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Opinions of Saturday, 27 November 2021

Columnist: Abdulai Yakubu

2022 Agyenkwa Budget 'rejected', a nullity or a legality?

Parliament of Ghana Parliament of Ghana

Parliament has voted in a minority (137 of 275) sole decision to reject the 2022 budget and economic policy of government. Will the decision stand?

Did Parliament meet quorum?

(1) Article 102 deals with quorum in parliament. It reads, ‘A quorum of Parliament, apart from the person presiding, shall be one-third of all the members of parliament.’ Parliament has a total of 275 members. One-third of this number gives 92 members. Majority staged a walkout leaving only minority with 137 MPs who took the sole decision. Mr. Speaker referred to Article 102 and ruled that Parliament had formed a quorum! So proceedings continued.

(2) First item tabled for consideration was a request by the Finance Minister to be given more time to do further consultation before motion for vote on approval or disapproval of the budget could be considered. The motion was put to vote and the minority solely rejected the Finance Minister’s plea with a 137 votes against 0 from the empty seats at the majority side.

(3) The next major issue was motion for approval or rejection of the 2022 budget. Mr. Speaker pose the question and upon submissions by the sole minority led by Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, the motion was put to voice vote. Again, the sole minority of 137 MPs rejected the 2022 budget.

Implication of a Rejected Budget

(4) What is the implication of ‘rejected’ budget on government business and running of the nation in 2022? Can government raise revenue in accordance with the rejected budget? Can government spend in accordance with the ‘rejected’ budget? Well, apart from the new revenue measures such as the proposed 1.75% e-levy and the 15% proposed increase in fees for government services, regular sources of revenues such as those from existing taxes, fees, fines, profits etc. will flow into government coffers.

(5) In respect of the expenditure, Article 180 make provision for ‘necessary expenditure’ in time like this. It says, ‘Where it appears to the President that the Appropriation Act in respect of any financial year will not come into operation by the beginning of that financial year, he may, with the prior approval of Parliament by a resolution, authorise the withdrawal of moneys from the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the services of the Government in respect of the period expiring three months from the beginning of the financial year or on the coming into operation of the Act whichever is earlier.’
Even with the exception provided under the Constitution, government can only spend with ‘the prior approval of Parliament by a resolution’ and same may continue only up to 3 months during which the Appropriation Act could be passed by Parliament.

Why majority walked out

(6) News feeds from the majority suggest that they did not walk out of their budget. Instead, they walked out in protest against Mr. Speaker’s decision to order Finance Minister out of Parliament whilst allowing General Asiedu Nketia in the house. The majority walked out because they felt Mr. Speaker was being biased by his failure to apply the principle fairly to all ‘strangers’ who were in Parliament including Asiedu Nketia.

Is the rejection of the budget a nulity?

(7) Whereas Parliament formed quorum of one-third under Article 102 to do business, it appears Parliament did not meet the quorum required for voting as provided in Article 104 (1) of the Constitution which reads ‘Except otherwise provided in the Constitution, MATTERS IN PARLIAMENT shall be determined by the VOTES OF MAJORITY (more than half) of members PRESENT and VOTING, with AT LEAST HALF of ALL members of Parliament present.’

(8) It is clear that whereas the house met the quorum to transact business, it did not meet the quorum to vote. Thus, the 137 NDC MPs did not form majority of member ‘PRESENT and VOTING’ at the time of the approval of the budget. If all NDC 137 MPs had walked out of the house and allowed the NPP 137+1 independent candidate, they would have formed the quorum for voting.

(9) There is another leg of the argument that since the NPP MPs signed into the attendance sheet to the house and were recorded as present, it meant that the full house was present IN RECORD at the time of the voice vote. Granted that the 138 majority were present in record, Article 104 (1) gave two criteria for voting to be valid – (1) ‘…votes of majority (more than half) of members PRESENT...’ (2) ‘...and (vote with of majority of members) … VOTING’.

(10) Questions arising out of this are (1) Did we have ‘majority’ present at the time of voting? Yes and No! ‘YES’ because some have argued that since the 138 walk-away MPs signed into parliament as present, any walk out is immaterial as they had already been recorded as present. And ‘NO’ because at the time of voting, 138 MP were out of the house. They could not be said to be present at the time of the voting though they might have been present on record.

(11) Do we require majority to VOTE to make the decision valid? Clause 1 of Article 104 says ‘majority of members PRESENT and VOTING’. It thus, suggest that the number of votes needed is majority votes. Out of the majority votes, majority must vote ‘YES’ for a decision to be valid or ‘NO’ for its rejection to be valid. If we emphasise that presence is what is needed, but the voting needs not be done by majority, it will mean that even if we have 138 (majority) MPs present and only 1 person votes ‘YES’ and the remaining 137 refuse to vote, that 1 ‘YES’ vote will be valid and binding on a 275 members and the country. Can you imagine one member representing one constituency out of 275 MPs and constituencies taking decision to bind all of us? That sounds absurd! Doesn’t it sound logical for majority (more than 137 of 275) to be required to participate in the voting than for minority which can be 1 out 275 to be required to participate in the voting? Contemplate over this.

(12) In view of the above, I am of an unlearned opinion that even if the 138 NPP MPs had stayed in Parliament, but refused to vote, the voting by only the 137 NDC MPs or any number less than half of the house will still be a nullity as it falls short of the requirement of ‘PRESENT and VOTING’ specified under Article 104 of the Constitution. I accordingly submit that the voting and any decisions supposedly arising out of same are invalid and a nullity. Parliament is yet to take a decision on the 2022 budget as it stands now.

(13) The next days in Parliament is likely to be met with debates on the legality or otherwise of the minority (137) decision to reject the 2022 budget. I can foresee unending debate on it. I only hope that the issue does not land in the Supreme Court for true and proper interpretation of Article 104 especially ‘PRESENT AND VOTING’.
As we wait and watch, the people of Sankarayili reject the e-levy with all the powers of the ancestors of Gbewaa. The worst we will accept is 0.5% e-levy with increased tax-free amount to Ghs 200.00 per day and a cupping of the tax to not more than Ghs 5.00 in any single transaction.