In what is widely seen as a notorious attack on the integrity of the highest court of the land, former President John Dramani Mahama has described the famous Supreme Court ruling that Deputy Speakers of Parliament have the right to vote in decision-making while presiding over proceedings of the House as an “unfortunate interpretation for convenience”, of the 1992 constitution.
A seven-member Supreme Court panel, presided over by Justice Jones Victor Mawulorm Dotse, on Wednesday unanimously declared that the two Deputy Speakers remain Members of Parliament (MPs) when they are presiding and can vote as well as be counted as present for purposes of decision-making in the Legislature.
Accordingly, the apex court ruled that Order 109 (3) of the Standing Orders of Parliament, which state that “a Deputy Speaker or any other member presiding shall not retain his original vote while presiding”, is unconstitutional and same is struck out as unconstitutional.
Other members of the seven-member panel were Justices Nene Amegatcher, Professor Nii Ashie Kotey, Mariama Owusu, Avril Lovelace Johnson, Clemence Honyenuga and Yonni Kulendi.
However, in a highly familiar rhetoric, former President Mahama who is staging a comeback to the presidency on the ticket of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) claimed the ruling by the Justices of the Supreme Court was “an unfortunate interpretation for convenience that sets a dangerous precedent of judicial interference in Parliamentary procedure for the future.”
Posting the comment on his Facebook Wall yesterday, the former President’s assertion was said to be an elevation of a politically contrived positon of the Minority in parliament who have also described the ruling as a judicial interference in a time-tested parliamentary practice and established conventions.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Minority leader Haruna Iddrisu claimed that, “Everywhere in the world, in civilised democracies, including the United Kingdom, the presiding officer’s vote is discounted, so, it’s not for nothing that Article 102 provides that ‘A person presiding shall have no original nor casting vote’.”
In his view, the Supreme Court ruling is just a “judicial support for e-levy and nothing more, judicial support for a struggling economy in distress and a judicial support for the restoration of a matter that they have said is constitutional; it’s repugnant to the provisions of Articles 102 and 104”.
Notwithstanding the acknowledgement that the Supreme Court has the mandate to interpret the law, Mr Iddrisu maintained “this is a travesty of parliamentary justice and a stab in the growth and development of multiparty constitutional democracy built on the spirit of checks and balances”.
I’m vindicated – Joe Wise
Meanwhile, First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu has stated that he has been vindicated by the ruling of the Supreme Court.
The MP for Bekwai who is fondly referred to as Joe Wise said the ability of presiding Deputy Speakers to form a quorum has always been a legal provision.
This, he noted however, had never been activated in previous parliaments because of the clear difference in the past between the two main political parties.
Speaking to journalists in Parliament after the Supreme Court ruling, Mr Osei-Owusu said he had always believed he had the right to be counted to form a quorum and vote when it came to decision-making of the House.
“I’m glad that the decision practically affirms the position I took. There’s still some misrepresentation as to whether I participated in the vote itself on the night of 30 January; that, I must emphasise, anybody who is in doubt can go back and look at the clip.
“It was a voice vote and I did not participate in the voice vote. But I insisted that I should be counted as a Member of Parliament present to constitute the quorum before the decision was taken.
“Indeed, this decision [the Supreme Court ruling of 9 March affirms that position that I took. I find that very refreshing.
“Matters that have never arisen are now in the fore because of the numbers we have in the chambers, so any time there’s disagreement, as I’ve said already, I’ll interpret the rule and the law as I understand it.
“I encourage people who disagree with me to boldly state their position and, if need be, refer it to the appropriate body, such as the Supreme Court to guide us.”
A lawyer and law lecturer at the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA), Justice Abdulai, petitioned the apex court to declare as unconstitutional, First Deputy Speaker Joseph Osei-Owusu’s action of counting himself as one of the MPs on the floor even while presiding over the proceedings of the house in relation to the formation of a quorum for the passage of the 2022 budget which had earlier been purportedly rejected and thrown out by the minority side.
Justice Abdulai was of the view that once a deputy speaker, who is an MP presides in the stead of the Speaker, he loses his right to vote.
In the unanimous decision, the apex court, held that upon a true and proper interpretation of Article 103 and 104 of the 1992 Constitution, a Deputy Speaker, who is a Member of Parliament, does not lose his right to take part in decision-making in parliament.