Here are highlights of what MPs discussed this week - starting Tuesday, 4th June
Issue 1: Ayariga Seeks Direction On MP Immunity
The Fourth Republican Constitution is clear on 'equality before the law'; the same constitution in Articles 117, 118 and 122 precludes a sitting Member of Parliament (MP) from civil or criminal prosecution (at periods when the said MP is en route to or returning from a parliamentary business). However, the constitution grants prosecutors a leeway to serve a sitting MP summons from the Court outside parliamentary sitting times such as recess and any working day that parliament is not in session and sitting. On Tuesday, Mr. Mahama Ayariga (MP, Bawku Central) filed an application to the Speaker of the House, Rt Hon. Mike Oquaye, seeking his direction about the constitutional provision regarding prosecutorial immunity of MPs. His application is a result of a writ of summons served to his office by the special prosecutor to answer questions on an alleged criminal matter involving [Ayariga]. On the floor of Parliament, Mr. Ayariga said the action by the special prosecutor could expose sitting MPs to similar actions in the future which may affect how they work thereby weakening the institution of Parliament. He continued by admitting that he is not above the law and has instructed his lawyers to represent him in the Court while he attends parliamentary proceedings.
The Speaker, Rt Hon Prof Mike Oquaye, after careful consideration of Mr. Ayariga’s application, ruled that the constitutional provision that shields MPs from criminal and civil prosecution ought to be respected so that “legitimate business of Parliament is not disrupted”. His ruling was premised on the provision in Articles 117, 118, and 122 of the constitution which talks of a ‘partial immunity’ given to the Speaker, Members, or the Clerk to Parliament whiles “he is on his way to attending or returning from any proceedings of Parliament”; however acknowledging that MPs are not above the law. He advised MPs to be mindful of the constitutional provision and that “no person should canvas this point which is rather spurious”. Rt Hon Mike Oquaye cited examples of periods in Ghana’s history where sitting MPs have been tried in court while they were transacting parliamentary business: he spoke about the case involving a former Member for Keta constituency, Mr. Dan Abodakpi who agreed with the court to attend its hearing on his case on Mondays and any other day when Parliament was not sitting. The Speaker also gave examples dating back to the Prevention Detention Act (PDA) era where some opposition Members were hauled before court resulting in they losing their seats to outright dismissal from Parliament after missing parliamentary proceedings for 14-sitting days.
Speaker Oquaye warned of this path as “dangerous for Ghana’s democracy” and to the human rights of sitting MPs, adding that MPs can be available for prosecution in the court on days that Parliament is not sitting, which is not a public holiday and on the recess of Parliament.
The Speaker granted leave to Mahama Ayariga who in his application also sought permission to attend the Court hearing at 1 O’clock in the afternoon that Tuesday, adding that an arrangement can be made between Mr. Ayariga’s legal team and the Court on what times he can make a full appearance in his trial.
Issue 2: Parliament Appoints An Auditor for Office of Auditor-General
The House on Friday approved Messrs Kwesie and Partners, a chartered accounting firm, to audit the accounts of the Auditor-General of Ghana. The audit will cost the State an amount of GHS 50,000 annually. In a report presented to Parliament by the Ad-hoc Committee on the appointment of an Auditor to audit the accounts of the Office of the Auditor-General, the decision to settle on Kwesie and Partners was because their financial proposal was the ‘most competitive’ among the 3 shortlisted firms out of the 5 firms considered by the committee in total. The audit of the financial accounts of the Auditor-General will constitute 2 annual audits spanning from 1st January 2016 to 31st December 2016 and 1st January 2017 to 31st December 2017. The auditor’s mandate ends after it has completed and submitted its report up to the 2017 audit unless Parliament renews its mandate for another term.
Issue 3: Second Reading of Bills
Motion for the second reading of Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill, 2019 was moved on Friday by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Ms. Gloria Akuffo. Debates were held. The Bill has been read for the second time and proceeds to the consideration stage.
Vigilantism and Related Offences Bill contains 10 clauses. The object of the Bill is to “disband political party vigilante groups in the country and to proscribe other acts of vigilantism.” In a report presented by the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament, the committee observed that existing laws which touch aspects of vigilantism such as the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) and the Political Parties Act, 2000 (Act 574) treat most offences as misdemeanors and are “not punitive enough”.
The committee also observed that the definition of vigilantism in the Bill which is reflective of what is in the dictionary means something different from the Ghanaian understanding of the term. The Committee proposed amendments based on Article 3(2) of the Constitution for consideration of the House. On this basis, the committee has also urged the Attorney-General to review the memorandum accompanying the Bill.
The Bill will not only focus on vigilantism as it is but also has its scope widened to cover other violent incidents associated with chieftaincy, religion and '‘galamsay’'.
The Bill identifies 7 political vigilante groups in the country to be disbanded. They are; the Hawks, invisible Forces, Delta Forces, Azorka Boys, Kandahar Boys, and Bolga Bulldogs. However, the committee identified 19 additional political party vigilante groups in the country based on research conducted by CDD-Ghana and KAIPTC; and has proposed that the 19 should be added to the list already in the Bill for disbandment.
The Bill would prohibit the formation, organisation, operation or promotion of the formation, organisation, operation or activities of a new political party vigilante group; offenders may face terms of imprisonment between 10 and 25 years. The Bill further prescribes the penalty for aiding and abetting of political vigilante groups, with a term of imprisonment ranging from 5 to 15 years. Funding of political vigilante groups will be prohibited with convicted offenders facing custodial sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years in prison.
Issue 4: Presentation of Papers
The following papers we presented in the course of the week:
a). Report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the Audited accounts for District Assemblies for the financial year ended 31st December 2015
b). Report of PAC on the audited accounts for District Assemblies for the financial year ended 31st December 2016
Frank Bruce| PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Accra
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