The Speaker of Parliament, has reacted to the Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for the Deputy Speakers of Parliament to vote while presiding over proceedings of the House.
Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, described the decision of the seven judges led by Justice Jones Dotse as “not only an absurdity but a reckless incursion into the remit of Parliament”.
Mr. Bagbin, who had been in Parliament since the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1992, until his election in January 2021, also noted that “the trend of unanimity is equally troubling” ageing “it doesn’t help explore and expand our legal jurisprudence”.
He had served in various capacities in Parliament since becoming the Member of Parliament for Nadowli West Constituency in the Upper West Region including Minority Leader, Majority Leader and a First Deputy under Edward Doe Adzaho.
Mr. Bagbin, who had been a colleague and a friend of President Nana Akufo-Addo when the latter served as the MP for Abukwa South in the Eastern Region also took him on saying “the President’s comment is myopic and unfortunate. It only goes to worsen the schism between the Executive and Parliament”.
The Speaker, who is in Dubai for a medical checkup, in a text sighted by The Herald said “Good morning comrades. I have resisted the temptation of making a comment on the judgment of the Supreme Court on the issue of the voting rights of Deputy Speakers when presiding. But the unfortunate and myopic comment of the President has compelled me to let it out”.
Mr. Bagbin, who is a lawyer by profession, added that “the impartiality of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Presiding Officer has been treasured and fought for by this country throughout our democratic development”.
Interestingly, a video of First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei-Owusu, affirming that he loses his vote whenever he presides over the House, has emerged.
The 37-seconds clip which captures Osei-Owusu, alias Joe Wise, stating “Honourable Members, when it comes to the question of voting, it is clear that anytime any of the Deputy Speakers, or any other member elected to preside is in the chair, that member does not vote. That has never been in dispute. “Anytime a member is presiding, either the Deputy Speaker or a member who by necessity is elected from our main members to preside, that member does not vote,” he stresses.
President Akufo-Addo, on Thursday spoke on ruling from the emirates where he had been attending the Dubai Expo 2020 and expressed delight at the ruling. He insisted that the decision of the Supreme Court on the voting rights of Deputy Speakers cannot amount to judicial inference in the work of Parliament, adding “there is nobody in the Ghanaian State that is above the fundamental law of the land.
But Mr. Bagbin, who is also a lawyer, countered by saying “Mr President, the issue being discussed is not about Parliament being above the law. Everyone knows that Parliament is not above the law. The Executive and the Judiciary are equally not above the law”.
“The issue being discussed is the political question doctrine. It took centuries to detail out the strands of this doctrine and the principles are settled as to when and how this closed book could be opened, adding “Please, I encourage the Plaintiff to go for a review”.
Meanwhile, a former Member of Parliament for South Tongu Constituency, Kenneth Dzirasah, has also waded into the controversy saying the Supreme Court should have allowed parliament to decide for itself whether a deputy speaker of parliament, while presiding, can vote on a matter in parliament or not.
According to him, the judgement given by the Supreme Court may cause reprisal actions which could slowdown legislation in the country especially when there is an insistence on headcount to make any decision.
“The proper thing the court should have done was to say that this is a procedure for parliament and so they should manage it for themselves… This may start reprisals and the possibility that every matter that comes before the House will be determined by a headcount or a vote and that is going to slow down the process of legislation and Ghana will be the loser,” he stated.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a deputy speaker of Parliament, or any other member of the legislature presiding over business of the House, does not lose his or her right to vote while presiding.
Such a Speaker or Member can also be counted as part of the quorum for decision making in the House under article 104(1) of the 1992 Constitution.
The Court, consequently, struck down Order 109 (3) of Parliament’s Standing Orders of Parliament, describing it as “unconstitutional”.
The Order provides that a Deputy Speaker or any other Member of Parliament presiding over the business of the House shall not retain his or her original vote while presiding.
Since the judgement was given, there has been mixed reactions with some suggesting that the judgement is positive and ensures that deputy speakers or anyone presiding still represent their constituents in making a decision in the House, but Ken Dzirasah says the decision was quite disappointing.
“My disappointment in the whole exercise stems from the fact that by this decision, the 1st or 2nd deputy speakers are being put in a position where they are both players and referees and I can’t fathom the justification for that,” he said.
“[While presiding in the stead of the Speaker of Parliament] you sit in that seat and tailor the decisions that are made. It is the decision of the entire House, it does not mean that you are being prevented from partaking in the decision making process,” he added.
Center for Democratic Development (CDD) Ghana Fellow on Law and Justice, Prof. Stephen Kwaku Asare alias “Kwaku Azar” has also spoken on the subject saying the Supreme Court cannot tell Parliament how to run its affairs.
The US-based Ghanaian lawyer and scholar, cautioned against politicizing the office of the Deputy Speakers of Parliament in a facebook arguing that “the requirement that the Speaker not be an MP and that the Deputy Speakers not be from the same political parties are arrangements to enhance the political impartiality of the person presiding over the proceedings of the House”.
“These arrangements are based on our parliamentary history and distinguish our Constitution and Parliament from other countries.
“While questions can be raised as to whether these arrangements have met the framers’ aspiration, there is no gainsaying the fact that the political impartiality of the Speaker is one of the office’s most important features.
“We must continue to work hard to institutionalize the norm that the person presiding as the Speaker is in all aspects of the job a completely non-partisan figure.
“MPs who are elected as Deputy Speakers should understand that they wield substantial powers, which preclude them from being appointed as Ministers and from functioning as ordinary MPs while presiding over the House.
“Their constituents must understand the power, privileges, pork but also the limitations that follow from being named as Deputy Speakers.
“The Speaker of the House of Commons, an MP, is highly respected because of his impartiality. He drives home this impartiality by severing all ties with his former party and becomes non-partisan, once he is elected. His 3 deputies, who are also MPs, while retaining their political affiliation, also become politically impartial. They have understood the importance of a non-partisan presiding officer model since the early 18th century and it has inured to the benefit of their parliament and representative government.
“We have understood the model for 30 years but are on the verge of doing what we do best to all our institutions. We must stay the hands of politicizing an office that we have been trying to depoliticize over the last three decades.