Accra, Jan. 5, GNA - The issue of whether to debate the President's State of the Nation address took centre stage even before the commencement of Public Business on Wednesday with heated arguments from both sides of the House.
While the Majority side saw no justification in opening a debate on the address the Minority side were of the view that the address should be subjected to scrutiny, saying there were portions of the speech, which were incorrect and therefore needed to be set right for posterity.
After the corrections of Votes and Proceedings, Mr Kosi Kedem, NDC-Hohoe South, drew the Speaker's attention to the fact that there was no provision for a debate on the address on the Order Paper for the 31st sitting of the Third Meeting of Parliament around which business would be conducted.
He insisted that the House should move a motion for a vote of thanks to be conveyed to President Kufuor and then this should be followed with a debate on the address, notwithstanding the few hours left for this Parliament to go through dissolution.
This view drew members from both sides of the House to their feet with Captain Nkrabeah Effah-Dartey, (rtd), Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, saying: "The member for Hohoe-South had misconstrued the whole essence of the address."
According to him, it was not possible to debate the address before the dissolution of the House on Thursday.
Mr Johnson Asiedu Nketia, NDC-Wenchi West, however, insisted that the opportunity should be given for opinions to be expressed on the address from both sides of the House and that if there was no need to subject the address to vigorous debates then the President should have gone to a radio station to give the address.
Mr Osei-Kyei Mensah Bonsu, NPP-Old Tafo Suame, described the arguments for a debate on the State of the Nation address as "an exercise in futility". The President could have chosen to deliver his address today or tomorrow so when would we have the opportunity to debate the address."
"We are ready to debate the address up to midnight. Some areas raised by the President in his address are inaccurate so there is the need to make corrections," Mr Edward Doe-Adjaho NDC- Avenor countered.
Since there are no provisions in the Standing Orders of the House or in the Constitution for Parliament to debate a State of the Nation Address delivered when the House was about to be dissolved, the Interior Minister, Mr Hackman Owusu Agyemang said Parliament was a master of its own rules and the Business Committee, which decides the business of the house should have fixed a date early enough for a debate on the President's address.
He said in the light of this development, Parliament should now decide if in future such a provision should be made.
When he caught the Speaker's eye, Mr Alban Bagbin, Minority Leader, said the Minority was not trying to establish a convention but rather trying to draw the attention of the House on the issue for a decision to be taken.
The Speaker finally put a brake on the arguments from both sides, describing the issue as "a novel situation" and said no Parliament had ever witnessed a state of the nation address at the end of the term of a sitting President as demanded by the Constitution.
He said nothing in the Standing Orders of the House or the Constitution stated that a debate should follow such an address. "We can't open a debate at this stage," the Speaker ruled and said the limited time would not allow for a full debate and therefore justice would not be done to the address.
He however urged the Majority and the Minority leaders to meet and take a decision on the matter as to whether in the future such a debate should be allowed, saying: "we have been caught flatfooted."