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03.02.2006 General News

Chaos in House over 'Burger' Bill

By Ghanaian Chronicle

If the chaotic atmosphere that prevailed in Parliament yesterday is anything to go by, then it is obvious that the attempt to implement the provisions of the Representation of the People's Amendment Bill (ROPAB) will be fraught with confusion.

For several minutes, yesterday's parliamentary proceedings on the bill could not continue because of heated exchanges between members of the minority and majority.

The minority side, clad in red headgears with others tying the pieces of red cloth around their necks and wrists amidst whistling and ringing of bells, demonstrated their protest on the floor of the House.

Acts that could, by all indications, be deemed to be un-parliamentary, passed without many qualms, as members shouted and taunted each other on top of their voices while others drummed the tables.

For several minutes, many were those in the public and press galleries who feared that the exchanges were getting out of hand, with the potential of degenerating into fisticuffs.

It all started when the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi Hughes, gave the floor to the Attorney-General to do the second reading of the ROPAB, which had been laid before the House by the committee last week.

The Bawku Central MP and ranking member of the Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, Mahama Ayariga, was the first to catch the eye of the Speaker, raising an objection against the second reading of the bill and calling for its withdrawal, for subsequent relay for consideration, since the maximum 3 months required for the submission of a report on a bill laid had elapsed.

Ayariga contended that the fact that the report was laid did not cure the illegalities associated with it, adding that it (the report) had no basis to be before the House for consideration.

"We have observed that an illegality has taken place, which should be looked at," he said.

He was of the view that the conduct of proceedings in the House had to be guided by the standing orders.

Minority leader, Alban Bagbin, rose to lend support to his colleague, drawing the attention of the Speaker that the House would be setting a bad precedence if it were to go ahead with the debate on the bill.

"I don't want you, Mr. Speaker, to be the one to set the bad precedence," he intimated.

He contended that it had been the practice of the House since 1993, to relay bills after the submission of reports had exceeded the required time, adding that it should be re-laid and referred to the appropriate committee.

The Majority Leader, Felix Owusu Agyepong, in his intervention, argued against the Minority's position, saying that the practice had been that businesses that were not carried through in a particular session were extended to the next sitting of the House for consideration.

"If you want to make a new rule, you can file a motion to do so," he stressed.

The Deputy Minority Leader, Doe Adjaho, drew the attention of the Speaker to a suit he had filed in his capacity as MP for Avenor, restraining the latter (Speaker), as 1st defendant alongside The Attorney-General, as 2nd Defendant, from continuing with the passage of the bill.

He urged the Speaker to defer the bill so that the proper thing could be done before they would think of passing it.

The Speaker ruled that he had not received any notice of the said court action, and directed the Minister for Justice to proceed with the second reading of the bill.

The Chronicle checks however revealed that there had been a proof of service of the writ on the Speaker, through his office last Tuesday, the day of its filing.

When asked to second the motion, Bagbin, who spoke for almost an hour, amidst points of orders and heckling by the Majority, reinforced the Minority's opposition to the bill.

At that stage some members, without being given the floor by the Speaker, hijacked it to throw in some words, leaving the Speaker shouting hoarse.

The Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Doe Adjaho, protested to the Speaker against the Majority side being given the floor more often than his side, even though some of his colleagues had been trying to catch the latter's eye. The Speaker disagreed with him.

Bagbin, at this stage, cautioned that what was happening in the House was only a prelude to what would happen when the bill was passed. He argued that their opposition to the bill was informed by their love for the country's peace, security and political stability and more importantly, their commitment to the sustenance of multi-party Constitutional Democracy in Ghana.

"The bill has a potential for political friction and even possibly conflict. It may provide the basis for questioning the legitimacy and credibility of our elections," he stressed.

He noted that the manner in which the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government wanted to ram the bill down the throats of Ghanaians carried seeds of chaos that could undermine the constitutional democracy that Ghanaians had so carefully built and nurtured over the last 13 years.

He explained that recently, the President, on the floor of the House, declared the determination of his government to push ahead with the passage of the ROPAB, questioning the motives of those opposed to the bill and expressing incomprehension of the nervousness of people opposed to it.

He therefore questioned the motive of the President in trying to push through this piece of legislation as if it was a matter of life and death.

"Indeed why all the nervousness by Kufuor and his cronies to see through this piece of legislation against all sensible advice and the expressed opposition to the bill by all recognized minority parties," Bagbin opined.

The Minority Leader asked whether it could be that President Kufuor was nervous about the acid test of accountability that would surely follow the completion of his tenure as President and as such was prepared to risk the peace and stability of this country on a radical one-sided redrawing of the electoral landscape in order to ensure that he was succeeded by an NPP II Administration.

The Minority, he said believed that the proposed amendment was an act of desperation on the part of the ruling NPP to constrain the ability of other political parties and the EC to effectively monitor the polls and thereby create an avenue for manipulating the 2008 elections.

He mentioned that the brazen way in which it was being sought to undermine the democratic process in Ghana by forcing through the ROPAB must be a source of concern even to those Ghanaians abroad that the Bill, on the surface, appears to be favouring.

Bagbin said for Ghanaians at home, the Bill and the potential it creates for anarchy must be of particular concern, since they, unlike Ghanaians abroad, would be at the receiving end of any lawless situation that erupted.

"Anyone interested in good governance in Ghana ought to pay attention to the dangerous situation that is being created for the country should the Bill become law," he stressed.

The bill was read a second time, and was therefore awaiting passage after the third reading.

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