Emotional democracy and dissenting minority reports and opinions

BY: Colin Essamuah

Yesterday, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo delivered his second State of the Nation Address to Parliament as required by our Constitution. But the address came after this column had been written and another time may be found in future to dwell on the interesting aspects of that address.

My interest today is, however, on events earlier in the week; the presentation of the partisan majority report of the special parliamentary committee set up by the Speaker to investigate what has become known as the Cash-for-Seats saga. I will indulge liberally in historical allusions regarding this very event in this country. I have long ago quoted former American President Harry Truman in his famous saying that, ‘’ the only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know.’’ I shall rely on it today to fortify my position.

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I have many unanswered questions at several levels relative to the report presented and debated in Parliament last Tuesday. The appearance of Mr Alan Kyerematen, the Trade Minister at the televised hearings, instead of his deputy, Mr Carlos Ahenkorah who rather signed the significant correspondence, was problematic. The same goes for the non-appearance of the public servant who was mandated to collect the monies in question. How can a spectator be better than a player in the collection of usable evidence about a match? I completely disagree with the procedure adopted by the committee in this regard.

Second, I am happy that no serious commentator not linked to the side of the majority, has come forward to defend the curious position that minority or dissenting reports are unknown to parliamentary procedure. Such defenders have so far not been able to validate the illegality of minority or dissenting reports or opinions in serious endeavours, by reference to the standing orders of the house.

Third, I refer to the report debated last Tuesday as partisan because it captured only the views of the majority, allegedly, on the special committee. I was even astonished to learn that the entire report was prepared by the chairman and not by the committee as a committee. Why? The relevant standing orders clauses cannot reasonably be construed as giving the chairman the sole authority to divine and write a report of a committee of equals without the input of committee members. If this is what happened at the committee, then we have been shortchanged.

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Fourth, the whole argument about the propriety, acceptability or political wisdom in the issuance of dissenting or minority reports and opinions on important national matters is a storm in a teacup. If it were valid, it would necessarily apply across the board in all endeavours, from the Judiciary, to conferences, meetings and any gathering worth its purpose. Disagreement is proof that different men and women are participating actively. The unconventional use of an outright dissenting or minority reports and opinions is not illegal, unwelcome or an abuse of process. The only question worth asking is what prevented the minority report from being incorporated or made an annexure to the majority report? It would not have prevented the majority in Parliament from adopting the report or the portion they wanted. Now with the exclusion of minority views, the impression has been created of suppression and bullying. This is unfortunate.

The Sharp/Ahwaitey Report

But aspects of this matter are actually part of our history and I must add, they all occurred in civilian regimes. I refer here to a few but very important events in our political history right from after independence in 1957 to the Fourth Republic in the present.

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The first event I recall is the Sharp/Ahwaitey Report covering the first ever attempted coup d’etat in independent Ghana in 1959. The direct effect of the minority report submitted by the Chairman, Granville Sharp, was to stay the hand of Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah from having the principal suspects, R.R Amponsah and Modesto Apaloo from being tried for treason or subversion and executed. They were rather, with others, detained under the Preventive Detention Act till the February 1966 coup when they gained their freedom. Amponsah and Apaloo were leading members of the United Party, a predecessor party of the ruling New Patriotic Party today.

Re Akoto

The second event is the Supreme Court trial of Baafuor Akoto known famously as Re Akoto in the law books. That was in 1962. Today, as I write, there are lectures and conferences held every year in this Fourth Republic by the law training institutions in this country centring on the wise legal advocacy of Dr J.B Danquah, which were captured in the minority opinion of the court.

The 1971 Odumase Farms Limited affair

The third event which comes readily to mind is the 1971 Odumase Farms Limited affair in which the opposition National Alliance of Liberals (NAL) sought to have removed from his portfolio Mr J.H Mensah, the Finance Minister, on a vote of censure. The reason being that Mr Mensah was holding a directorship, an office of profit, in the company contrary to the standing orders of the Second Republican Parliament. It was a wild, disorganised and angry debate, led on the NAL side by Dr Agama, Dr Obed Asamoah and Sam Okudzeto facing the government bench led by Victor Owusu and J.H Mensah himself. With 29 MPs, the opposition NAL lost miserably to the ruling Progress Party of Dr Busia which had 104 members in the 140 seat Parliament. I refer to this matter only because the then Colonel I.K Acheampong cited this matter as an act of corruption in his first speech on the day he overthrew the Busia regime the very following year, January 13, 1972.

The last example I cite to bring the lessons of the past to our times actually occurred in 2013, in the present Fourth Republic. I refer here to the election petition decided by the Supreme Court in which the NPP sought to change the results of the 2012 election to its advantage after losing to the then-ruling National Democratic Congress(NDC) of President John Mahama. Many NPP commentators, including veteran lawyer and politician Sam Okudzeto, now a Council of State member, cited above in the Odumase Farms affair in 1971, held forth the curious view that the minority decision was indeed the majority decision by an act of legal mathematics!
We have too many emotional democrats in this country; those who think that political majorities are a permanent feature of life which must be sustained by plain acts of arrogance and wanton intolerance. They are mistaken.

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