On Constitutional Amendment
Accusations by the Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu and his colleagues that the Speaker of Parliament, Edward Doe Adjaho, took a unilateral decision to refer the recommendations of the Constitution Review Commission on the entrenched provisions in the 1992 Constitution to the Council of State without recourse to the House, has turned out to be untrue. His own letter reveal he was consulted before the referral was made.
Indeed, documents sighted by The Herald paints the Council of State Chairman, Madam Cecilia Johnson, as not seeking an expert opinion on the recommendations from the Constitution Review Commission, referred to her by the Speaker, but ignorantly fell into the trap set by the Minority.
Many are of the view that since she was not a lawyer, she should have sought a legal opinion, before taking a decision on the matter by siding with the Minority.
Two of the documents in possession of The Herald reveal that the Minority Leader was in the know of the referral of the recommendations, and that the referral to the Council of State was done purely on the basis of Constitutional provision on amendments of entrenched provisions of the 1992 Constitution.
First, was an April 30, 2014 memo signed by the Minority Leader to the Speaker, acknowledging discussions the two of them had held on the referral of the recommendations to the Council of State.
Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu’s letter was titled: “Referral of Constitutional (Amendment) (Entrenched Provisions) Bill, 2014 to the Council of State” said “Further to the discussions you and I had on the above-stated subject matter you, Rt. Hon. Speaker, have relayed your communication to the Council of State as you indicated to me you intended to do”.
This means his accusation that the Speaker took a unilateral decision was untenable.
The Minority Leader, had pointed out in his letter “that by some happenstance the communication to you (speaker) from the Attorney-General is dated 28th April, 2014, the same day of the inauguration of the National Interest Dialogue facilitated by the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) and which advocated for Multi-Party Governance (MPG) reforms as part of the Constitutional review process before the 2016 elections”.
Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu’s, two-page letter went on to say “I do not want to believe that the import of this is to scuttle the initiative to broaden the space for democratic engagement by IDEG and supported by National Peace Council, National House of Chiefs, Manhyia Palace, GBC, KNUST, Star Ghana, USAID, Daily Graphic, DANIDA etc”.
The Minority Leader, could not fathom the rationale in sending the bill to Council of State, instead of allowing Parliament; the peoples representative to consider it first.
The Council of State Chairman, Madam Cecilia Johnson, subsequently fell in agreement with Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, following a protest letter to her, which was later followed by a press conference by the Minority Leader.
In a letter to the Speaker copied to the Minority Leader, Madam Cecilia Johnson acknowledged that “the position taken by the Minority Leader to be the correct interpretation of the Constitution”.
Madam Cecilia Johnson’s letter stated that the Council is “therefore returning the proposed amendment containing the bill to the Speaker to take it to Parliament”.
But another letter sighted by The Herald, dated May 8, 2014 and sent to the Chairperson of the Council of State, Madam Cecilia Johnson, Mr. Adjaho, who is a lawyer by profession explained that “I acted in full compliance with the relevant provisions of the Constitution on the matter”.
He continued that “in referring the bill to the Council of State, I was acting under the constitutional obligation imposed on the Speaker by article 290 (2) of the Constitution which provides that,”A bill for the amendment of an entrenched provision shall, before Parliament proceeds to consider it, be referred by the Speaker to the Council of State for its advice and the Council of State shall render advice on the bill within thirty days after receiving it”.
”If I may ask, could Parliament have halted the referral if the House was sitting? Mr. Adjaho questioned.
The Speaker told the Chairperson of the Council of State that “as you may be aware, Article 290, clause 3, provides “the bill shall be published in the Gazette but shall not be introduced into Parliament until the expiry of six months after the publication in the Gazette under this clause”. I am aware that this bill has not yet been gazetted for the mandatory period of six months and therefore cannot be introduced into Parliament at this stage. If then the bill cannot be introduced, what would Parliament be considering? Furthermore, it is trite law that where the Constitution has provided for dealing with a matter in Parliament, that constitutional procedure takes precedence over the Standing Orders, practice or conventions of the House”.
“It is also worth placing on record that the opinion of the Honourable Minority Leader which you are relying on is at variance with the opinion of the Honourable Majority Leader”, the Speaker stated.
Mr. Adjaho concluded that “indeed, if it is the view of any authority or person that my act of referring the said bill to the Council of State is in breach of any constitutional provision, that authority or person may seek redress at the appropriate forum and I shall comply with the resulting decision or outcome. Until then, the Constructional (Amendment) (Entrenched Provisions) Bill, 2014 is deemed by me to have been properly referred to the Council of State”.
The letter sent to the Chairperson of the Council of State, was copied the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong.
Mr. Kyei Mensah Bonsu, last week went viral when he organized a press conference and accused Mr. Adjaho of taken a decision on the
Constitutional Review Commission’s recommendations on entrenched provisions, without seeking the consent of Parliament.
The action he said, was unconstitutional and inappropriate, adding that,” the whole process of constitutional amendment is turning out to be nothing other than an executive review of the national constitution”.
The Minority ranking member on Legal and Parliamentary Committee, Joseph Osei-Owusu, later told Joy News that the Chairman of the Council of State, Madam Cecilia Johnson in a letter to the Speaker copied to the Minority Leader, acknowledged “the position taken by the Minority Leader to be the correct interpretation of the constitution”.
Mr. Osei-Owusu, commended the Council’s action as being “correct” and also “vindicates us” and asked Mr. Adjaho to respect the Council’s directive and lay the bill before Parliament so that a consensus can be reached on the amendments proposed.
But the Majority Chief Whip, Alhaji Muntaka Mubarak, is contesting the decision of the Council saying, Madam Cecilia Johnson, Chairman of the Council of State “acted alone” when she returned the document, and stressed “I am sorry for her”.
Because the Council’s chair acted based on the letter she received from the Minority Leader, Alhaji Muntaka, questioned if she now takes advice from the Minority Leader.
“If she had to take advice, I wonder if he wanted to take advice from the Minority without necessarily even hearing from the Majority Leader or the Speaker”.
He disclosed that the Speaker has “responded appropriately” to the Council that the document is assumed to be with the Council, and insisted that he did nothing wrong referring the document to them.
The Speaker, he said has, therefore, challenged the Council chair to seek interpretation of the Constitution at the appropriate quarters, because “he thinks that per his own judgment, his understanding of the Constitution, he acted right, and therefore has referred the document back to the Council of State, telling them that so far as he is concerned the document is before the Council of State”.