The Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Michael Oquaye, Saturday night suspended sittings indefinitely in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, against expectations of the Minority when the House was due to rise.
Speaker Oquaye said: “Honourable Members, we are suspending sitting on this day, and this Honourable House will stand suspended until the Speaker, in consultation with the leadership of the House, deem it fit to ask the House to resume sitting.”
The decision means the Speaker can recall legislators on any day he chooses to, without the required 14-day notice.
“This action is unprecedented but indeed we are living in unprecedented times and the whole Ghana State is in a state of National Emergency.
“I have faithfully read IPU Bulletin for April 2020 (copy attached). The document states: “Parliaments are currently subject to the same public health and social distancing measures as schools, places of worship or businesses. Yet, in a time of crisis, the role of Parliament is more vital than ever”.
“It states strongly the importance of all Parliaments continuing to sit, since the role of Parliament is vital than ever.”
“Therefore Parliament will have to find new ways and innovations to enhance support and continuing service to the nation.”
Speake Oquaye cited examples from the United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil, Estonia, and Israel, which had gone “virtual” through technology and said: “We are working on how we can apply appropriate technology for further development.”
He noted that despite the dictates of national crisis Parliament should be responsive to the needs of our people, and with reference to Ghana’s Parliament to Standing Order No. 6 said: “In all cases not provided for in these Order, Mr. Speaker shall make provisions as he deems fit.”
Speaker Oquaye added that the House was not rising but suspending sitting indefinitely, adding; “If we should rise, then on any emergency where our intervention will be required we may need two weeks’ notice according to the Constitution and the Standing Orders.”
“Once sitting is suspended we can ask the House to proceed to work in a day or two.”
He informed the House of receiving a letter, which he described as “castigating,’ from Mr Sam George, the Member of Parliament for Ningo Prampram, in which the MP said he could not “attend the Sitting of this House again because sittings are just a waste of his time as the sittings during this period are only to approve loans.”
The Speaker described the situation as “sad”, however commended members for showing commitment during the period of the meeting.
Speaker Oquaye said the House had done a great job and further recalled a number of activities it undertook during the meetings, especially from the date of the World Health Organisation’s declaration of the COVID-19 as a Public Health Emergency and the subsequent declaration of same in Ghana by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
It passed pieces of legislation as the Imposition of Restrictions Act, 2020 (Act 1012), Corporate Insolvency and Restructuring Bill, 2019; Education Regulatory Bodies Bill, 2019; and Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Act, 2020 among others and approved some loan and contract agreements, including tax waivers.
Speaker Oquaye assured Ghanaians that if any emergency should arise, the House would be ready to the task, adding: “We are in a constitutional democratic dispensation and, therefore, the role of Parliament in approving these laudable initiatives of the Executive cannot be over emphasised.”
“How then can these be achieved if our Parliament doesn’t sit in this state of public health emergency occasioned by COVID-19, which threatens our very existence as a people?”
He said it was rather unfortunate that a few MPs had failed to appreciate, in perspective, the need for Parliament to be in session at this critical moment.
“I believe upon sober reflection we would all be agreeable or come to this realisation and move forward in unity and collectively resolve to continue to offer our services, which I dare say is currently in greater demand.
“On this note, I wish to remind all Hon. Members that, it is in the interest of the good people of this country, who gave us their mandate to represent them to heed to the clarion call,” the Speaker said, adding that the House could not adjourn sine die since “our service as a Legislature is still in demand.”
“…We are suspending Sitting on this day, and this Honourable House will stand suspended until the Speaker, in consultation with the leadership of the House, deem it fit to ask the House to resume sitting. This action is unprecedented but indeed we are living in unprecedented times and the whole Ghana State is in a state of National Emergency,” he said.
“……If we should rise, then on any emergency where our intervention will be required we may need two weeks’ notice according to the Constitution and the Standing Orders.”
“Once sitting is suspended we can ask the House to proceed to work in a day or two,” Prof Oquaye said.
However, Minority Leader Haruna Iddrisu, when invited by the Speaker to make a comment, said he was shocked at the decision of the Speaker to suspend the House indefinitely.
He objected to the suspension and described it as dictatorial, arguing that the Minority would not accept the suspension because the Speaker had no power to prorogue Parliament, a position rejected by Majority Leader Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, who said the Standing Orders empowered the Speaker to use discretion in such times.
The Majority Caucus stood up as the Speaker and his retinue exited the Chamber, but the Minority sat still, and later queried why the Speaker did not use the exit he had often used after suspension; and why the mace followed him as he exited.
Later at a press conference, the Minority Leader said the Speaker had not treated the House fairly adding that his conduct was a “threat to parliamentary democracy in the country.”
“I will remind him that he is not the House and it is not for nothing that the Standing Orders in Order 42 provide that he should consult the House and not even the leaders were consulted.”
The Minority insisted its members were not against a recall of Parliament to deal with matters of COVID-19 but the Speaker must respect the rules.
However, the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, said at a counter press conference that given the fact of the abnormal times the country was in, the Speaker applied himself to Standing Order Six, which provides him the power to make provisions as he deemed fit.
On why the Speaker did not use the exit after the House was suspended, the Majority Leader queried if there were any provision in the Standing Order that specified exit points for the Speaker.
As for the mace being taken away, the Majority Leader indicated that it was gold-plated and it would not be prudent to leave it in the Chamber.