of former Women’s Organiser of the NPP Otiko Afisa Djaba as Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. The Minority refused to approve her nomination at the Appointments Committee after she stood by comments describing former President John Mahama as wicked and evil. They also did not understand why she should serve as minister when she hadn’t done her national service in the past as is required by required by law.

As parliament approved her nomination, all Minority MPs except 10 members of the Appointment Committee left the chamber. The committee members stayed on to argue against her approval. A vote in the house saw 152 Majority MPs vote in favour of the approval.

15th March 2017: Minority’s second walkout

The Minority in Parliament staged the second of what would be several walkouts as the house approved the NPP government’s first budget statement delivered by Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta. The minority protested cuts to the District Assembly Common Fund and what they claimed was inefficient planned use of the country’s oil resources in the budget. The walkout was after they lost a vote on the floor that approved the budget.

1st August 2017: Minority MPs stage third walkout over AMERI deal

Minority MPs staged their third walkout of parliament over what they said was the Speaker’s illegal admission of a motion filed by Adansi Asokwa MP K. T. Hammond. Mr. Hammond’s motion asked parliament to rescind the approval it gave to the controversial AMERI power deal back in 2015 at the height of the energy crisis.

After power changed hands in January 2017, the Philip Addison led committee set up by the Energy Minister to investigate the deal concluded it was allegedly inflated by US$150 million.

K. T. Hammond’s motion for parliament to withdraw its approval claimed there had been gross misrepresentations in the original deal. Minority Leader Haruna Iddrisu was unhappy the Speaker admitted the motion and referred it to the Energy Committee, insisting it was illegal for the 7th parliament to take a fresh decision on work done by the 6th parliament.

8th February 2018: Minority stages fourth walkout over exoneration of Trade Ministry officials in cash-for-seat scandal

A few days after parliament had taken its Christmas and New Year break on 27th December 2017, Minority Chief Muntaka Mubarak, North Tongu MP Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa and about 80 Minority MPs wrote a memo to the speaker requesting an emergency sitting of the house.

The suggested agenda was for the house to deliberate on a motion for parliamentary probe into allegations the Ministry of Trade and Industry had charged businesspeople unapproved fees of between US$25,000 and US$100,000 to grant them access to President Akufo-Addo. This motion was after the president cleared the Trade Minister of any wrongdoing in facilitating the Ghana Expatriates Business Awards which was organized by the Millennium Excellence Foundation.

On 5th January 2018, the emergency meeting of parliament set up a five-member committee to probe the allegation. A 146-page report of the committee exonerated Minister for Trade and Industry Alan Kyeremanteng and other ministry officials. The majority report concluded that “there is no merit in the allegations.” Minority MPs on the committee led by Bolgatanga East MP Dr. Dominic Ayine also produced a minority report that concluded the president had been used to extort money from business people. The minority staged a walkout of the house as the majority report was approved.

23rd March 2018: Minority stages fifth walkout as Parliament approves Ghana-US Defence Agreement

Parliament approved the controversial Ghana-US defence cooperation agreement which provides the United States access into the country to camp its military forces and equipment. The approval was done by only Majority Members of Parliament because the Minority staged a walkout. The Minority insisted the deal amounts to “a sale of Ghana’s sovereignty.”

5th February 2019: Minority stages sixth walkout as Lydia Alhassan is sworn in as MP

Lydia Seyram Alhassan of the NPP was sworn in as MP to replace Emmanuel Kyeremanteng Agyarko who died in November 2018. This was after she won the 31st January 2019 by-election which was marred by violence. Ningo Prampram MP Samuel George who was in the constituency to monitor the elections for the NDC was slapped a security operative. Clad in red and black, Members of the Minority walked out of parliament before she was sworn in. They marched on the streets from Parliament House to the police headquarters to petition the Inspector General of Police to investigate the violence that marred the polls. Before marching to the Police Headquarters, they shouted: “bloody widow” at the Ayawaso West Wuogon MP.

5th March 2019: Minority stages seventh walkout

The Minority in Parliament staged its seventh walkout of parliament over an amendment to the Public Holidays Act. The amendment made January 7 (Constitution Day) and August 4 (Founders’ Day) public holidays. The amendment scrapped 1st July (Republic Day) and 25th May (Africa Union Day) as holidays and made them commemorative days. The Minority served notice a future NDC government will reverse the changes.

21st December 2019: Minority stages eighth walkout as parliament approves Electoral Commission’s budget

Minority MPs walked out of Parliament as the house approved the budget of the Electoral Commission (EC). The Minority was protesting among others, plans by the EC to compile a new voters’ register.

20th February 2020: Minority stages ninth walkout, this time around, on Akufo-Addo

Minority MPs walked out of parliament moments before President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo delivered the 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA). They were clad in red and black when they showed up in the chamber. The Minority Leader earlier went out with other leaders to welcome the president to the house. Just when he was about speaking, the minority started chanting war songs and walked out. They said they were protesting the violence perpetuated by militia groups during the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election. The Minority MPs also did not partake in parliament’s debate of the SONA which lasted for about a week.

23rd March 2020: Minority stages tenth walkout of parliament

Minority MPs led by its Chief Whip Muntaka Mubarak walked out of parliament during consideration of the Cooperate Insolvency Bill. “We do not have quorum to take the decision and you are still carrying on. You are abusing the privilege of this house and you are making the house lawless Mr. Speaker. What you are doing is wrong,” he said. After he was ignored by the speaker, he walked out. And his colleagues followed him.

14th August 2020: Minority stages eleventh walkout as Parliament approves the controversial Agyapa Mineral Royalty agreement

Parliament approved the controversial Agyapa Mineral Royalty Limited agreement despite a walkout by the Minority. This was the Minority’s tenth walk out since January 2017. Minority MPs led by Cassiel Ato Forson addressed a media briefing in parliament to demand the withdrawal of the agreement, claiming it will give private individuals 49% ownership of the country’s mineral royalties which will be against the interest of the state.