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13.02.2009 Politics

MPs Fight Mills Over Ex-gratia

By Daily Guide
MPs Fight Mills Over Ex-gratia

Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu & Alban Bagbin MEMBERS OF Parliament (MPs) from both sides of the legislature have rolled up their sleeves as they engage President John Evans Atta Mills in a war of wills, over his handling of the controversial ex-gratia debacle, especially his unilateral slashing of the emolument as announced in a statement on Wednesday.

While the disagreement from the Minority side was loud during a closed-door session at the House of Parliament yesterday, DAILY GUIDE gathered that the dissent from their majority counterparts on the presidential fiat was subtle and came in the form of the nodding of heads in acquiescence with the no-confidence in the presidency on the handling of the ex-gratia.

The MPs were unanimous in their pronouncement that President Mills was out of order after the Majority Leader, Alban Bagbin had briefed the House about the outcome of a meeting he had with the President at the Castle yesterday.

The MPs had sent Hon. Bagbin to convey their displeasure to the presidency about the unilateral decision to cut their end of service benefit (ESB), which former NDC MP for Jomoro, Lee Ocran described on a radio station as a populist rhetoric.

Some MPs were particularly angry over reports that members of the NDC transitional team took ESB in the form of daily sitting allowances of GH¢300.

Following the announcement about the slashing of the ex-gratia entitlements to MPs by President Mills, which was said to have startled even National Democratic Congress (NDC) MPs, a closed-door meeting was convened at Parliament after sitting was adjourned.

During the engagement, both the Minority and Majority MPs were unanimous in their resentment of the President's decision.

DAILY GUIDE learnt that as the discussions proceeded, the NDC MPs, for fear of intimidation should their names find their way to the ears of the President, were discreet in their support and were said to be managing with the nodding of their heads.

The position of the Minority side during the meeting was that since approval had been given to the financial arrangement by the former President, John Agyekum Kufuor, documentary proof of which is available, President Mills cannot order a review.

They added that the cost involved in administering the emoluments was factored into budget for the first quarter of the year and approved by the last Parliament before its dissolution on January 6, 2009.

The MPs, referring to Article 71 of the Constitution, maintained that the ex-gratia of the previous Parliament could be approved only by President Kufuor upon the advice of the Council of State and no other president, because the constitutional position is time-specific on the matter.

A number of the MPs have even threatened to go to court over the subject in what appears to be a long haul over the ex-gratia saga.

Hon. Lee Ocran, in an interview, was not charitable to the President's action describing it as populist.

According to him, the proceeds to be realized from the slash as announced by President Mills cannot put up any school building.

DAILY GUIDE learnt that before the closed-door meeting, Hon. Alban Bagbin and E.T. Mensah, Majority Leader and Majority Chief Whip respectively had met President Mills three days earlier during which they expressed resentment about his handling of the subject, warning of a possible backlash.

This engagement preceded the first blockade of the payment at the banks but their satisfaction at having achieved their objective was dashed when the announcement about the slashing was aired on Wednesday.

Following the dust raised by the ex-gratia saga, President Mills said he is setting up a Committee on Emoluments to revisit the subject.

The Committee, in contravention of the tenets of the constitution, would be set up in consultation with the Council of State and not upon the advice of the council as is contained in the Constitution.

Constitutional experts are of the opinion that the President is setting off on a wrong footing.

According to a statement from the Office of the President, signed by the Presidential Spokesman, Mahama Ayariga, the recommendations of the new committee would form the basis for the final decision of the ex-gratia.

The decision by President Mills is said to have been informed by what his spokesman said followed a correspondence from the Ministry of Finance to the Controller and Accountant General to effect payment of ex-gratia awards to the ex-president, ex-vice president and ex-ministers and members of parliament.

These were done in consonance with the recommendations of the Chinery-Hesse Committee on Emoluments.

A portion of the statement from the Office of the President read: “Following investigations it was established that there was no basis for proceeding with the ex-gratia payments as recommended by the Chinery-Hesse Committee”.

The statement quoted the constitution thus to buttress the position of the President: “Under Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution, payment of emoluments to the legislature as recommended by a statutory presidential committee on emoluments has to be approved by the President whilst those of the Executive and  ministers have to be approved by Parliament.”

President Mills's office has stated that it has not seen any approval for the payment for MPs by the previous government, and observers say that there was no basis for the President to set up a committee to review.

DAILY GUIDE learnt that a copy of the letter has been dispatched to the presidency.

The ex-gratia saga has already claimed the ministerial dream of Hon. Moses Asaga who had earlier been nominated for the position of Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing.

The raging fire over the ex-gratia is far from being extinguished as it heads for the governance credentials of President Mills.

The coming days would be momentous in the relationship between the President and Honourable members of Parliament on both sides.

By Awudu Mahama