The tension between the Minority in Parliament and the Speaker of Parliament, Prof Mike Oquaye, has escalated a step further with the National Democratic Congress (NDC) legislators warning the Speaker against any further acts of what they said was disrespect towards their leadership.
This was during the debate on the slash in petroleum taxes on Thursday, February 15.
The bill which was presented under a certificate of urgency, is expected to amend the Special Petroleum Tax act, 2014(Act 879) and to provide for a change from an ad valorem rate to a specific tax rate on selected petroleum products. This will see a 1.39% decrease in petrol with diesel being reduced by 2.6% effective the 16th of February when the President assents to the bill.
With the conclusion of debate, the Minority led by their Chief Whip, Alhaji Muntaka Mubarak, attempted to arrest the vote amidst arguments that the House didn’t have numbers to pass the bill.
However proceedings continued while the leaders of the minority stood on their feet for close to 10 minutes.
When they finally caught the Speaker’s eye, Minority leader, Haruna Iddrisu, said any further unfair conduct by the Speaker will not be taken lightly by the opposition side.
“You owed me every duty and every standard of care to hear me on this matter, I’m within the rules. Mr Speaker, you are chair of this House, you must hold us together…nobody has an objection to what we are doing. A revision of the Petroleum Tax, I did a press conference, we spoke on it [and] it is a good thing to do so if I rose, Mr Speaker, you owe me. I don’t want to ever disrespect you but if you invite me I will,” He said.
Adaklu MP, Kwame Agbodza, and Sagnarigu MP, Alhaji A.B.A Fuseini also criticised the Speaker over what they said was lack of objectivity and fairness since the inception of the 7th Parliament.
However, in a sharp rebuttal, Second Deputy Majority Whip, Matthew Nyindam, has justified the Speaker’s conduct. He told Class FM’s Parliamentary correspondent, Ekow Annan that strictness is important in parliamentary democracy.
“Let’s all respect the rules of the House and admit that it is not all the time that you will have your way. So, it is not all the time that you think that you should get the opportunity to say whatever you want to say,” he indicated.
He explained that the debate on the bill started at 2pm when the House was supposed to be on adjournment “because of some petty arguments”.
“So the Speaker must sometimes bring discipline in the House and that is it,” he emphasised.
The Minority Chief Whip says his side will be forced to come before Parliament with a motion to impeach the Speaker, Prof Mike Ocquaye if he doesn’t shed off his partisan colours.
Muntaka Mubarak says even though they do not want to get to that point, they are likely to “draw the battle line” with that motion.
With just 106 members in Parliament, the Minority will need the support of over 50 Majority MPs before the Speaker can be impeached.
With that task almost impossible, Muntaka Mubarak said a motion of impeachment, even if it may not succeed, will make it clear to the Speaker that they can no longer work with him as a Minority.
The latest outburst follows an attempt by the Minority to arrest a motion by the Majority to reduce, under a certificate of urgency, a special tax imposed on petroleum prices.
Muntaka Mubarak said at the time of filing the motion, the House had not formed a quorum. He said several attempts to draw the attention of the Speaker to that fact failed.
According to him, he stood up for several minutes but the Speaker deliberately turned a blind eye, forcing the Minority Leader himself to rise, with an assured hope that at least, his position as the Minority Leader, will be recognized by the Speaker.
He too, was ignored, he suggested. Joy News’ Parliamentary correspondent Elton John Brobbey who was present in Parliament said the Minority Leader stood up for between two-six minutes but did not catch the eye of the Speaker. But when the Majority Leader rose he was spotted by the Speaker and was given the opportunity to speak.
That did not go down well with Haruna Iddrisu and when he was granted the opportunity to speak, he did not fail to register his protest, laced with threats to disrespect the Speaker in return for disrespecting him.
“I am sad the way you have treated me as Minority Leader. I stood up before the Majority Leader. You owe me that courtesy and that respect. You cannot even after hearing him, you were still not decided whether to hear me or not.
“..May I draw your attention to Order 130 and why I was on my feet. I am within the rules and within the Standing Orders and you must respect the Standing Orders…”
“You owe me every duty and every standard of care to hear me on this. Mr Speaker you are chair of this House and you must hold us together. I don’t want to ever disrespect you but if you invite me, I will.”
He had wanted to draw the Speaker’s attention to the fact that the motion had to go through a second reading before being passed.
Muntaka Mubarak told Joy News’ Evans Mensah, the combined disrespect by the Speaker to him and the Minority Leader is enough testimony that he has become “dictatorial.”
The Minority may not be comfortable to work with him, he stated.
But the Majority Chief Whip Mathew Nyindam said the conduct of the Minority Leader is unacceptable.
“The Minority Leader should not allow youthful exuberance to dictate what words he uses on the floor,” he said.
Nyindam believes Mike Ocquaye has been the Speaker, mostly accommodating of Minority views.
He suspects the Minority is taking leniency of the Speaker to be his witness.
Commenting on what happened on the floor, he explained that this is not the first time a Speaker had given deference to the Majority Leader even when the Leader of the Minority is on his feet.
According to him, under Speaker Doe Adjaho, the Majority Leader had on many occasions been given the opportunity to speak ahead of the Minority Leader only because the Majority Leader is always considered in the House as the Leader.
He does not understand why the Minority will suddenly raise issues with a practice so usual with Parliament.