Parliament blocks all Finance Ministry transactions

BY: Emmanuel Bruce
Alban Bagbin — Speaker of Parliament

THE Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, has placed a temporary freeze on all business from the Ministry of Finance till the sector Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, appears before the house to answer some 16 questions which currently stand in his name.

For weeks now, Mr Ofori-Atta has been expected to appear before the legislative arm of government to answer some questions, key among them being accounting for the government’s COVID-19 expenditure so far.

However, on all the occasions, the finance minister had failed to appear before the house, citing reasons such as engagement with other government businesses and more time to put together the answers.

The Speaker, who appeared not to be happy with the continued absence of the minister from the Chamber, also called on the Finance Committee to suspend all deliberations on a €75 million facility for a COVID-19 response programme currently before it for consideration.

“Until we go through the accountability process; we will not take that motion. Today, he has another request before us. That will also be affected.

“Until he comes to respond to the questions and to submit the statement giving an explanation as to how the money has been applied, we will not entertain any business from that ministry,” he stated on Thursday, June 16.

The Speaker gave this ruling despite admitting that there had been communication through the Majority Leader by the Finance Minister, about his non-availability to appear before the House.

Meeting by leadership

The Speaker’s ruling came after a meeting with the leadership of the house.

He said when questions were asked of ministers, the House expected them to come and answer them and cited Standing Order 61 of Parliament to buttress his point.

The Standing Order 61 states that “Ministers shall by Order of the House be requested to attend to sittings of the House to answer questions asked of them”.

He further cited Standing Order 60 (3) which also states that “A minister shall not take more than three weeks to respond to the question of House”.

Mr Bagbin said based on the Standing Orders of Parliament, the Business Committee of the House was given the opportunity to do the allotment and thus allotted June 16, for the finance minister to come and answer some questions that stood in the name of his ministry.

“The finance minister told us that he will not be available today and before today, I gave a directive to the effect that the minister appears before this House to account for money that we approved for him to use to lead the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of questions have been raised so we expected the minister to come and account as to how state resources had been applied to the benefit of the people. I just indicated that until that is done, a motion requesting for approval of the House for money to be given to the Ministry of Finance for the purpose of the COVID-19 will be on hold,” he stated.

Minority’s concerns

Before the ruling, the Minority in Parliament had expressed their displeasure over the minister’s inability to honour their invitations.

The Deputy Minority Chief Whip, Ahmed Ibrahim, who raised the issue on the floor of the House, said it looked like the finance minister was taking Parliament for granted, adding that the oversight responsibility of the House was not to be taken lightly at all.

He said his side was, therefore, not ready to take any motion relating to the Ministry of Finance until the minister appears before the House.

Mr Ibrahim said the failure of the minister to appear before the house meant he was avoiding accountability.

The Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, for his part, said the Minority was demanding accountability in the interest of Ghanaians.

He said the finance minister, therefore, needed to come and account for an amount of GH¢9.7 billion COVID-19 expenses.

Not running from accountability

The Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, however, dismissed claims that the finance minister was running from accountability.

He said the minister had indicated to him on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, that answers he needed from the technocrats concerning expenses on COVID-19 were submitted to his house the previous night, for which he would need some time to read through before facing Parliament.

He said the finance minister, therefore, wanted Parliament to reschedule his appearance for next week Wednesday, June 22, 2022 to enable him to come before the house and answer questions on all expenses made on COVID-19.

“For anybody to jump to the conclusion that the minister is running away from responsibility, I shudder to think of how that is coming about,” he stated.