Hon Members, before I proceed to address the topic of my official communication, permit me to praise and glorify the Almighty God/Allah, my fortress and my Lord, for the travelling mercies and the regeneration and renewal of my body and life. Thanks be to you, oh Lord, the creator and master of the universe. I am eternally grateful to you for your grace and love.
I also thank Hon Members for holding the fort in my absence, despite the fact that the conduct of some Members raises fundamental issues bordering on a complete disregard of parliamentary practice, procedure and process of the House. I have taken my time to read the Order Paper, Votes and Proceedings and the Official Reports of the days in issue. And I am convinced we should accept the view of the conscience of the nation that we owe Ghanaians an apology and I will proceed to do just that.
As the Head of Parliament, the voice of the Legislature, who speaks for and on behalf of Parliament, hence the title Speaker, I, with all humility apologize on behalf of the House and all the members, for the aberrations of conduct and behavior of members on those days. I take responsibility for what happens in the House and I admit the House is neither dignified nor exalted by those rancorous and unruly behavior of members. I promise to do everything within my power and authority to lead the House to chart a path of transformation, decency and change, a change for the better.
The conduct of members on those days also touches on the legality of the decisions arrived at in the House and how we arrived at those decisions. It will help for members to look at these issues dispassionately, in humility, devoid of egos and partisanship. As a House of honor, dignity and measureless might and majesty, members of Parliament should, for a while, allow the 1992 Constitution, the enabling laws, precedents and the Standing Orders of the House to lead the way.
Members need to think about how to strengthen the work of this House and by extension, strengthen Ghana’s democratic governance. Members need to consider the precedents we set by every decision and action we take in this house. Over and above that, members must bear in mind that as Members of Parliament, they also represent the people – the citizenry – not just political parties.
Hon Members, just try to recollect, or view a playback of the proceedings or read the Official reports of those sittings, and you will appreciate what I am referring to. What happened was grave disorder with its resultant comedy of errors and I will not take lightly a repeat of such disorder and indiscipline in the House.
Hon Members, I will not bore you or our audience with a recount of the scenery of those proceedings, it is however, incumbent on me to make a pronouncement on these matters and provide some direction on the path to be taken as a House to ensure we are taking steps to fulfil our sacred duty to the people of Ghana. To do this, it is necessary to summarize a few proceedings in order to lay a foundation for me to propose the way forward.
Quorum for the Conduct of Business and Quorum for Voting in Parliament
Hon. Members the first matter that requires some pronouncement is the matter of a quorum which formed the basis for the decision taken by the House to rescind the rejection of the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of Government.
Admittedly, the Constitution prescribes the quorum for the conduct of business of the House; a lack of quorum meant the business cannot be done. A quorum for one-third of members is required for the commencement of business; a quorum of not less than one-half of members is required to determine, for example, a resolution for approval of international loans and a quorum of not less than two-thirds of members is needed to amend some provisions of the constitution. Depending upon whether it is just to legitimize it to conduct business of Parliament, or take an ordinary decision or make a resolution. See Articles 69 (11), 75 (2) (b), 82 (1), 95 (2) (d), 102, 104, 106 (10), 113 (2), 174 (3), 181 (1), 268 (2), and 291(3). The provision that deals with the basic components of a quorum to transact business are;
One-third of all members of Parliament,
except the one presiding.
Hon. Members, the question of whether or not a quorum exists either for the conduct of Parliamentary business or for taking of vote in Parliament is therefore a question of fact. The practice in all Parliaments since the inception of the 4th Parliament has been to raise the issue of quorum on the floor of Parliament at the time the business or the vote is being taken.
Hon. Members, admittedly it is a responsibility of the Chair to make a determination if there is a quorum at the beginning and at any time during the sitting of the House. However, there is a presumption of quorum to undertake business unless a question is raised. The Chair may in the absence of an objection to the contrary, presume that the House is duly constituted for its work. It is only when such an objection has been raised that the Speaker may then take steps in compliance with Order 48 of S. O. of the House. This is due to a practical challenge of the Speaker knowing at every time the number of members present in the House.
Suffice it to say, however, that where the fact of the absence of a quorum is notoriously obvious to the chair, then perhaps it may be incumbent on the Chair to raise the issue suo moto.
Be that as it may, Hon. Members, the precedents and the practices and conventions of this House, require that the issue of quorum be only raised on the Floor. When the matter is not raised on the floor, the only prima facie indication of the number of Members present is in the record of the Votes and Proceedings of the House.
The following instances are quite instructive on this account;
On the 20th of June 2002, the sitting of the House was suspended after an objection was raised by Hon. Kwakye Addo, MP for Afram Plains South for the absence of a quorum to commence public business. The Rt. Hon. Peter Ala-Adjetey began the process of adjourning the House until his attention was drawn to the fact that Members had begun to fill the chamber. It is important to reiterate the comments of the then Majority Leader, Hon. Paapa Owusu-Ankomah who cautioned that the issue of quorum be looked at since members could be in attendance at Committee sittings, and be conducting Parliamentary business, but not present on the Floor of the House and thus, not counted for the purpose of forming a quorum. Hon. Paapa Owusu-Ankomah’s premise is viewed on a point of law. The issue of quorum is on members present in Parliament and not on the floor or in the Chamber of Parliament. Refer to Articles 102, 104, etc.
Similarly, on the 22nd of February 2014, this House stood adjourned when the issue lack of quorum was raised by Hon. Afenyo-Markin.
Again, on the 9th of November 2018, it was Hon. K.T Hammond who raised the issue of lack of quorum in the House during the consideration of the RTI Bill.
On 20th November 2019, Rt. Hon. Speaker Prof. Ocquaye suspended sitting after the Hon. Mahama Ayariga indicated that the House did not have the numbers to continue the debate on the 2020 Budget. Again, in this instance the issue of quorum was raised by a member during the proceedings.
Hon. Members, what the precedents tell us, and they abound, is that the issue of lack of quorum is usually raised by a Member of the Hose or the Speaker himself having regard to the numbers in the House may ask for an adjournment or suspension of sitting due to the absence of a quorum.
Hon. Members, staging a walk-out is a legitimate form of protest and is part of our Parliamentary norms and practices. Indeed, there have been several walk-outs since 1997 and each side of the aisle has used it as a legitimate tool to register their displeasure with one issue or the other.
The staging of a walk-out, however, does not render Parliament incapable of performing its functions.
Hon Members, may I refer to three (3) instances where walkouts and boycotts have been deployed and the business of the House has continued despite the walkouts.
On August 22, 2003, the Minority staged a boycott of the House in protest against the NHIA Bill. Business of the House continued despite boycott. The total number of majority members used to justify a quorum was the number 101, recorded on the Votes and proceedings of the day and not the number on the floor.
On the 23rd of February 2005, the Minority staged a walkout of the House because of the consideration of the Customs & Excise Petroleum Taxes Bill. Despite the walkout, proceedings continued and the quorum relied upon was the number of members recorded on the Votes and Proceedings as present, including names of the minority who had all walked out.
On the 19th November 2014, the Minority staged another walkout of chamber because of the Bill on the introduction of 17.5% Special Petroleum Tax levy. Again, despite the walkout, Votes and proceedings recorded 274 members present which was more than half of all members to take decisions of the day
It suffices to note that, the failure to register an objection for a lack of quorum meant any decision to be taken in respect of the purported absence of a quorum should have had regard for the numbers as enunciated in the Votes and Proceedings of the House on the said date.
The actions of the House on Tuesday 30th November 2021 bring into sharp focus the powers of a Deputy Speaker vis a vis that of the Speaker.
On that day, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament presiding found that the vote taken on the 26th of November rejecting the budget was null and void as the requisite number was not present in accordance with Article 104 of the Constitution.
The decision taken on the 30th of November 2021 which decision suggested I acted ultra vires the Constitution when I put the question on the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of Government appears strange to me. The House was duly constituted for its work for the purposes of business and voting in accordance with Articles 102 and 104 respectively and the public record of the Votes and Proceedings of the House on the 26th of November lends credence to this position.
It is persuasive to note what Erskine May, an authority in Parliamentary Practice says on this matter; “The Speaker’s rulings constitute precedents by which subsequent Speakers, Members, and Officers are guided. . . Such precedents are noted and in the course of time may be formulated as principles or rules of practice. They are an important source of determining how the House conducts its business.”
Hon Members, as to whether a Vice President can preside over a cabinet which had early on taken a decision on a subject matter presided over by the President, and without consulting the President, get the Cabinet to overturn the decision earlier taken, is for your kind debate. But who am I to say my Deputy, Ist Deputy Speaker, the Hon Member for Bekwai Constituency, Hon Joseph Osei-Owusu, the Wise, might have indulged in an act of misconduct tantamount to insubordination.
Hon. Members, we ought to be mindful of the precedents that exist in this House to guide our conduct. This will ultimately prevent an interpretation of our rules that provides us with problems.
Deputy Speaker being counted for the purposes of Quorum
Hon. Members at this point, it is important for me to address the decision of the Hon. First Deputy Speaker in declaring that the quorate number of 138 required to take a vote had been met when the House sat on the 30th of November 2022.
Without a doubt, our Standing Orders and the 1992 Constitution outlines clearly the bar on the one presiding in Parliament in respect of participating in debates or voting on any matter. Article 102 of the Constitution is to the effect that the person presiding, be it the Speaker, a Deputy Speaker or a Member presiding does not form part of the quorate number.
Whether or not the principle applies in pari materia with Article 104 is immaterial because a different issue at law arises which respectfully, the Hon. First Deputy Speaker may not have averted his mind to.
A distinction must be drawn between the temporary absence of the Speaker from the chamber in which case any of the Deputy Speakers may preside, and when the Speaker is unavoidably absent as provided for under Order 13(2). In fact, Order 13 creates two different types of instances under which the Deputy Speaker may preside in accordance with Article 101 of the Constitution.
Under Order 13(1), any of the Deputy Speakers may be asked to take the Chair whenever Mr. Speaker so requests due to his temporary absence from the Chamber. The Deputy Speaker presides until such a time that Mr. Speaker is able to resume the Chair to preside over the proceedings. It must be noted that, under this ambit, the Deputy Speaker may be counted as forming part of the Quorate number required for either business or voting because at the beginning of the sitting, he was not exercising the powers of the Speaker.
Order 13(2) presents a different situation. Under this order, the Speaker’s unavoidable absence from the precincts of Parliament means the First Deputy Speaker assumes the authority of the Speaker and performs all the duties of the Speaker in relation to the Chamber. In this role, the First Deputy Speaker takes on the cloak of an Acting Speaker and for the purposes of our rules and the Constitution assumes all the powers of the Speaker in relation to the business of the House.
In this sense therefore, the First Deputy Speaker for the period of my unavoidable absence from Parliament was the Acting Speaker of Parliament and thus all rules and limitations applied to him in a manner that applies to the substantive Speaker of Parliament.
By and large, the reasoning of the First Deputy Speaker outlining the fact that he is not the Speaker, he holds his membership and does not lose his privileges as a member when he takes the Chair can be said to be correct. However, in so far as he takes on the role as the Acting Speaker of Parliament, his decision to be counted as part of the numbers forming a quorum raises procedural challenges.
Hon. Members, although our Standing Orders are silent on this, many Standing orders and rules from several sister Parliaments provide persuasive rules which suggest that when Deputy Speaker’s or acting Speakers are in the Chair, whatever happens in the House is that officer’s responsibility and the Speaker cannot be called upon to overrule it. Similarly, the reverse is also the case that when a Speaker is in the Chair, whatever happens in the House is the Speaker’s responsibility and the Deputy Speaker or acting Speaker cannot be called upon to overrule it
However, Hon. Members we are where we are because we need to make progress on this matter in a manner that is consistent with our laws, and ensures we are allowing the governance of our country to thrive.
Letter presented by Minister Responsible for Finance on Concessions and Modifications to the 2022 Budget Statement
Hon. Members, I am aware of a letter originating from the Minister for Finance which letter purports to make some concessions and modifications to the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of Government.
The legal basis of the laying of such a letter and what actions Parliament may take as a result leaves a lot to be desired. I have however held discussions with the Leadership of the House to find a path that is faithful to law, respects our rules and processes and ensures the governance of the country does not grind to a halt.
In that vein the Leadership and I agree that the following steps be taken;
The Minister responsible for Finance comes before the House with an amended statement of the Budget with the said modifications and concessions.
These modifications and concessions will then be adopted by the House and the revised document with the estimates will stand committed to the various Committees of Parliament.
I am aware the Committees have begun consideration of the estimates. It would thus be their responsibility to reconcile the revised estimates with what they have hitherto considered and submit a report for the consideration of the House.
Hon. Members, to conclude on these matters, let me reiterate my solemn pledge to the people of Ghana which I canvassed in my first formal communication to this House. I would not superintend over a Parliament to frustrate Government business, But, I will equally not preside over a weak House or be tagged as an errand boy of the Executive arm of government. This House is fully focused in discharging its mandate and will do so without any fear or favour, affection or ill-will in ensuring the ultimate best interests of the Ghanaian people are served.
Let us continue to strengthen our channels of communication, foster dialogue, encourage broader stakeholder consultation and allow the processes we have adopted for our burgeoning democracy to thrive.
I thank you all for your attention.