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24.03.2020 Feature Article

A 'Stubborn ' Speaker Vrs 'Renegade' Chief Whip

How Did The Chips Fall?
A 'Stubborn ' Speaker Vrs 'Renegade' Chief Whip
LISTEN MAR 24, 2020

The chips came down like confetti.
But it wasn't their fault. There was a causative agent!

Someone had bitten off more than he could chew. Someone thought he could muzzle the other or bulldoze his way through. And it turned out to be another boycott---the second in a little over one month.

Perhaps the walkout staged by the NDC Minority in Parliament could have been avoided, if the Speaker had not ignored the Minority Chief Whip's motion, regarding a quorum. But the Speaker showed dogged determination not to back down---resulting a seemingly prolonged banter.

Of course, if partisanship hadn't taken the wheel from the lawmakers (honourables), probably we wouldn't have seen the fireworks that seemed to have perforated one's flamboyant powers.

And I put this question to you --Minister in Charge of Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu:

Did the House have a quorum or number to take the decision on the Corporate Insolvency Bill?

If it didn't, why did the Speaker do what he did? Remember, you can whip the wimps but you cannot whip the chief whip and his cohorts without experiencing some whiplash. At worst they might succumb to the pressure at best they might walkout. Also, be reminded if you set a bad precedent, expect a deja vu.

Stubborn Speaker & Renegade Chief Whip
"Speaker let's be careful the way we do things.

That's why we've rules in this cannot be condoning illegality," fumes Minority Chief Whip Alhaji Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka.

The legislator had raised the issue of quorum on the floor of the House when Parliament was considering the Corporate Insolvency Bill which the Speaker Rt. Hon. Aaron Mike Oquaye had ignored.

What's Quorum?
No motions or votes should occur unless there's a quorum. This is a standard rule in the House of Parliament and many organisations. A quorum is the minimum number of members who must be present at a meeting to transact business. The requirement protects the House by preventing very small number of members from taking action on behalf of the entire House.

Are there exceptions?
Of course, there are exceptions in every rule.
Some motions require certificate of urgency, others don't. The inevitable question is: Why did the Speaker ignore the call by the Chief Whip? Or did the Corporate Insolvency Bill merit certificate of urgency?

I don't think so. Therefore, I view the Speaker’s action as needless. It was his action that triggered the Minority's walkout.

So what can be done in the absence of a quorum?
Whenever this situation occurs, a few procedural steps can be taken. They include, 1)setting a continued meeting through the motion to schedule a date and time to which adjourn, 2)ending meeting the motion to adjourn, 3)taking measures to obtain a quorum such as rounding up members and 4)reassessing the meeting in efforts to obtain quorum.

In case of some urgent matter the meeting can be delayed and must be acted upon. It's said that members proceed at their own risk with the hope that a later meeting with quorum will ratify the action.

The walkout
The Minority in Parliament had walked out of Parliament over what they saw as the Speaker's intransigence to carry on with the business of the House even when the legislature lacked the quorum.

According to the Minority the Speaker’s action flouted the Standing Orders of the House and was 'unacceptable'.

Alhaji Muntaka, who was unhappy about the Speaker’s attitude, accused him of engaging in illegality. The MP explained that the House as it sat did not have a quorum or the number to make a decision and that the Speaker is condoning unlawfulness.

“Mr Speaker, let’s be careful the way we do things, that is why we have rules in this House….you're condoning illegality. We say we don’t have the numbers or quorum to make a decision and you are still carrying on. What then is the use of the Constitution and Standing Orders? He queried.

He went on to chastise the Speaker: "You are abusing the privileges in this House; you're making this House lawless. What you're doing is wrong and you should know that”, he pointed out.

Reacting to the incident, Osei-Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, Majority Leader, criticised the Minority Chief Whip for his attack on the Speaker, saying it was 'unacceptable'.

He submitted that a member who is aggrieved by any conduct and the person wants to make a submission must respect the rules of the House especially when the conduct relates to the Speaker.

Mr. Mensah-Bonsu emphasised that the aggrieved member must come by a substantive motion which he says is clear in the Standing Orders. “We should be regulated by our own rules and procedures”.

According to him the leadership of the House is there to assist the Speaker to maintain law and order in the House.

I humbly like to submit that the leadership failed to maintain law and order in the House. In a nutshell, there was no order as there was no quorum in this case, hence the hot exchanges and the walkout that followed.

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