The Majority walkout, which was criticized and ridiculed by many as running away from their own Budget, may turn out to be strategic.
By 10am of Tuesday 30th November, 2021, when Parliament reconvenes, the parliamentary Hansard will still reflect how proceedings ended last Friday. That, Parliament voted to reject the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government of the Republic of Ghana.
Members of Parliament from the ruling party decided to walk out of the Chamber before the Speaker put the question to approve or reject the 2022 budget to the House, leaving it to the 137 MPs from the opposition National Democratic Congress to vote a resounding ‘no’. This boycott, which was roundly rejected as bizarre, may turn out to be a masterstroke.
Shortly afterwards, the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, gave a hint of this when he addressed the press and gave notice that what the Speaker did by allowing the vote was unconstitutional and his side would take steps to nullify the “false” rejection of the 2022 Budget.
New Patriotic Party MPs are expected to make their move Tuesday. Their case is that when the Speaker proposed the question, there were not up to 138 parliamentarians present at the time to vote as required by law.
Article 104(1) states: “Except as otherwise provided in this Constitution, matters in Parliament shall be determined by the votes of the majority of members present and voting, with at least half of all the members of Parliament present.”
Parliament as currently constituted has 137 NPP MPs, 137 NDC MPs, and one independent MP, who sits on the side of the ruling party, making the NPP the Majority group. After putting the 2022 Budget to vote Friday, the Speaker himself announced the results as “137:0”. This appears to put the matter beyond any doubt in terms of the numbers present at the material time.
To reinforce the point of needing at least half of members in the House before the question could be put, 109(1) of the Standing Orders of Parliament reads, by adding more flesh to Article 104: “No Question for decision in the House shall be proposed for determination unless there are present in the House not less than one-half of all the Members of the House, and, except otherwise provided in the Constitution, the Question proposed shall be determined by the majority of the votes of the Members present and voting.”
Last Saturday, the Speaker reportedly flew to Dubai to continue with his chemotherapy treatment for cancer and he is not expected to return until Tuesday, 14th December, 2021. This means that one of the two deputies, Joseph Osei-Owusu, MP, First Deputy Speaker, and Andrew Asiamah Amoako, Second Deputy Speaker, will have to preside at any giving sitting.
The question that students of parliamentary proceedings and constitutional law are asking is this: will this not deny the Majority side an MP, leaving both sides with 137 MPs each, excluding the person presiding? How then does the Majority intend to come by a substantive motion to overturn last Friday’s decision, even if all 138 MPs are present?
Article 102 of the Constitution says, “A quorum of Parliament, apart from the person presiding, shall be one-third of all the members of Parliament.”
However, when it comes to proposing a question to be voted upon, the Constitution calls for a higher number of at least 50% of the total membership of the House to be present. In voting, there are three options, Yes, No and Abstention, with the Nos and Abstentions usually counted together.
Also, Article 104(2) says that “The Speaker shall have neither an original nor casting vote.” In countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, India and Canada, where the Speaker is a member of parliament, the constitution allows such a speaker to have a casting vote when there is a tie.
But, in Ghana, where the Speaker is not an MP, the Constitution grants no such privilege, stressing further under Article 104(3) that “Where the votes on any motion are equal it shall be taken to be lost.”
The Standing Orders in 109(2) restates this point in direct reference to the Speaker: “Mr. Speaker shall have neither an original nor a casting vote and if upon any Question before the House the votes are equally divided the motion shall be lost.”
Order 109(3), which deals with Deputy Speakers, reads: “A Deputy Speaker or any other Member presiding shall not retain his original vote while presiding.” The “original vote” refers to the inherent right to vote which every MP has by dint of being a representative of his constituents.
Even though the Standing Orders are silent on a Deputy Speaker (who is an MP) having a casting vote, it is very clear that the MP as a person presiding cannot exercise his original vote as MP during the time that he is actively presiding over proceedings.
What this all means is that Tuesday’s show down may be even more dramatic than what Ghanaians witnessed Friday, and perhaps akin to the drama in the early hours of January 7, which led to the Speaker nominee of the ruling party being rejected and that of the opposition NDC being sworn in.
Friday’s walkout of the Majority, which was criticized by many and ridiculed by others for running away from their own Budget, may after all turn out to be strategic, if indeed it works out to be that which denied the Minority the numbers mandatory to propose a question and vote on it conclusively.
Indeed, Asaase News is reliably informed that, by Friday, the New Patriotic Party was short by one MP and that for them to have remained in the Chamber would have legitimized the inevitable ‘No’ votes against the 2022 Budget.
The walkout by the Majority side was ostensibly triggered by the decision of the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Alban Bagbin, to walk the Finance Minister out before a head count on the decision by the Speaker to put before the House for a vote on a request by the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, to suspend plenary proceedings on the Budget.
This was to allow him more time to engage the leadership on both sides with the view to addressing unresolved concerns raised on aspects of the Budget, notably the introduction of a new tax, E-Levy, at 1.75% of the value of electronic transactions above GHS100.00, contentiously, the tax on mobile money transfers.