The drama surrounding the approval or otherwise of the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of Government took a new turn yesterday as Parliament descended into chaos, forcing the First Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei-Owusu, to suspend the House abruptly.
But for the intervention of the Marshalls, the Mace, the authority of the House, would have been carried away by agitated members of the Minority.
The Speaker’s chair was taken away from its original spot and thrown to the floor after the First Deputy Speaker vacated the seat upon suspending the House for one hour.
The confusion erupted after Mr Osei-Owusu, MP for Bekwai, ruled that he was not a Speaker and was eligible to be counted to make up the numbers present in the House even when he was presiding.
The Minority was seeking to rescind the approval of the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of Government for the year ending December 31, 2022 by the Majority caucus at sitting on Tuesday.
The House has been playing hide-and-seek with the budget as both Majority and Minority caucuses claim victory in approving or rejecting the document.
Presided over by the Speaker, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, the House on Friday rejected the budget with 137 Minority votes in opposition to the document after the Majority bench staged a walk-out in the middle of proceedings.
That decision was, however, overturned on Tuesday by a differently constituted House, consisting of only the Majority caucus and presided over by the First Deputy Speaker.
Seeking to undo Tuesday’s approval by a motion of rescision, the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, coming under Order 50(1) said the House was not properly constituted to overturn the rejection because the presiding Speaker ought not count himself as Members present and voting which eventually took the number to 138; the minimum number needed for a decision to be taken in the House.
“The decision which was taken yesterday (Tuesday) in adopting purportedly a budget statement was unconstitutional, is in betrayal of our rules and Standing Orders, and in betrayal of the 1992 Constitution and particularly so when you (the First Deputy Speaker) in the chair added yourself to number of Members to make a quorum,” he stated.
According to Mr Iddrisu, MP, Tamale South, having assumed the speakership, Mr Osei-Owusu could not be added to the number of members present and that as 137 could not reject the budget, 137 could not approve same.
In a spirited defence of the approval of the budget, the Majority Leader, OseiKyei-Mensah-Bonsu said by practice, as catered for by the Constitution, there must be a quorum to do business and a quorum to take a decision.
He argued that when they approved the budget statement, they had met both requirements because the presiding Deputy Speaker was in the chamber first as a Member before being Speaker.
“The First Deputy Speaker added to the numbers to establish the fact that there were 138 Members in the House. He did not partake in the vote,” the Suame MP submitted as he invited Bekwai to make a ruling on the motion.
“It must be clear that a Deputy Speaker is not the Speaker… our role is to assist the Speaker of Parliament in managing the House,” in line with Article 96(1) of the Constitution, Mr Osei-Owusu ruled without putting the motion to a vote as has been the practice to the anger of the Minority Members.
Amidst jeers from the Minority side, Mr Osei-Owusu said “any attempt to read and interpret the Constitution to include the Deputy Speakers is a misreading and a misapplication of the constitution.
“But when Mr Speaker is not available, either of us could preside over the House, so can any other Member if necessary and that Member does not lose his right as a member of the House.”
Things came to a head when the Minority Chief Whip, Mohammed-Mubarak Muntaka, interjected that the Speaker was to put the motion to a vote and not rule on it.