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23.02.2020 Feature Article

Parliamentary And Other Boycotts Since 1992: Are They Truly In National Interest Or Just For Partisan Retaliations? – Episode 1

Parliamentary And Other Boycotts Since 1992: Are They Truly In National Interest Or Just For Partisan Retaliations? – Episode 1
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Introduction

On Thursday, 20th February 2020, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo was in Parliament to give his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the House in keeping with Article 67 of Ghana’s Supreme Law- The 1992 Constitution. Article 67 states, “The President shall, at the beginning of each session of Parliament and before a dissolution of Parliament, deliver to Parliament a message on the state of the nation.” As part of Order of Business for each sitting in the House, Order 53 (1c) and 53 (1d) of the Standing Orders of Parliament also make provisions for presidential addresses and presidential messages respectively.

Per constitutional demands within a four-year term in office, SONA is an assignment for the President of Ghana to perform twice before Parliament, which is the body that represents the people in our democratic dispensation.

Parliament of Ghana is a two-sided body comprising the members from the political party in power or political parties in power (in case of a coalition) and the members in the Minority. By electoral convention, it has been the case since 1992 that the party in power is always in the Majority. In view of boycotts and walkouts, some Former Presidents delivered the SONA to a one-sided Parliament as we witnessed last Thursday when MPs in the Minority or National Democratic Congress (NDC) MPs boycotted the SONA through a walkout. President Akuffo Addo went ahead and gave the SONA to only the Majority NPP MPs. It would be recalled that President Mahama also delivered a SONA to a one-side Parliament in the past where only NDC MPs were seated. Upon the strength of article 2 (1) of the Constitution, perhaps we need to alert the Supreme Court to interpret article 67 as stipulated above. Does a true and proper interpretation of article 67 of the Constitution mean that the President should give the SONA to only side of the House or the two sides must be present?

In boycotting the last Thursday’s SONA, the Minority NDC MPs walked out in one file, singing the last stanza of the Ghana National Anthem. They sang repeatedly, “And Help Us To Resist Oppressors’ Rule. With All Our Will, And Might Forevermore” At the same time, the Majority MPs of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) were heard hooting at the Minority members saying “away, away, away” while clapping. Under the circumstance, the well-composed President was seen smiling.

The media reported that after the Minority MPs walked out, some of the Majority MPs occupied the Minority seats with Hon. Kennedy Agyepong occupying that of the Minority Leader, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu. One wonders if this act is truly legal. This is because each of the parliamentary seats is owned by a constituency and the constituents had elected only a particular person to occupy that seat for them.

For example, Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa’s seat in Parliament is for the people of North Tongu and he is the only person mandated by the people to seat there.

Methinks that any other person who occupies that seat without the prior consent of the people of North Tongu seeks to impose himself as the people’s representative in Parliament and to my mind that should be an illegality. I have heard for example that only the President of Ghana can be driven under the Independence Arch hence any other person who does so declares himself the President of Ghana, which is treasonable. At the other side of the coin, the Minority MPs were sent to Parliament as representatives of their constituents and not all constituents may belong to the party on whose ticket the MPs were elected. Was the last Thursday’s boycott authorized by the constituents of the NDC MPs or only by their political party? If it was sanctioned by their political party, then were they fair to their constituents by not listening to the President on their behalf? The laughable aspect of last Thursday’s NDC boycott of the SONA was that the Majority Leader Hon. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu alleged that the NDC MPs resurfaced after the walkout for refreshments in the House.

A Boycott And A Walkout Dichotomized

Boycott of parliamentary proceedings and walkouts during such proceedings have become one of the tools used by MPs to protest against national issues or conducts that they disagree with. Whereas such boycotts are deemed democratic and not illegal, most people have questioned its moral and logical foundations and whether or not the constituents the MPs represent in Parliament really have any benefits inuring to them through those boycotts and walkouts.

A boycott is a punitive ban on relations with other bodies, proceedings, cooperation with a policy etc. while a walkout is a sudden angry departure from a gathering, especially as a protest or strike. It is therefore obvious that there may be a boycott of parliamentary proceedings without a walkout. In this case, the MPs who boycott the proceedings may occupy their seats but choose not to participate in proceedings; they will keep mute or they will not show up for proceedings at all. Secondly, the MPs may choose to abandon the proceedings by walking out. In this case, it means boycott and walkout are executed jointly. It is worth reiterating that boycotts of parliamentary proceedings are not occurrences in Ghana alone. They happen in other jurisdictions as well hence they are a global phenomenon in politics.

A Retrospective Analysis of Boycotts And Walkouts In Ghana Since 1992

It is a fact that since the start of the Fourth Republic, only the NPP and the NDC are the political parties that have won the general elections and formed governments. It appears that this trend will continue for a long time to come. Since the first Parliament started siting on 6th January 1993, there have been various walkouts from parliamentary proceedings and boycotts of other national activities as a form of legitimate protestations. I use the table below to go into memory lane to see the various walkouts and boycotts by the two parties aforementioned.

Date /Period Party Staging Boycott or Walkout Action & Reason
1992 NPP The NPP boycotted parliamentary elections, refused to recognize Rawlings’ presidency and compelled the Interim Electoral Commissioner, Justice Ofori Boateng to resign. The reason was that the NPP claimed the 1992 election was not free and fair.
August 2003 NDC The NDC boycotted parliamentary proceedings relating to the passage of the National Health Insurance Bill. NDC accused the NPP of dancing to the whims and caprices of the IMF by seeking to increase VAT by 5% to cater for the National Health Insurance Fund. It should be noted that the same VAT was opposed by the NPP and that was the reason for the Nana Addo led Kumi Preko demonstration in 1995. That demonstration led to some deaths.
February 2005 NDC The NDC MPs walked out of Parliament to file their displeasure for a bill that sought to impose petroleum taxes and levies on the people. They claimed that the introduction of the petroleum tax was an illegality because it was meant to have a retroactive effect.
18th February, 2006 NDC The NDC MPs who were in the Minority boycotted parliamentary proceedings because of Representation of People Amendment Bill (ROPAB) after it went through 2nd reading on the floor. Their foreboding was that the NPP Government would use ROPAB to manipulate the 2008 elections to the detriment of the NDC. NDC then staged various demonstrations until a cross section of its members who wanted to present a petition to President Kufuoor at Osu Castle were beaten and some were rushed to Ridge Hospital for medical attention. If the fear of not winning an election could compel the Minority in Parliament to boycott proceedings, then is the party concerned about national assignments?
2007 NDC The Minority NDC alleged that the NPP manipulated the Judiciary in the Dan Abudakpi case. Dan Abudakpi who was a member of the NDC and a former Minister of Trade and Industry was jailed for 10 years for causing financial loss to the state. The NDC therefore boycotted President Kufuor’s SONA in 2007.
19th February, 2010 NPP Led by its leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, the NPP Minority of the House boycotted proceedings indefinitely due to the arrest of Nana Darkwa who was a communication personality for the NPP. If a mere arrest of a party communication officer could lead to the boycott of parliamentary proceedings, then is such a party thinking about national interest?
August 2010 NPP The NPP MPs were in the Minority in Parliament. They walkout as a way of disagreeing with the STX Korean housing compact that the Atta Mills led NDC Government wanted to contract. The NPP claimed that the NDC had breached the trust the NPP reposed in the former in caucus over the STX deal.
7th January, 2013 NPP The NPP Minority in Parliament boycotted the swearing in of President Mahama. However, President Kufuor of the NPP was at the ceremony in his capacity as a Former President. The NPP’s reason for the boycott was that they were contesting the 2012 presidential elections in at the Supreme Court. As such, they did not yet recognize John Mahama as President. It was argued that this boycott was contrary to article 64 (2) of the 1992 Constitution. It states, A declaration by the Supreme Court that the election of the President is not valid shall be without prejudice to anything done by the President before the declaration.”
21st February, 2013 NPP The NPP MPs walked out of the House when President Mahama was being ushered in to give his 1st SONA. Their reason was not different from the 7th January 2013 one.
November 2013 NPP The walkout was in disagreement with the NDC’s intention to increase VAT by 2.5%. This same reason was what the NDC also gave for its walkout in August 2003. Apparent Operating Concept: Yesterday, it was bad because my opponent initiated it but today, it is good because the initiative is mine.
12th May, 2014 NPP The NPP boycotted a National Economic Forum held at Senchi. However, a known NPP stalwart and an Economist, Kojo Mpianim was at the Senchi Forum, which was meant to transform Ghana from lower –middle income to upper-middle income country. The NPP said the Forum was a PR gimmick and the NDC acted in bad faith in planning the Forum.
November 2014 NPP The NPP Minority MPs walked out from parliamentary proceedings over the 17.5% Special Petroleum Tax bill introduced in the House by Seth Terkper, the NDC Finance Minister. The NPP claimed that the tax would bring hardship on the people.
18th February, 2015 NPP A significant number of the NPP Minority MPs boycotted parliamentary proceedings to join what was called ‘wɔn gbo’ demonstration, which was led by party bigwigs such as Nana Akuffo Addo, Dr. Bawumia etc.
18th October, 2017 NDC In order to protest against the controversial 510 million dollar AMERI power agreement, the Minority NDC MPs walked out of the Mines and Energy Committee meeting. The NDC claimed that both the Speaker and the NPP Majority were stifling their submissions on the deal on the floor and at Committee level. As the NDC MPs walked out , the NPP Majority hooted at them saying away, away, away!!!
24th March , 2018 NDC In disagreements over the Ghana-US Defence Cooperation Accord, the NDC Minority walked out of the House during proceedings.
10th June, 2018 NDC Citing legal, procurement and cost concerns over the Ghana Card registration exercise, the NDC Minority in Parliament boycotted proceedings. They indicated that the National Identification Authority (NIA) was not being honest over the true cost of the project.
22nd August, 2018 NDC The opposition NDC stayed away from Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting that the Electoral Commission (EC) had convened. They were embittered about the EC’s late invitation to them for the meeting.
16th November, 2018 NDC Having accused the Speaker, Prof. Ocquaye as being biased and disrespectful towards them, the NDC Minority walked out during a debate over the creation of the 6 new regions.
31st January, 2019 NDC Citing security reasons, the NDC was compelled to pull out of the violent Ayawaso by-elections
6th February, 2019 NDC Led by its Chief Whip, the NDC Minority walked out of the Parliamentary Chamber so as not to witness the swearing into office, of Hon. Lydia Alhassan, MP- elect of Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency. Using placard inscriptions, they described Hon. Alhassan as a “Bloody Widow”. This was because Hon. Lydia Alhassan was elected in a violent election on the NPP ticket in place of her husband, the late Emmanuel Kwabena Kyeremanteng Agyarko.
19th February, 2019 NDC The NDC initially boycotted the sittings of the Emile Shorts Commission of Inquiry that investigated the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election violence. However, they later called off the boycott.
28th February, 2019 NDC On this date, the NDC Minority again boycotted the parliamentary proceedings touching on the Public Holiday (Amendment) Bill. The NDC felt that the Bill was meant to distort the political history of Ghana to show that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is not the founder of Ghana. Whereas the NDC sought for Founder’s Day, the NPP debated for Founders’ Day. The NDC said there is only one founder of Ghana but the NPP maintained that the Founders of Ghana are more than one.
9th April, 2019 NDC At parliamentary sitting on this date, the NDC Minority boycotted proceedings when Hon. Lydia Alhassan, the NPP MP for Ayawaso West Wuogon stood up to make a commemorative statement on World Health Day. It was this same MP the NDC referred to as a Bloody Widow in February 2019.
20th February, 2020 NDC The Minority NDC MPs boycotted proceedings when President Akuffo Addo arrived to give his second State of the Nation Address after coming into office on 7th January, 2017. The NDC MPs were fully cladded in black attires. Their reason was the NPP Government’s failure to release some 5% MPs’ component of the District Assemblies Common Fund. Another reason was the NPP’s support of the EC’s decision to compile a new voters’ register.

Conclusion

In the next episode (Episode 2), we will do a numerical or statistical analysis of the boycotts to see which of the two political parties (NPP or NDC) boycotted parliamentary proceedings and other state functions more than the other. We will equally discuss whether or not the boycotts and walkouts are in national interest or they are done for partisan purposes. As to whether or not the NDC should participate in debating the last Thursday’s SONA that they did not listen to will also be discussed. We will then make some composite conclusions on the two episodes. Stay tuned.

~Asante Sana ~

Author: Philip Afeti Korto

Email: [email protected]

Philip Afeti Korto
Philip Afeti Korto, © 2020

Philip Afeti Korto is a seasoned Health Service Administrator and a prolific writer. He is a member of Association of Health Service Administrators, Ghana (AHSAG). Column: AfetiKorto

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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