The 2024 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government of Ghana is still before Parliament for consideration and approval, the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has underscored.
This follows his ruling on Thursday, November 30, 2023, where he emphasized that the “Budget is still before the House”, a ruling that put to rest arguments and counterarguments over its approval or otherwise.
The House was thrown into a state of confusion on Wednesday, November 29, 2023, when the Speaker after an intense debate on the subject matter, put the question on the voice vote for the approval or otherwise of the 2024 Budget.
After an intense audible voice vote on the matter, the Speaker proffered an opinion to that effect.
“Hon. Members, I think the “Ayes” have it”, he pronounced. This pronouncement signified that the Majority voice votes have triumphed over the Minority’s “Nay’s” votes, and in the process, secured the approval of the 2024 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government.
However, when the Majority side of the House had thought of scaling through the hurdle, the Minority side of the House didn’t back down. Afterall, they have nothing to lose and were bent on disapproving the Budget, having described it an “empty document” which does not provide any relief to the citizenry during the debate.
Speaker’s ruling challenged
The Deputy Minority Leader and NDC MP for Ellembele, Emmanuel Armah-Kofi Buah, coming under Order 113 (2) of the Standing Orders of the House, challenged the Speaker’s ruling and in the process, called for a head count.
Order 113 (2) of the Standing Orders of Parliament states that “A Member may call for headcount or division if the opinion of Mr. Speaker on the voice vote is challenged”.
However, the deputy Majority Leader and NPP MP for Effutu, Alexander Afenyo Markin, raised a procedural objection to Buah’s application, noting that such an application should have come under a substantive motion, but his intervention was ignored.
Order 93 (5) of the Standing Orders of Parliament states that “The conduct of Mr. Speaker, Members, the Chief Justice and Judges of the Superior Court of Judicature shall not be raised, except upon a substantive motion, and in any amendment, Question to a Member or remarks in a debate on a motion dealing with any other subject, any reference to the conduct of the persons mentioned shall be out of order”.
As the House was waiting for the next directive of the Speaker, he surprisingly, called for a division instead of the headcount requested by Buah.
Majority Caucus walks out
This infuriated the anger of the Majority Caucus to stage a walk out in protest against the Speaker’s call for a division.
Afenyo Markin later explained to journalists at a press conference that “The decision to call for a division was certainly not the initial application. Leadership of the Majority – well aware that under our rules, being absent during a headcount disqualifies a member from being recorded present, whereas in a division, absent members who rush in can be counted as participants, even if they were not present when the question was initially put-; moved to halt this process that would have allowed some of the Minority MPs who were outside Accra at the time to be able to proceed to Parliament to be counted, even though the Majority was fully aware that it was not going to give the Minority any advantage”.
He added “This departure from the call for a headcount generated head and was set to frustrate government business, at the same time undermining the sanctity of parliamentary processes. Since 1993, Parliament has never resorted to a division in making decisions. The Majority concluded the choice for a division was unfair under the circumstances, leading to their decision to stage a walkout. It is essential to note that despite the Speaker’s indication that the “ayes’ had prevailed, and despite a petition presented to him, a petition that hadn’t followed due process, the Speaker’s initial ruling on “ayes” retaining their advantage stands. Consequently, the budget has been duly passed until the appeal for a headcount is dealt with, not the division that the Speaker had called”.
Following the walkout by the Majority side, the Speaker then adjourned sitting to the following day, Thursday, November 30, 2023. A determination of Buah’s request was therefore not attended to, thereby, making the 2024 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government hanged in a balance.
On resumption of sitting on Thursday, November 30, 2023, both sides of the House put in a spirited argument and counterargument over the subject matter.
The Minority Leader, Cassiel Ato Forson noted that the 2024 Budget was not approved, and cautioned the Finance Minister from further making a pronouncement to that effect.
“Mr. Speaker, you upheld the challenge and called for headcount. The information out there led by the Minister responsible for Finance is that the Budget had been approved. Mr. Speaker, this matter is grave and there is the need for us set the records straight. This is particularly important because a Budget statement is an important document of the State. Ghanaians have the impression that the Budget Statement has been approved while we here know that the Budget has not been approved. As we speak, the budget has not been approved by the Parliament of Ghana and it is important for the people of Ghana to be made aware of. I called on the Majority Leader to correct the records and to urge the Minister responsible for Finance to desist from the comments. Mr. Speaker, I also urge you to set the records straight because there is a lot of confusion out there that the budget has been approved whiles we here know that the budget is hanging”, he noted.
The Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, on the other hand insisted that the 2024 Budget was approved.
“Mr. Speaker, your own Votes and Proceedings indicate to you that the question was put in the in opinion of the Speaker who was in the chair, the motion was agreed to. Mr. Speaker, subsequent to that, we are told that the headcount was sought by the deputy Minority Leader. That request is the one that is handing not the decision”, he stressed.
But the Speaker in a response ruled that “the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government for the year 2024 is still before the House and not hanging”, noting further that the Business Committee would rescheduled it for a determination next week.