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Why MPs failed to approve E-levy Monday night and exchanged 'blows'

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman

Proceedings in Parliament towards the passage of the Electronic Transaction Bill, 2021 Monday night came to an abrupt end when a scuffle broke out between some Minority Members of Parliament (MP) and their colleagues from the Majority, leading to the failure of the House to approve the controversial bill.

The chaos, which defined greater part of proceedings in the House, came after the Minority vehemently challenged the decision by the House to consider the e-levy bill under a certificate of urgency following the recommendation by the Finance Committee for the House to do so.

Again, the decision by the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu, to exercise his original vote during a division also escalated the confusion and disorder in the House.

Mr Osei-Owusu had announced that once a division had been called for by the Minority, he reserved the right to exercise his vote as an MP for Bekwai.

The agitated Minority MPs, who shouted on top of their voices and banged their hands on the table to register unwillingness to condone any illegality, contended that per Order 109 (3), a Deputy Speaker or any other member presiding shall not retain his original vote while presiding.

Counting

With the First Deputy Speaker’s insistence to ignore them, about 15 Minority MPs advanced from their seats towards the table, where the Clerks sat and were seen warning Mr Osei-Owusu to refrain from taking part in the counting process.

When the counting started at 10:55 p.m., the First Deputy Speaker announced for the Second Deputy Speaker to assume the chair and he left his seat to go and exercise his vote, angry Minority MPs rushed towards where the Speaker sat.

Fortunately, the timely intervention by some Majority MPs and security details in the House stopped the Speaker from being molested as he was escorted outside the Chamber, resulting in fisticuffs among some Majority and Minority MPs close to the Speaker’s seat.

The maze was quickly whisked away as disorder and confusion became the order of the day in the Chamber, and security personnel from Parliament were called in to restore law and order at about 11.55 p.m.

Outside the Chamber, quite a number of armed military and police men, who had also been called in to help calm matters, were also seen on the precinct of Parliament ready to be ordered to go into the Chamber once the confusion got out of hand.

Why the confusion?

The ensuing confrontation came soon after the Minister of Finance had moved the motion on e-levy bill be adopted by the House and it had been seconded.

But the Minority sought the leave of the Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Andrew Asiamah Amoako, who was then presiding, to arrest the process of suspending Standing Order 80 (1) for the purposes of doing away with the notice of 48 hours.

Order 80(1) requires that no motion shall be debated until at least 48 hours have elapsed between the date on which notice of the motion is given and the date on which the motion is moved.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) MP for Bawku Central, Mr Mahama Ayariga, contended that Articles 106 (13) and 103 (1) and Order 192, 197 and 191 made it inappropriate for the House to suspend the Standing Orders for the bill to be taken through a certificate of urgency.

He said the point at which a bill was determined to be of an urgent nature was before its introduction in the House but the Finance Minister, at the point where he was laying the bill introducing, did not pray Parliament to consider it under certificate of urgency.

Backing his argument with the Votes and Proceedings of Thursday, December 16, 2021, he said the bill was referred to Finance Committee as a non-urgent bill.

He argued that it was only when the Finance Minister appeared before the committee that he made an application to the committee to allow the bill to be considered under a certificate of urgency.

“And so the committee cannot, on its own at its meeting, arrogate to itself the power to make a determination as to the urgency or otherwise of the bill, and recommended to the House to consider the bill under a certificate of urgency.

“So, Mr Speaker, I rise to object to the consideration of this bill under a certificate of urgency on the basis of the on the Orders that I have sighted, and I urge this House to reject the motion on the grounds that it is a clear violation on the Constitution and the Standing Order of this House,” he prayed.

Dismissal

Giving a ruling on Mr Ayariga’s application, the Second Deputy Speaker dismissed the application on grounds that constitutional provisions and Standing Orders 119 were clear on such matters.

He said it was not within the power of the Speaker to determine that a particular referral to be urgent but it was the committee that should determine that a referral was of urgent nature for a bill go through all the processes of approval without a publication.

“On that understanding, I think honourable member for Bawku Central your arrest can never be taken on board; so, we would go ahead with procedural motion,” he said.

When he subsequently put the question of those in favour and against of the procedural motion, there was almost equal “Ayes” and “Nos” but the Speaker pronounced the “Ayes” as having it, causing uproar by the Minority.

Muntaka on Division

The Speaker’s decision on the voice vote prompted the Minority Chief Whip, Mr Mohammed-Mubarak Muntaka, to rise to challenge Speaker’s decision, using Orders 113 and 114. He therefore called for a division of votes.

But, the Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Alexander Afenyo-Markin, said while it was within the right of Mr Muntaka to call for a division, the application was “rather too late in the day.”

“You do not wait for Mr Speaker to finish his ruling and then when we are making progress you try to invoke the rules to frustrate government business.

“Mr Speaker, what you are trying to do is not to genuinely invoke a rule for the purposes of ensuring fairness but you are invoking this rule to obstruct Parliament and frustrate business and this must not be countenanced as we have to make progress,” he prayed.

Division

Before calling for the division, the Second Speaker suspended the House briefly to the displeasure of the Minority members who shouted, sang and banged their hands on tables as the House descended into more disorder.

When the sitting resumed, the First Deputy Speaker, who took the chair, said having adopted the bill to be taken under a certificate of urgency, it was not necessary for it to have come under 108 (1).

To settle matters on Minority challenging the Second Deputy Speaker’s decision on the voice vote, Mr Osei-Owusu put to a question that all those in favour of suspending the Standing Order requiring 48-hour rule for the bill to say “Ayes” and those against to say “NO”.

“I think the Ayes have it,” he announced, but the Minority Chief Whip, Mr Muntaka, based on Order 114, once again challenged the Speaker’s decision on the voice vote and called for division.

Heeding, the First Deputy Speaker, Mr Osei-Owusu directed the Clerks at the Table to clear the lobby for the House to start with a division, instructing ministers who were not members of the House not to return to the House.

Ahead of the voice vote, he told the House that he would exercise his original vote since he was a member of the House to the dismay of the Minority.

Contravention of practice

But the NDC MP for Bolgatanga East, Dr Dominic Ayine, drew Mr Osei-Owusu’s attention to Order 109 (3) which states that a Deputy Speaker or any other member presiding shall not retain his original vote while presiding.

He said at the commencement of public business and the resumption after suspension, Mr Osei-Owusu, as the First Deputy Speaker, took the chair as the Deputy Speaker and “in the words of Order 109 (3), you are not entitled to an original vote.

“And because you are not entitled to an original vote as the person presiding, it will be contrary to the practices, conventions of Parliament for you to hand over your seat and come down to engage in voting.

“The reason why practice of the Orders and the Constitution did not give the person presiding a casting vote is because they wanted to prevent a situation where you descend into the fray while you are presiding. So, I am pleading with you to stick to the rules and respect the Orders of this House,” he pleaded.

Rebuttal

In a sharp rebuttal, Mr Afenyo-Markin said Dr Ayine, in mounting an application, relied solely on the Standing Orders of Parliament, and therefore contended there was no such constitutional provision that denied a Deputy Speaker of his original vote.

“Where there is the Constitution, which is the fundamental law, any Standing Order cannot stand in the way of the Constitution; so that argument he made did not survive.

“In our Constitution, it is only the Speaker who is prohibited because that Speaker is not a member of Parliament,” he said.