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Drama in Parliament - Censure motion botched, Majority abandons Minority, Afori-Atta continues as Finance Minister.

BY: Daniel Kenu & Nana Konadu Agyeman
Ken Ofori-Atta - I did no wrong
Ken Ofori-Atta - I did no wrong

The move by the Minority Caucus in Parliament to remove the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, from office through a vote of censure was botched when the Majority members walked out of the Chamber minutes before a secret voting commenced.

The walkout came soon after the members of the House had debated on the House to adopt the report of the ad hoc committee on the motion of censure against the Finance Minister.

Soon after the debate, the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, was blunt that his members would not be part of the political move by the Minority to cause the removal of the minister.

Supported by the Deputy Majority Leader, Alexander Afenyo-Markin, the Majority Leader used sanitiser to wash his hands off the censure motion and eventually led his members out of the Chamber.

Minister) here that he has breached the Constitution and, without any declaration from the Supreme Court, tie him like a goat and take him to the slaughter house.

“You want us to follow you on this grotesque misadventure. Like Pontius Pilate, we wash our hands and we will not be part of this,” the Majority Leader said.

As he led the Majority side out of the Chamber, the Minority Caucus shouted, banged their hands on the table and clapped: “Away, away, away!”

They then started singing Barima Sidney’s anti-graft song: “Our Money, Oga dey Chop am nyafunyafu”, to wit: “Our money is being wasted by the leader”.

That left the 136-member Minority Caucus to the vote, which the Speaker, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, ruled would be secret.

Throughout the entire proceedings in the House, the Minority had marshalled all its 136 members and whipped them into line, waiting to upset the Majority to remove the Finance Minister from office.

Secret ballot

Despite the walkout, the Speaker had put the question on the motion, to which the “Ayes” by the Minority won, with no response from the Majority side.

He subsequently ordered for a secret ballot in accordance with Standing Order 105 and Article 104(4) of the 1992 Constitution on the processes of removing a minister through a censure motion.

The one-sided voting process saw the Minority having 136 votes, meaning all the members voted in favour of the motion, but still lost the censure motion because it failed to gain two-third majority of members of the House present and voting, which translates into 183 votes, required for the motion to succeed in removing the minister.

Appreciation

Soon after the voting process had ended, the Speaker announced that, in accordance with Article 82(1) of the Constitution, the “motion is accordingly lost".

The Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, expressed appreciation to the Speaker for his guidance in the novelty censure motion.

 Haruna Iddrisu  - It is a novel process

"Mr Speaker, I want to thank you very much. You have guided this House so well, at least in the novelty of a watershed in the exercise of Parliament when it comes to oversight," he said.

In future, he said, such a committee should be able to relate the words of those alleging against those who were opposed, so that they could make appropriate recommendations.

"Mr Speaker, history will remember you for the contribution towards Parliament oversight to hold the Executive," he said.

Mr Iddrisu said the country was on life support and needed oxygen for at least the next two days.

Making reference to the walkout by the Majority, he said: "We leave them to the people of Ghana. The Ghanaian people know those who stood strong with them in their hardship.”

“The Majority abandoned them because they simply don't care," he added.

No recommendations or findings

The debate on the motion came after a co-Chairman of the ad hoc committee, K. T. Hammond, had moved the motion for the House to adopt the report of the committee on the motion of censure against the Finance Minister.

He said there were no findings or facts, as well as recommendations, by the committee, as the report captured the evidence alluded by the proponents of the motion and the defence by the Finance Minister.

Minister misconducted himself

Seconding the motion, the co-Chairman, Dr Dominic Ayine, said the committee did its best to build consensus but there were drawbacks in its attempt to build consensus.

One such drawback, he said, was the fact that the committee could not make definitive findings or facts and recommendations.

He said he had thought the mandate of the committee was a fact-finding one but that was vehemently opposed by the Majority members.

He said the committee, in its report, found in ground one, relating to the funding of the National Cathedral, that Mr Ofori-Atta exceeded what was appropriated between 2019 and March 2022.

He said per the report, the minister, by his own evidence before the committee, spent GH¢339 million on the cathedral, which was quite in excess of the envelope of resources Parliament appropriated for other obligations.

In respect of the misreporting of data to Parliament, Dr Ayine said the committee found that the minister did, indeed, misreport data to the House.

For instance, he said, in 2018, Mr Ofori-Atta reported a fiscal deficit of 3.8 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), instead of 7.1 per cent, by excluding an item of expenditure amounting to GH¢9.8 billion in order to be able to under-report fiscal deficit.

“Also, in 2019, the minister reported a fiscal deficit of 4.8 per cent of GDP, instead 4.5 per cent,” Dr Ayine said, adding that the report of the committee had found “unassailable evidence of misconduct on the part of the minister”.

Political attack

Commenting on the motion, Mr Afenyo-Markin said the conduct of the proponents of the motion, including that of the co-chair of the committee, amounted to mere political process to indict the minister, against whom no prima facie case had been made.

“Mr Speaker, clearly all the allegations had no leg to stand on, and you, Dr Ayine, were candid in your submission when you said you were relying on a Doe Adjaho ruling, which ruling stopped this House from considering a matter grounded in Article 287 of the Constitution – conflict of interest,” he said.

Fiscal recklessness

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolgatanga Central, Isaac Adongo, cited how the minister had violated the Public Financial Management Act, particularly in respect of expenditure on the National Cathedral, which was a capital project with multi-year finanmoney is now being converted into dollars, and in attempt to recall that money back to the BoG, the bank has increased the policy rate now up to 27 per cent,” he said.

He also said the depreciation of the cedi was in direct response to the injection of money that was illegally borrowed by the Finance Minister.

Motion not well-grounded

However, the MP for Damongo, Samuel Abu Jinapor, argued that the grounds on which the motion sought to censure Finance Minister must be well grounded.

For instance, he said, the ground of conflict of interest, on which the proponents of the motion was inviting the House to censure the minister, was weak and could not be ground on which a serious motion of censure would lead to the removal of the minister.

“Mr Speaker, what we seek to do in this House and the decision we take on this motion must be well motivated because today it is the Finance Minister, but tomorrow it may be Finance Minister Ato Forson,” Mr Jinapor, who is also the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, said.

Parliament has no jurisdiction

Contributing to the debate, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, observed that none of the grounds, apart from ground four, constituted a proper subject matter for the passage of a vote of censure.

“Mr Speaker, indeed, if that is the case, then this House was not clothed with jurisdiction at all to consider any of the grounds in support of the motion for censure, apart from ground four, which may pass,“ he said.

The Attorney-General argued that ground one (conflict of interest) had already been dealt with extensively by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the authority with sole jurisdiction to probe issues of conflict of interest.

I’ve not mismanaged economy

In his defence, Mr Ofori-Atta said he had done nothing wrong to be subjected to a motion of censure.

He challenged allegations that he had misconducted himself and contributed largely to the mismanagement of the economy.

"Even if I say I am innocent, they will not believe me, and if I ask for proof, they will not be able to answer that. I have committed no crime," he stressed.

Majority Leader

Adding his voice to the debate, the Majority Leader denied the Minority Leader’s assertion that the Finance Minister had borrowed some money from the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), saying that “he never admitted anywhere that he had borrowed money”.

Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu - Like Pontius Pilate,  we wash our hands

He said if the Minority Leader was alleging that the minister had breached the Constitution, he should take the matter to the courts.