You can’t stop road tolls without approval - Speaker to Minister

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman

The Speaker of Parliament, Mr Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has directed the Minister of Roads and Highways to immediately withdraw the directive he issued Wednesday for the cessation of the collection of roads and bridges tolls in Ghana.

He stated that Mr Kwasi Amoako-Atta, the minister, as a member of the Executive, had no authority to issue such a directive.

Mr Bagbin explained that the Executive could not, on their own, suspend the implementation of any law without consulting with Parliament that enacted them, saying that, “this House cannot be taken for granted.”

“That is not democracy and that will be one-man rule; and so, I want to clearly direct that what the minister has released has no effect,” he stated.

Contempt of Parliament

Speaking on the floor of Parliament Thursday [Nov 18, 2021], Mr Bagbin said until Parliament approved the financial proposals and policies contained in the 2022 budget, no minister could implement any policy contained in the budget.

“So, I think that it is proper for us to direct the minister, a senior member of this House, to honourably withdraw that directive; failure to do so will be a serious breach of directive of the Speaker and that will amount to contempt of Parliament,” he said.

Usurping Parliament’s authority

The Speaker gave the directive after the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, had expressed reservation against the directive by the Roads and Highways Minister for the cessation of the collection of road and bridge tolls at all locations nationwide, effective from 12am on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

He cited paragraph 247 on page 60 of the budget statement where the Minister of Finance categorically proposed for charges on all road tolls to be removed on all public roads “effectively, immediately the budget is approved by Parliament.”

He, therefore, urged the House to take a serious view of the conduct and directive of the minister since what he did was “an attempt to usurp the power of this august House.” 

Minister has no authority

The Speaker told the House the Minister of Finance, representing the President and presenting to the House the budget and financial proposals for 2022, sought the permission of the House to approve the budget and the financial proposal effective January 1, 2022 ending December 31, 2022.

He said the minister expressed his reliance on the House for the budget’s approval to implement the country’s budget.

“Until this budget is approved, all what is contained in the budget are proposals; we (House) have the authority to approve but they (Finance Ministry) have been given the authority, pursuant to Article 170 (9) to prepare and lay before the House.

“So, these are policy proposals that the minister has presented to the House and until they are approved, nobody, and I mean nobody, has the authority to start implementing something that does not exist,” he said.

Asking if the directive by the Roads and Highways Minister “amounted to disrespect of the House”, Mr Bagbin said “this is where I may differ.”

“Because this is not the court of law, the minister might have misunderstood or misapplied the law and so it is for us to draw his attention and tell him that he has no such authority to do that,” he said.

Speaker’s directive is wrong

Reacting to the Speaker’s directive, the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, said he had difficulty with the directive by the Speaker.

“On this occasion, I thought that the Speaker, with the greatest respect, cannot issue directive of his own to the minister; you cannot.

“It should be a decision of the House. If it is a decision of the House that we want to convey to the minister, it should be a statement. But when the Speaker said that it is my directive, Mr Speaker there is something wrong with this.

He added that: “But I am not challenging what you are saying; if you want it in the form of a directive from the chair, so be it.”

Associating some ambiguity with what the minister had done, the Majority Leader said he had thought that the Speaker would have “carried the House” to correct his conduct.

Justification

Justifying the directive by the minister for road tolls to cease, Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said following the announcement of the abolishment of road and bridge tolls by the Finance Minister, “confusion arose at the various toll booths.”

“There was exchange of fisticuffs at the various toll booths and to avoid further escalation of the confusion and chaos, the minister acted timeously to save lives and property by coming out with the directive which is not about the suspension of the law,” he added.