Parliament Last Week

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Parliament of Ghana

WHEN THE MAJORITY BECOMES THE MINORITY 

By Jojo Bruce-Quansah

For the first time in the history of political parties in Ghana, the victor of elections, is finding it difficult to assert itself or celebrate its victory even as its members are hungry for a carnival type of celebrations through the streets of the country.

As if it’s only the foot soldiers that are suppressing their joy at victory but no, the President himself is also very silent about his victory unlike 2016, when the victory celebration was unprompted and Ghanaians saw it in the way the President read his swearing-in speech and how he lifted the sword of office.

That is not all. In Parliament, the NPP caucus have also changed. Ghanaians saw how the NPP caucus in the last four years, went about confidently displaying their control of the August House.

There was not a single memo from the Executive that could not sail through Parliament as they humiliated the minority with the saying “you can have your say, we will have our way”.

That is all changed this time and so what happened? Watching the NPP from afar, what one can see is that the NPP is yearning for recognition and acceptance. From where? I don’t know but events after the elections and the party’s demeanour shows they lack confidence as a government in power.

This is evident in the behaviour of the President and how he is dealing with the Election Petition at the Supreme Court. Every time I have seen the President, something tells me he is waiting for the verdict from the Supreme Court so he can start working and this seem to have affected his Parliamentarians too and they are also waiting.

For the past four years, the NPP has been the MAJORITY side of the August House with 169 seats and the only thing they could not do at the time was to ‘change a woman into a man’ and I am baffled as I watch them struggle over leadership of the House.

Until the last day of the week, (Friday, January 22) when the Right Honourable Speaker clearly distinguished between the two political parties in Parliament, who is the majority side and who is not, the NPP could not be bold and stand on their feet to claim the majority side of the House in conjunction with the Independent MP for Formena constituency.

I quite remember the mid-night of December 6, 2020. Everyone in my household was glued to the Radio or Television. Out of the blue, when everyone was eagerly waiting for results of the elections, we heard Mr Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, NDC’s Director of Elections, speak on the radio and claimed the National Democratic Congress (NDC), has won 140 constituencies of the Parliamentary election and have taken over the Parliamentary Majority.

Not quite long after Mr Afriyie Ankrah’s pronouncement, I heard Mr John Boadu, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) General Secretary also come on air to rubbish all that was said by the NDC’s Afriyie Ankrah and also claimed they are in the Majority, listing the number of seats they have won.

The struggle for majority in Parliament continued to the day of the inauguration and swearing-in of Members of Parliament elect. What happened in the chamber, wasn’t a pleasant sight when the military stormed the chamber and gave countrymen and women, a near coup d’etat scare, as the MPs struggle over who is in the majority and where to sit in the Chamber.

Ever since, it has become obviously clear that there is some bitterness and hostility among members of the 8th Parliament and it all stem from the outcome of the December 2020 general elections.

And so as I watched proceedings in the chamber and Members debating national issues, I could see the difficulty the NPP has, giving up the position they have held for four years as the Majority side of the House.

There is the need for one of the political parties to be in the majority to enable the House operate effectively and it was a worry to the Speaker and so before Parliament could commence business on Friday, January 19, the Right Honourable Speaker asked to set the records straight on issues in the public domain.

Rt. Hon. Alban Bagbin said, he had been misquoted and referred the house to proceedings of Friday, January 14, 2021, where he said the Independent MP together with the NPP, constitute majority in the House.

According to the speaker, the Public Affairs Department of the House had gotten it wrong on what he said and indicated that his pronouncement has future implications, so nobody should misquote his words.

With these strong words from the Speaker, what else does the NPP caucus want to hear before they can assert themselves in the House?

And so it came as a big surprise to many when the Speaker, Rt. Hon Alban S.K. Bagbin, again on Friday, January 22 had to repeat what he has already settled by urging MPs to desist from confusing the public over the leadership of the two groups in the house.

Addressing members of the House before adjourning sitting, Rt. Hon. Speaker, without any ambiguity, made it clear that Osei-Kyei-Mensah Bonsu was the Majority Leader and Haruna Iddrisu was the Minority Leader.

“…The Standing Orders further provide that the Majority Group will be led by a leader and that leader is referred to as Majority Leader and Order 160 and Order 168 demands that the Business Committee and the House Committee be chaired by the Majority Leader, that is the standing orders we have now and I am guided by that, I am bounded by it…”, the Speaker emphasised.

“So please, don’t keep confusing the public. So the Honourable Osei-Kyei-Mensah Bonsu is the Majority Leader, the Honourable Haruna Iddrisu is the Minority Leader”.

I can understand the frustration of the Speaker as the House did not seem to agree on the leadership of the House and had to be repeating himself as to who is the Majority leader.

The NPP doesn’t seem to be able to take the leadership mantle as if they are waiting for the Speaker to confirm their leadership role until they take it. I can see their confidence level in the House gone so low and unable to take control even as they have been declared the Majority side by the Speaker.

I see the same problem with the President, who also seem be waiting for confirmation of his leadership from the Supreme Court even though he had been sworn in as the President of the Republic.

The NDC, even though were declared losers of the December 7 elections, seem to have taken control of the country and the victors are rather following the NDC’s lead.   

The correction by the Speaker had become necessary as the Leadership of the House, in pursuant to Orders 151 and 154 of the Standing Orders of Parliament, had met on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 and determined the formula for the composition of the membership of the Committee of Selection and determined which group will form the majority in the House and the minority.

The Leadership of Parliament had recommended that the composition of committees and other parliamentary delegations, groupings, associations and the Committee of Selection will be based on the ratio 138:137 for the Majority Caucus and Minority Caucus respectively.

According to the House, that would be in line with established practice and Order 154 of the Standing Orders of the House.

After two days of meeting, the leadership in its report to the House noted that per the agreed ratio of 138:137, the 19 membership Committee of Selection, excluding the chairperson, works out as 10 Members from the Majority Caucus and nine Members from the Minority Caucus.

With the membership of the Committee of Selection established and the Speaker is done with who is in the Majority, the tone was set for the debate on the formation of two very important committees, namely the Business and Appointments committees.

The NDC was not backing down on the issue of any political party holding itself as the majority, because they believe, both parties have the same numbers in terms of strength and would not accept the interpretation the NPP is giving their collaboration with the Independent MP and their demand for more numbers on committees.

The two parties, the NDC and the NPP have equal numbers on the Business and Appointments Committees of Parliament with each having 13 and 10 members respectively on the committees.

During debate, Hon. Afenyo Markin, Member of Parliament for Effutu, had argued that 50.18% should be rounded to the nearest numeral as 51% and 49.82% to be 49% but the leader of the Minority group, Hon. Haruna Iddirisu, Member of Parliament for Tamale South, had vehemently objected to Hon. Markin’s suggestion calling it NPP mathematics.

Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, the Minority Leader, presenting the report of the Committee, stated that pursuant to Order 151 (2) of the Standing Orders, the Committee met and composed the Business and Appointments Committees in accordance with Orders 160 and 172.

He said during the deliberations the Committee was guided by the formula adopted by the House on Friday, January 15, 2021 for the composition of the membership of committees and explained Article 103(5) of the 1992 Constitution and Order 154 of the Standing Orders required that the composition of the Committees shall as much as possible reflect the different shades of opinion in Parliament.

Hon. Afenyo-Markin, Deputy Majority Leader, in seconding the motion, raised some preliminary matter anchored on Standing Orders 172, 154 and 109(3).

He argued with regards to the membership of the Appointment committee vis-à-vis the conclusion of the report and the fact that the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, who chaired the committee, by the language of the Standing Orders, did not have a voting right as member of the committee.

The Deputy NPP leader said, if the language of the Standing Orders should suffice then the Appointment committee which had membership of 26 would be left with 25 members that had voting rights.

He further argued that having regard to the membership of 25 then the appointment committee can be composed of 13 members for the NPP and 12 for the NDC.

COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Mrs Ursula Owusu- Ekuful, Dr Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Madam Patricia Appiagyei, Mr Frank Annoh-Dompreh, Mr Osei Bonsu Amoah and Mr Patrick Yaw Boamah are some NPP MPs on the Appointments Committee.

Mr Haruan Iddrisu, Minority Leader, Alhaji, Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak, Minority Chief Whip, Mr Mahama Ayariga, Sampson Ahi, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, Alhassan Suhuyini, James Agalga and Francis Xavier Sosu are on the NDC bench of the Appointments Committee.

The Appointments committee’s job is to recommend to Parliament for approval, persons nominated by the President for appointment as Ministers of State, Deputy Ministers, Members of Council of State, the Chief Justice and other Justices of the Supreme Court and any other persons specified under the constitution or under any other enactment, while the Business Committee determines the business of each Sitting and the order in which it is to be taken.

The current Parliament of Ghana has no clear majority as each party has 137 seats with one independent member.

On Wednesday January 20, the first Private member’s motion to be moved in the 8th Parliament stood in the name of Hon. Mahama Ayariga, Member of Parliament for Bwaku Central and was asking the House to request the President of the Republic of Ghana to take urgent steps to suspend the payment of fees by new entrants into public tertiary education institutions and fess of continuing students of those institutions for the 2020/2021 academic year as part of the national COVID 19 relief programmes being implemented by government.

The House stood down the motion and would deliberate on it after it had been improved with specifics in its demand.

 While contributions from the NDC Caucus supported the motion with arguments that the suspension of the fees is necessary due to the economic hardship imposed on parents by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NPP Caucus held the view that it was unnecessary because there were already interventions to support students to cater for their fees.

Hon. Ayariga explained that the motion had become necessary because of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on household incomes.

He, therefore, urged President Akufo-Addo to immediately take steps to suspend the application of fees and charges so that students could go back to school while the state took steps to re-imbursed the universities.

You can imagine my surprise when the Speaker, in his speech to end the week, reiterated what he has been saying all throughout the week, stating clearly who is who in the House and the question I asked myself is why has the NPP majority decided to be the minority?

The answer to that question would best be answered when Ghanaians have accepted the outcome of the December 7 elections and only then would the President and his Parliamentarians could have the confidence to go about their work of governing.

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