There was a ‘lighter’ showdown in Parliament on Tuesday when the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Alban S. K. Bagbin intimated to his long time friend and the Majority Leader of the House, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu that he was only a leader of government business in the House.
But he [Bagbin], when it comes to Parliament, was the topmost official and was also the third in line [hierarchy] as President of Ghana in the absence of the President.
Mr Bagbin had referred a petition by the former Chief Executive Officer of the UT Bank and the founder of uniBank Ghana Limited over the revocation of the licenses of the two banks by the Bank of Ghana in 2018 to a yet to be formed seven member Parliamentary committee to look into it and present a motion to the House for debate and the way forward.
The petition which was laid by the NDC Member of Parliament for Bawku Central, Mr Mahama Ayariga was challenged by Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu.
The Speaker then overruled his assertion which resulted in a back and forth between the two.
Responding to the petition, the Speaker said by the rules of Parliament when a citizen had a concern and was to petition Parliament, he did so through a Member of Parliament, who had two options to present such motion.
He said the member could come through the direction of the Speaker to lay the petition or, after the admission of the Speaker, to go through the process of motion.
With Parliament’s rules being scanty on how the House must handle such petition processes, Mr Bagbin said the House must work out on processes and procedure on how to handle petitions in the new Standing Orders which is being prepared.
“It is not for the Speaker to be a jury and a judge at the same time. The Speaker does not take the decisions of the House but it is the House that takes the decisions,” he said.
According to him, due to the nature of the petition, the petitioners and others would have to appear before the committee, a practice that pertained in other Parliaments.
He explained that what he had done was to admit the petition, saying that “by reason of the Constitution and Standing Orders, I do not have powers to be disallowing petitions.”
“Petitions are not necessarily directed at government or members of government; they are concerns raised by concerned citizens on issues that they feel they must get some relief and one of the sources is to go through their MPs to the House,” he said.
Speaker has no powers to admit petitions – Majority Leader’s challenge
In a reaction, the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu (OKMB), said he strongly disagreed with the position the Speaker wanted to take.
“You have made a statement to the effect that the petition must be referred to a committee to make some proposals, but perhaps we will leave it like that. But I disagree with the position that you have taken,” he said.
He indicated the House was already inundated with several petitions.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu had argued that whilst Mr Bagbin was the Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, he had insisted members should speak from their seats so that he will be able to identify them.
But argued that Mr Bagbin was relaxing the rules when he is now the substantive Speaker and therefore encouraged Mr Bagbin to be consistent.
It was at the point that Mr Bagbin said: “Honourable Majority Leader, the business of government is led by you [OKMB] in this House, you don’t lead Parliament, you lead the business of the House, you lead the Majority, and you lead government business.”
“As to the role of the Speaker, you haven’t reached there yet, when you get there, you do so.”
“Please, you’ve been my [Bagbin] very good friend for all these years, until I became Speaker and everybody in Ghana is doubting whether you are really my friend.”
“I’ve received a lot of calls about that, and I said you are my friend, and you are still my friend but people are doubting it.”
“Please don’t give credence to that doubt,” Mr Bagbin said.
Mr Kyei Mensah then responded:
“Mr Speaker, respectfully, I have not been your friend until you became the Speaker. You and I know that we are still friends but we agree to disagree…, Mr Speaker, Majority Leaders don’t always act as leaders of the majority caucus and also when their party is in power as leaders of government business, but a majority leader is a leader of the House,” he said.
But, Mr Bagbin rebutted, and said he stated that Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu was the leader of the House.
“But you are not the leader of the Speaker, you know the mood in which you disagree with me, is what is giving credence to whether you are still my friend.”
“It looks like you are my former friend now, because I hear you always on air disagreeing with me and so vehement that people are doubting, is this really my friend, so I’m just drawing your attention, if you want to continue to be my friend, then you know the proper thing to do,” he said amidst laughter from the floor.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu interjected and said it is not for him to want to continue to be a friend of the Speaker. He said that it was a mutual move to be friends but Mr Bagbin said, “you have to be my friend not [for] me to be your friend, at least I have a position in Ghana, ‘Number 3’ what is your number?
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said the ‘Number 3’ for the Speaker is not in government, “Mr Speaker, your Number 3 is not in government.”
Bagbin: “No, I didn’t say in government, I said in the country [Ghana]. What is your position in the country? number [what]?”
But amidst giggling, Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said his position is a versatile utility player, which may have much more significance than yours.”
At that point, Mr Bagbin sarcastically continued to ask him to state the number of his position amidst loud laughs from the floor.