Absenteeism in Parliament:  Speaker refers 3MPs to Privileges C’ttee. Majority disagrees, Minority hints of challenging decision

The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has referred three Members of the House to the Privileges Committee for absenting themselves for more than 15 days without permission in violation of Article 97(1)(c) of the 1992 Constitution. 

They are Assin Central Member, Kennedy Agyapong, Sara AdwoaSafo, Dome Kwabenya and Ayawaso Central Member, Henry Quartey. 

According to the Speaker of Parliament, the table office has established that the trio, all members of the New Patriotic Party formed majority caucus, has absented themselves for more than 15 sittings of the House during this meeting which commenced on January 25, 2022. 

The referral, however, did not go without resistance from some Members with the Majority disagreeing and Minority Chief Whip and MP for Asawase, indicating that he would come with a substantive motion to challenge same. 

In a formal communication to the House at the commencement of proceedings in Accra yesterday, Mr Bagbin gave the Committee, chaired by the First Deputy Speaker and Member for Bekwai, Joseph OseiOwusu, two weeks after the House returns from recess to present its report. 

“As is my understanding of Article 79(1)(c) and Order 16(1) of the Orders of Parliament, and the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Professor KwakuAsarevs the Attorney-General and three others, I hereby refer the said Members to the Committee of Privileges for consideration and report to the House.” 

Mr Bagbin was of the view that though the Constitution did not indicate if the 15-days threshold should be continuous or not, per his understanding and guided by the 1960 and the 1969 Constitutions where it is clear that the number of days should be consecutive, lawmakers in the fourth republic must not necessarily be absent for 15 consecutive sittings to be referred to the Committee. 

The absenteeism of Members, he said has become a matter of national interest and that his attention has been called to the phenomenon hence his referral.

But the Minority Chief Whip said the Speaker could not make that determination to refer their colleagues to the Committee based on a petition sent to him by an outsider. 

The Standing Orders provide in 76(1) that “every application to Parliament shall be in the form of a petition, and every petition must be presented by a Member who shall be responsible for the observance of the rules…” 

This provision, Alhaji Muntaka said incapacitates the Speaker from accepting petition from non Members on the conduct of the lawmakers. 

“The danger, colleagues, is that if we allow speakers to take petition from outsiders to refer MPs to the Privileges Committee, we will be doing ourselves the greatest disservice.”

He fears that “if one day we get a dictator speaker who will receive petition from outsiders and begin to penalise Members, [then we are in trouble]. It is on this that I call on all of us to resist the attempt by Mr Speaker to refer our colleagues to the Privileges Committee and if there is the need, let us get one of us who is convinced that our colleagues should go to the Privileges Committee to do that.” 

“Today, we may have a Speaker who we think may be unbiased and if we allow this to pass, it would become precedent and tomorrow, it may hurt each and every one of us. It is on that basis that I stand to say that Mr Speaker, under Order 93(5), your decision would be challenged by a substantive motion,” he submitted.  

The Minority Leader and MP for Tamale South, Haruna Iddrisu, however thinks the Speaker in principle should be declaring the seats vacant because it has already been established the three have breached the provision of the constitution. 

Mr Iddrisu said the phrase “reasonable explanation” in Article 79(1)(c) refers to when the Member is seeking permission to be absent and not before the Privileges Committee. 

“Mr Speaker, we have difficulty with the position you have taken and we will do what is appropriate within the Constitution and Standing Orders to challenge your decision,” MrIdrissu hinted. 

The Majority caucus, on the other hand were of the view that the determination of the breach of privileges must be the duty of the Committee and not plenary. 

Member for Nandom and Minister for the Interior, Ambrose Dery, held that the determination of impropriety or otherwise against an MP in Article 97(1)(c) ends at the Committee and not the plenary and that subjecting the work of the Committee to the scrutiny of the plenary would be “unconstitutional.” 

MrKyei-Mensah-Bonsu, the Majority Leader and Member for Suame, who agrees with Mr Dery said “that determination (in 97(1)(c)) is made by the Committee and plenary. So Mr Speaker, once the Committee makes that recommendation, they submit a report to plenary but for information and not for us to vote on. 

But Tamale North MP, AlhassanSuhuyini said the Orders provide in 164(2) that the Privileges Committee “recommend to the House such actions as the Committee may consider appropriate” and not to conclude the fate of any Member without scrutiny to the plenary as was being championed by the Majority caucus. 

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