The political slugfest currently raging on between the ruling NPP government and the opposition NDC over the seat of Eric Amoateng, MP for Nkoranza North, clearly shows what harm baseless partisanship can do the body polity. The real issues underlining the now perceivably endangered Amoateng's parliamentary seat are lost in an arena of divisive dialogue. This sad state of affairs is driven more by NPP's well-founded fear of losing Amoateng's seat in a bye-election and the NDC's confidence of winning yet another seat to solidify its position as the party to beat come December 2008.
Can Parliament for once will rise up to the occasion in settling this Amoateng case so that a proper precedent will be set for our future guidance? The cognate question surrounding this political furor is: Should Mr. Eric Amoateng be stripped off his parliamentary seat in light of the fact that he has been absent from Parliament for more than fifteen sitting days vis-a-vis Article 97(1) (c) of our constitution?
A clear reading of the said article reveals that:
1. Members are enjoined to attend meetings of Parliament so that the onerous business of debating policies and enacting laws for the efficient running of our dear country could be done.
2. The consent of the Speaker should be sought if a member wants to be absent for a consideration number of days.
3. Any such consent must be in writing.
4. Absent “reasonable explanation”, a Parliamentarian is deemed to have abandoned or vacated his seat if he does not attend fifteen duly constituted sittings of parliament. It is submitted here that what is “reasonable explanation” has no technical meaning and that each case must be determined on its own peculiar circumstances by the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges. Of course, that Committee can be guided by its own precedent or can draw strength and support from other well-endowed democracies.
It is safe then to suggest – by virtue of the wording of Article 97(1) (c) - that the constitution takes a very serious view of absenteeism. After all members are voted into power to serve and protect the interests of their constituents by fully participating and meaningfully contributing to the business of parliament on daily basis! In addition, parliamentarians are among the very few who are handsomely paid by us and enjoying some perks of their office – in fact, perks denied majority of our suffering folks. It stands to good reason then that any parliamentarian who engages in any activity that frowns on the golden objectives of attending to the nation's business is treated with the harshest of punishments by the constitution – expulsion from that body. It is in this wise that we demand that Parliament gets to the bottom of this matter so that the larger interests of the good people of Nkoranza North and for that matter the whole nation will be served.
We concede to the following unassailable facts:
1. That the paramount interest of Amoateng's constituents must be served.
2. That Amoateng is physically unavailable to attend any Parliamentary sitting any time soon unless of course something legally dramatic happens to his case.
3. That “the-fifteen-sittings-of Parliament-rule” has been contravened as a result of Amoateng's arrest for allegedly trafficking in a controlled substance.
However in light of 4 above, we find it most ridiculous and objectionable the suggestion that because Amoateng had been absent for more than fifteen well-constituted sittings of Parliament he should be expelled. Is he not entitled to the “reasonable explanation” clause of Article 97(1) (c) of the constitution granted that he left the country without the written permission of the Speaker? Should we rush to judgment without first affording the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges the opportunity to delve into the matter? To some of us, then, the legitimate question confronting the nation is: How do we do justice to the larger interest of Amoateng's constituents without impairing in any way whatsoever his right to hold on to his parliamentary seat. Yes, in-as-much-as we find it most offensive and dehumanizing any member of the public - much more a parliamentarian - engaging in drug trafficking, our obligation to defend well-established democratic values like fair play, rule of law and for that matter the liberty and rights of all citizens including the accused should not be sacrificed just to pander to our political base.
We therefore strongly believe that the only way the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges can reach a sensible decision that will stand the test of time is to ask and answer the following simple questions:
1. Did Amoateng seek the Speaker's permission before embarking on his ill-fated journey?
2. If, yes, what did he tell the Speaker? AND
3. If, no, why did he leave without seeking the prior consent of the Speaker against the backdrop of parliamentary rules.
We think that the Speaker of Parliament holds the key to unlocking these issues but strangely enough he has gone AWOL in this unfolding political drama. Is he not in a vantage position to answer all three questions? Why is he silent on very serious public matter? His forthright answers to these questions will help his colleagues to make informed decisions because the public is being served with conflicting accounts by his party. For example, it has been reported that Amoateng went to the U.S to visit his sick daughter. Also, we are told he went there to buy watches and even others are saying that he sought permission but was refused by the Speaker! Which ever angle one looks at these issues, the Speaker cannot hide any more but must rather come out with the true story instead of burdening us with his silence.
It is submitted here that it is only after we have gotten a response from the Speaker that the burden will shift to Mr. Amoateng to marry his present predicament with the reason he gave to the Speaker. For example, if the Speaker confirms the story that he traveled to the U.S. to visit his sick daughter, then the burden is on Mr. Amoateng to furnish the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges with the up-to-the-minute account of his time in the U.S. from the moment he cleared customs to the time he was arrested at Staten Island in New York state. Thus, if his account does not include visits to his “sick daughter”, then he has the further burden of explaining why he abandoned his primary reason for going to the United States! If at the end of the committee's inquiry it is established that Amoateng just used the Speaker as a cover to carry out an alleged illicit enterprise, then it is humbly submitted that his seat should be declared vacate. This is to say that if a parliamentarian lies his way to secure a privilege or benefit, he should not be allowed to benefit from such fraud at the expense of his constituents and the nation.
Also, if he sought permission but was turned down by the Speaker, then he has an even heavier burden of explaining why he left the country after the Speaker had denied his application. In the same vein, if he left the country without the Speaker's permission fully aware of the parliamentary rules governing outside travels by members, then he has to fully explain to the satisfaction of Parliament why he left the country without the Speaker's consent. In addition, he should further provide a statement explaining why his seat should not be declared vacate and a bye-election conducted to choose another representative to serve the greater interest his constituents and the nation as a whole. This explains why we find NPP's position that Amoateng should hold unto his seat untenable because they don't address the issue of whether Amoateng tacitly broke parliamentary rules or not.
Having said that much, we hope the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges will act fearlessly, diligently and with dispatch because time is of critical essence in resolving this national matter. Parochial politics should take a backseat for now!
By the way, what is stopping Mr. Amoateng from resigning his seat in parliament so that another representative will be elected to serve the interest of his constituents – constituents he professes to love and whose interests are now at large and at the mercy and whims of others? Doesn't he think his interest will better be served if he devotes all his energies to fighting his criminal case? Is that such a tall call for Mr. Amoateng?
Well, concerned citizens are keenly watching all the players in this political furor.
We shall return. WILLIAM ANTWI (BAFO) ALIAS OYOO BUSANGA NEW YORK. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.