Charged atmosphere in Parliament - proceeding end abruptly

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman
 Some Members of Parliament in a heated debate during sitting yesterday
Some Members of Parliament in a heated debate during sitting yesterday

Disorder and confusion defined proceedings in Parliament on Wednesday December 1, 2021 when the First Deputy Speaker, Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu, refused a motion by the Minority to overturn the approval of the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government by the Majority last Tuesday.

Agitated Members of Parliament (MPs) from the Minority side, who accused the First Deputy Speaker of bias, sprang from their seats, shouting on top of their voices and snatched the Speaker’s Chair.

Mr Osei-Owusu had ruled that he was not the Speaker but a Deputy Speaker and so he was eligible to be counted to make up the quorum required to approve the budget by the Majority last Tuesday.

With the atmosphere so charged, Mr Osei-Owusu suspended sitting for an hour about 3.30 p.m.

However, when sitting resumed about 5.24 p.m., he was nowhere to be found and proceedings were taken over by the Second Deputy Speaker, Mr Andrew Amoako-Asiamah, who suggested an adjournment.

Charged scene

The Minority members, who shouted: “Master, give us a break!”, “You’re biased!” and “You are being destroyed!”, became even more infuriated when Mr Osei-Owusu declined to put the Minority’s rescission motion to vote.

As situation deteriorated when the First Deputy Speaker overruled the application by the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, as the Minority MPs surged towards where the Mace stood and the Clerks at Table sat.

However, the Marshalls of Parliament quickly rushed to protect the Mace.

At the point when the First Deputy Speaker vacated the Speaker’s seat, one of the Minority MPs weaved his way through his colleague MPs and the parliamentary staff to move the seat from its original position and threw it on the floor.

Rescission motion

In the motion, the Minority Leader said the decision of the 137 Majority members of the House last Tuesday purporting to adopt a budget statement subject to concession was not known to the House and should be declared null and void, as well as unconstitutional.

He faulted the Deputy Speaker for his indulgence in the decision for the House to approve the budget statement subject to concession, explaining that the act was unconstitutional and against the Standing Orders of the House.

“You are in the chair and added yourself to the number of members who made a quorum,” he told the Speaker.

Citing Order 48 (1), which reads: “The presence of at least one-third of all Members of Parliament, besides the person presiding, shall be necessary to constitute a quorum of the House,” Mr Iddrisu said: “So Mr Speaker, adding yourself to the quorum yesterday itself is in betrayal of our Standing Order 48 (1).”

He also referred the Deputy Speaker to Order 109 (2), which states: “No question for decision in the House shall be proposed for determination unless there are present in the House not less than one-half of all the members of the House, and, except otherwise provided in the Constitution, the question proposed shall be determined by the majority of the votes of the members present and voting.”

In the view of the Minority Leader, Mr Osei-Owusu, who was presiding, was barred by the provisions of Standing Order 30 as he assumed the role and responsibilities of the Speaker of Parliament.

Order 30 reads: “Mr Speaker shall have neither an original nor a cast vote, and if upon any question before the House the votes are equally divided, the motion shall be lost.”

Further buttressing his argument with Article 104 (2), which stipulates that the Speaker shall have neither original or casting vote, Mr Iddrisu said: “Therefore, for you, Mr Speaker, to have courageously referred to yourself as adding to the numbers is repugnant to the provisions of the 1992 Constitution and it is in serious breach of orders 109 and 48.”

Written statement

Seconding the motion, the NDC MP for Bawku Central, Mr Mahama Ayariga, waded into the motion and said Order 48 required that anytime there was a discussion on quorum to transact business or take decision, the person presiding, regardless of whether he was the substantive Speaker or Deputy Speaker, must be left out.

“Yesterday, you were presiding, Mr Speaker, and even though we were not in the Chamber, we heard you counting yourself among the people who should be counted to constitute a quorum for taking a decision in this House.

“At the time you assumed the seat, you were no longer ordinarily a member of Parliament, and that is the reason when you assumed the seat, we were all compelled to have reverence for you as the Speaker and to follow your directives. You assumed all the powers of the Speaker so how could you be sitting there as the Speaker and still maintain your status as an ordinary member of Parliament?” Mr Ayariga quizzed, describing the approval of the budget by the Majority as an illegality.

Majority Leader defends

Defending the approval of the budget by the 138 members of the House, the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, said by constitutional practice, there must be a quorum to do business and a quorum to take a decision.

In line with such provision, he said, the Majority met both requirements because the presiding First Deputy Speaker was in the chamber first as a member before being a Speaker.

"The First Deputy Speaker added to the numbers to establish the fact that there were 138 members in the House. He did not partake in the vote," he said.

Application refused

In his ruling on the motion, the First Deputy Speaker stated: “A Deputy Speaker is not a Speaker.”

Amidst screams from the dismayed Minority members at his declaration, he drew a sharp contrast between his position and that of the Speaker.

He told the House that while the Speaker was not an MP, he, as the First Deputy Speaker, along with the Second Deputy Speaker, was an MP whose role was to assist the Speaker in managing the House.

He said any attempt to read and interpret what the Constitution said about the Speaker to include the deputy Speakers was “a misreading and misapplication of the Constitution”.

“But when Mr Speaker is not available, either of us can preside over the House, and so can any other member, if necessary, be elected by the House to preside. That member does not lose his right to be a member of the House, and that is what our Standing Order says.

“When it comes to the question of voting, it is very clear that anytime any of the deputy Speakers or any other member elected to preside is in the chair, that member does not vote, and that has never been in dispute,” he said.

“Let me put on record that I am a Member of Parliament and I was counted to make the quorum, but I did not vote while I was presiding. Therefore, the request of the application is refused," he added.