Seventh Parliament of the Fourth Republic...Dramatic scenes in Parliament

BY: Musah Yahya Jafaru
Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye
Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye

The First Meeting of the Second Session of the Seventh Parliament of the Fourth Republic started on a quiet note, interspersed with walkouts by the Minority Members of Parliament (MPs) and ended in a a heated atmosphere.

The Minority MPs staged the walkouts over what they described as unfair and inadequate hearings given to their leaders by the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye.

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The heat was generated by the government's request for the ratification of the military cooperation agreement between Ghana and the United States of America (USA) on the last day of sitting on March 23, 2018.

As if the best was reserved for the last day of the meeting. For instance, after years of waiting, the Right to Information Bill, 2018 was laid in Parliament on the last sitting day.

The bill was read for the first time and the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, referred it to the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for consideration and report.Some bills were passed into law. One of the key bills, which received passage into law was the Special Petroleum Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2018. It has reduced the special petroleum tax from 15 per cent to 13 per cent and consequently reduced the ex-pump price of petroleum and that of diesel.

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There was also an approval of loan facilities for infrastructural development and other commitments. 

The State of the Nation Address delivered by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to Parliament also livened up the debate in the House.

While the Majority MPs applauded the address as offering hope for Ghanaians, the Minority MPs described it as empty, hopeless and devoid of any concrete policies to grow the economy, develop infrastructure and create jobs.

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Minority-Speaker disagreements

The meeting witnessed several walkouts by the Minority   MPs  over what they described as unfair treatment by the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye.

The Minority MPs accused the Speaker of not recognising them in having their say in the House as expected.

They, therefore, walked out on about three occasions to register their concerns. At a point, the Minority said they were considering initiating an impeachment process against the Speaker.

In an instance, the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, stressed the need for the Speaker to show respect to the leadership of the Minority since the Minority were supposed to have their say and the Majority, their way.

The Speaker explained that he was acting in accordance with the Standing Orders of Parliament and that he was not discriminating against any group.

He, therefore, tasked the Minority MPs to resort to the Standing Orders to address their concerns. 

The cash-for-seat report

The heat in the House hit the roofs when a disagreement ensued between the Majority and Minority members on the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament, who were tasked to investigate the cash-for-seat saga.

The committee was set up by the Speaker to investigate allegations that the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) was involved in the collection of between $15,000 and $100,000 from expatriate businesses to secure them a seat at the table of President  Akufo-Addo at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards in Accra on December 8, 2017.

But because of the serious disagreements between the members, two reports were produced from the committee, one from the committee and the other from the Minority.

The committee's report exonerated the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Alan Kyerematen, officials of the ministry and managers of the Millennium Excellence Foundation (MEF) from any wrongdoing in the cash-for-seat saga but the Minority's report indicted the minister.

Eventually, it was the committee's report that was presented to Parliament and subsequently adopted by the House.

The Minority's report remained in the hands of the Minority members and journalists because the Standing Orders of Parliament do not recognise a separate report from the Minority.

The Special Prosecutor

All eyes were on Parliament for the gruelling vetting of Mr Martin Amidu as a Special Prosecutor by the Appointments Committee of Parliament (ACP).

The recommendation for the approval of his appointment by the ACP was a bit dramatic.

The MP for Tamale North, Mr Suhuyini Alhassan Sayibu, was the only member of the ACP who voted against his approval. The report of the committee, therefore, initially indicated that the recommendation for the approval was by an overwhelming majority decision.

But moments before the approval of the nomination by the House, the Chairman of the ACP, Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu, asked the House to delete the aspect of the report which captured Mr Sayibu as being the only one who voted against the nominee's approval by the House. Consequently, the recommendation of the ACP changed to indicate that the recommendation was by consensus.

But when the Chairman of the ACP, Mr Osei-Owusu, began the presentation of the ACP's report, the MP for Bolgatanga East and former Deputy Attorney General, Dr Dominic Ayine, rose on a point of order and indicated that he had filed a suit at the Supreme Court challenging the qualification of Mr Amidu and that any comment or debate on his approval might prejudice the case.

He said it was important for the House to respect the doctrine of the separation of powers.

Giving his ruling, the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, said the  the writ being sought and all relevant matters were not brought before the House.

He said the mere filing of a writ could not prevent Parliament from going ahead to comment on Mr Amidu's qualification or approve of his nomination, otherwise Parliament would be subjugated.

The House consequently went ahead to approve the nomination of Mr Amidu as a Special Prosecutor.

Ghana-US military cooperation

The dust seemed to have settled till the final week of Parliament when the Minister of Defence, Mr Dominic Nitiwul, laid an agreement between the government of Ghana and the government of the United States of America (USA) on defence cooperation, the status of the US forces, access to and use of agreed facilities and areas in Ghana.

Consequently, the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, referred the agreement to the Committee on Defence and Interior and the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for consideration and report.

But the Minority in Parliament called for the immediate withdrawal from Parliament the defence cooperation agreement between the government of Ghana and the government of the USA.

It said the proposed agreement which allowed for the establishment of a USA military base in Ghana denigrated the sovereignty and the autonomy of the government and people of Ghana, as well as the laws of the country.

It was clear from the outset that the Minority MPs on the joint committee were not going to support the agreement.