7th January 2021 birthed a parliament never before seen in the history of Ghana. This parliament, for starters, had a lot going even at birth with the election of Speaker and his Deputies. All would recall the brawl, snatching of ballot papers and affronting intervention of the military for the first time ever in Ghana’s Parliament.
The mere collision, chaos and brouhaha crowding that midnight till early morning forecasted other dramatic happenings yet to be seen.
For the first time, parliament had no clear cut majority party. It was up to an independent member to form a majority caucus with whichever side he joins.
The most unthinkable was when the Speaker of Parliament elected was from the opposition political party. This showed a glaring digression from patterns in earlier parliaments.
I, in particular, upon observing these, touted the 8th parliament as one which will have lots of dramatic events in the performance of its mandate and it has done nothing short of that.
Few months into the First Session and the minority was in a fluster because of the approval of the President’s appointees for the various ministries. The minority, after opposing the approval of some of the appointees sternly, ended up giving them the nod contrary to the opinion of their party and some Ghanaians. Minority was bashed heavily for this and it set them on edge to express and represent irrepressibly the views of their people going forward.
Fast forward to the third quarter of the year, parliament was instrumental in the admission of the 499 law students who had initially been denied admission. It must be put on record that the unanimous decision of the House on ordering that the students be admitted commendably showed unity and solidarity despite the tussle in the House on a daily.
The arrest of the Madina MP then became an issue sparking divergent views from both sides of the house and the Ghanaian public at large.
This issue of arrest, in my humble opinion, points out a lacuna in the constitution on how an MP should be arrested. It seemed somewhat impossible to arrest an MP because of the provisions of articles 117 and 118 which the Madina MP strictly stood on.
Pursuant to the need for double-layer protection of MPs, I suggest efforts be made to look into the case of the arrest of MPs and laid down procedures on their arrest be given in a way that does not tame their immunity.
On November 26, the house sat to debate and decide the fate of the budget for the 2022 pecuniary year. This budget the minority strongly opposed basing their case on the novel 1.75% E-levy, the absence of mitigating measures for the tidal waves in Keta, Anloga and Ketu South, the Agyapa deal which reared its head in the budget among other things. Surprisingly, the majority caucus staged a walk out. The first time in many years of parliamentary proceedings that a majority caucus walks out from its own business. The budget was then rejected by the minority caucus to the amazement of many.
The early days of the following week saw the majority come back to rescind minority’s rejection and approved the budget this time with the minority caucus absent and first deputy speaker presiding and voting. They built the reversal of the rejection by minority on claims that quorum was not formed at the time of the rejection.
This brought shedloads of heated arguments between the minority and majority caucus.
The return of the speaker saw the minority caucus also table a motion for the reversal of the approval but to no avail. The speaker however described the actions of the first deputy speaker in counting himself as part of the quorate number and voting as presenting procedural challenges. He went on to apologize to Ghanaians on behalf of the House for the misbehavior of some members in his absence.
Since the approval of the 2022 budget stood, part of the remaining processes was the deliberation and approval of the E-levy bill. This unearthed quite an event studded chapter of the First Session of the 8th parliament.
The Bill, when brought before the Finance Committee, saw all key issues in it subjected to voting. All votes ended in a 12 minority to 12 majority MPs tie after which the Finance Committee Chair exercised his casting vote to break the tie and approve the bill in its original form.
As the law making process will have it, the Bill was brought to the Chamber for approval subsequent to the approval at committee level.
This was another high tension point of the 8th Parliament. The approval was subjected to a voice vote which the minority caucus challenged was wrongly judged, hence a division was demanded.
A moment came during the head count where the 1st Deputy Speaker presiding decided to vacate his seat for the 2nd Deputy Speaker to take over so he can partake in the voting.
The minority who were in stern opposition to that move rose and an incident that involved fisticuffs erupted.
The house was adjourned to the next morning.
The majority leader, in speaking to some news outlets said the intention of the 1st Deputy Speaker presiding was not to vote but to leave the Chamber for his medication since he was ill and shaking like a leaf. The house was adjourned the next morning to January 2022 without a determination of the fate of the Bill.
It will suffice to say that this House, due to its equal numbers, has helped keep the government in check the more with the minority demanding accountability from government at every point on issues such as the Sputnik-V vaccine scandal, Presidential travels, allocation of $242 million to an undefined e-Transaction Levy Services in the 2022 budget among other things.
Going forward, both sides must prioritize consensus building instead of resorting to brawls and heated exchanges in cases of disagreements. The 137-137-1 parliament, even in its first session, has been one to behold.
By: SHALOM KENNEDY-ZUMEDOR