The days of scuffles in Ghana’s Parliament are not over as the Supreme Court judges led by Jones Dotse, have killed any spirit of consensus building in the House with the ruling that the Deputy Speaker votes, while presiding over proceedings in the House, something the standing orders have for 30 years prohibited.
While, the First Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei Owusu, whose conduct sparked the issue that eventually landed in the courtroom, has welcomed the ruling of the Supreme Court, describing the ruling as “refreshing”, many members of the Minority National Democratic Congress (NDC) are not going to respect the ruling.
The Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, Samuel Nartey George of Ningo Prampram, Sagnarigu MP, A.B.A Fuseini, Dr Clement Apaak MP for Builsa South and Rockson-Nelson Etse Kwami Dafeamekpor MP, representing the South Dayi Constituency in the Volta Region and several others are willing to defy the Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling has also seen ex-President John Mahama and his successor, President Nana Akufo-Addo, shadow boxing each other.
While, Mr Mahama, appears unhappy about the ruling, saying it amounted to Judiciary’s interference into the work of the legislature, President speaking from Dubai, insist that the decision of the Supreme Court on the voting rights of Deputy Speakers, cannot amount to judicial interference in the work of Parliament, adding “there is nobody in the Ghanaian State that is above the fundamental law of the land.
But Dr Apaak in particular wrote “folks we wait to see who will enter the Chamber of Parliament to restrain us from preventing an attempt by a presiding Deputy Speaker to vote. The Supreme Court doesn’t decide what happens in Parliament, the constitution and our standing orders do.
“We resisted attempts to use all kinds of schemes and plots, including a military invasion of the Chamber of Parliament, to get Rt. Hon. Mike Oquaye, their preferred, elected in the early hours of January 7th 2020.
Joseph Osei Owusu, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) MP for Bekwai after the ruling, had insisted that he will continue to interpret the Constitution and the standing orders of Parliament as he understands it.
“Matters that have never arisen, are now on the fore due to the numbers we have in parliament. Anytime there is disagreement, as I have said before, I will interpret the rules and the laws as I understand it.”
He stated that those who hold contrary views to his rulings can always seek redress at the appropriate forum.
“I encourage those who disagree with me to boldly state their position or refer it to the appropriate body like the Supreme Court to guide us. As of now, at the end of it all, we are being guided. What has not happened before where the way was not clearly stated by our standing orders has now been cleared by the Supreme Court, and I think it will help us in our democracy and practice going forward.”
Speaking to the press after the Supreme Court judgment which many describe as an affirmation of his decision, Joseph Osei Owusu, described the judgment of the apex court as refreshing.
“I’m glad that the decision practically affirms the position I took. There is still some misinterpretation as to whether I participated in the vote itself on the night of the 30th or not. Anyone who saw the video will attest to the fact that it was a voice vote and I didn’t participate in it, however, I insisted that I be counted as a Member of Parliament present to constitute the quorum before a decision was taken. Indeed, this decision affirms that position I took, and I find that refreshing.”
Dr Apaak in a statement sent to The Herald wrote “we stood our ground, resisted the oppression and oppressors, and voted for Rt. Hon. Speaker Alban Sumana Bagbin as Speaker of this 8th Parliament. He was elected, he didn’t become speaker by conferment and consensus as claimed by some dishonest and insincere elements.
“We will continue to resist any attempt by other arms of government to meddle with the work of Parliament. Parliament is a master of its rules, we make our rules and they are not at variance with the constituency.
“As our leader Hon. Haruna Iddrissu has noted, this disappointing ruling of the Supreme Court of Ghana amounts to a judicial interference in time tested Parliamentary practice and establishment convention.
“And yes, the Supreme Court’s ruling is a judicial support for the KILLERE-Levy Levy. However, this will not change our resolve to vote 137 no against the much hated, rejected and obnoxious extortion scheme called E-levy”, adding “we will resist any attempt to use illegitimate means to push the killer E-Levy down the throat of Ghanaians.
Former President John Mahama, noted that the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that Deputy Speakers can vote while presiding, sets a dangerous precedent for the country’s Parliamentary procedure and described the verdict by the Court as “shocking but not surprising.”
According to him, the Wednesday ruling was “an unfortunate interpretation for convenience that sets a dangerous precedent of judicial interference in parliamentary procedure for the future.”
“A unanimous 7-0? Shocking but not surprising. An unfortunate interpretation for convenience that sets a dangerous precedent of judicial interference in Parliamentary procedure for the future”, he wrote
But President Akufo-Addo fired back, saying the suggestion that Parliament is beyond the scrutiny of the Supreme Court is to suggest that Parliament is a law unto itself.
“I’m not sure people who are saying this have actually taken the time to read the Constitution of our country. It says so in black and white. The legislative powers of the State, which is vested in Parliament, are subject to the Constitution’s provisions.
“All organs of the Ghanaian State, including me as the Head of the Executive, we are all subject to the teachings of the Constitution,” the President said.
He continued, “There is nobody in the Ghanaian State that is above the fundamental law of the land. It will lead to the very matter that we have striven so long to avoid – the concentration of unregulated power in our state – we don’t want that. And we brought about this Constitution to allow that to not reoccur.”
President Akufo-Addo, made this known in an interview with Charles Takyi Boadu of the Daily Guide Newspaper, yesterday Thursday, March 10, 2022, on the sidelines of Dubai Expo 2020.
Astonished by the “public energy” dissipated in the debate, he was happy with the unanimity of the decision taken by the Supreme Court, especially as it is the most emphatic way in which the Court can pronounce.
Touching on suggestions that the Parliament is beyond the scrutiny of the Supreme Court regarding issues of interpretation, the President indicated that “the whole principle of judicial review was developed by the judges, both in America and England, to be able to check the activities of Parliament.”
Indeed, in Ghana, he stated that the first major constitutional case, which looked at the work of Parliament was in the case, Tuffuor vs Attorney-General, where the Act of Parliament, the decision of the Parliament to subject the then Chief Justice, the late Frederick Kwesi Apaloo, to a vetting process in Parliament had been expressly forbidden by the Constitution.
“And that is the reason why the late Dr Amoako Tuffuor took the matter to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court made it quite clear that all the activities of all the institutions of our Republic that impugn, that violate the Constitution are subject to the powers of the Court and to the Declarations of the Court,” he said.
President Akufo-Addo continued, “Me, I want to repeat it, as President, Head of the Executive, I am subject to the Constitution and to law. I cannot set myself above it.
“Everybody has his remit, but those remits are subject to the operations of the Constitution, and I am happy that the Constitution has been so declared in such an emphatic manner by the Supreme Court, I support the Supreme Court to continue to do its work.”
But MP for Sagnarigu, Alhassan Bashir Alhassan Fuseini described as politically motivated, the Supreme Court’s ruling that a Deputy Speaker can vote while presiding over proceedings of the House and accused the Supreme Court of reducing “themselves to political appendages”.
“We say from the onset that this is a shameful day for our democracy. That is a very farcical, shameful, politically motivated ruling by the Judiciary, the Apex Court of the land,” he noted.
He said that the Supreme Court being referred to as the Highest Judicial body of the land is “just theory”, adding that “in practice, their practice, their conduct doesn’t show so, and it’s indicating clearly by the ruling that they are consistently churning out.”
Mr Fuseini noted that Article 102 clearly indicates that “even apart from the person presiding, the quorum is constituted by one-third of members on the floor.”
The Sagnarigu MP, said although it has been mandated, as the organ of government, with the power to interpret the law, it does not mean the Supreme Court should “misinterpret the constitution or twist the law to suit its own political interests.”
Mr Fuseini stated that the ruling by the Apex Court is not in the interest of Ghana’s democracy, therefore, must be challenged.
“I will tell you that if it’s allowed to go, they will subvert our democracy process because it doesn’t mean that because you have the authority to interpret the law, you can interpret the law anyhow,” he noted.
He added that the Minority in Parliament would resist anything that flouts the Constitution.
The Minority Leader in Parliament, Haruna Iddrisu, has criticised the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying it is a travesty of parliamentary justice.
“This ruling of the Supreme Court, we are not surprised, but we are utterly disappointed in the Supreme Court which is determined to support a struggling President with an ailing economy. This ruling of the Supreme Court can at best be described as judicial support for e-levy…to set aside Parliament standing orders, is a serious travesty of parliamentary justice,” he said.
But reacting to the court’s ruling, Sam George said “parliament is a master of its own affairs and that the procedure in parliament resides in the bosom of Mr. Speaker,” and that allowing anyone presiding over proceedings to take part in a vote he is superintending will amount to an illegality.
“I do not know what position my leadership will take or my party will take but my principled position is one that states that anyone presiding, be it Mr. Speaker or any of his deputies, has absolutely no business taking part in the vote on the floor of the house and we will employ every legal means within the parliamentary procedure to ensure that this long time tested practice of parliament which is 30 years old this year is upheld…”
He insisted that anyone in a conflict of interest situation cannot be allowed to vote, and wondered why the judges were silent on the standing orders of parliament that say that the chairman of a committee does not have a vote.
“The chairman of a committee in parliament does not have an original vote so why are they not saying that that is also a deprivation of his constituents?
“We pray the Lord Justices, their role is to bring clarity, not rather lead us into confusion and obfuscate what the facts are. The law is clear, we have heard them, they have passed their ruling but parliament, we are masters of our own procedure, we will carry out what we believe is right on the floor of the chamber.”
Sam George vowed to stand up to anyone or arm of government that seeks to interfere in the business of parliament, describing the Supreme Court decision as a dangerous slope as it presupposes that someone may go to court for the courts to hold an MP criminally liable for comments on the floor of the house.
“This is a Pandora Box we will not and should not open… That is why I said to you that we must be careful the door we want to open. So right now, when I carry out my business on the floor, you want to subject me, acting in lawful capacity as a member of parliament, not outside parliament (but) on the floor of the house, you want to subject my actions to the whims and caprices of the judiciary? Let’s be careful where we are going in this country, all because of an e-Levy?”