Item 8, they called it.
That was how parliament’s minutes captured the event of November 26, 2021, when the Minority in parliament decided to reject the government’s 2022 budget in the absence of a peeved slim Majority.
It would have been the second time a government budget has been rejected by the parliament of Ghana.
It would have been…
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, the Majority leader, Osei Kyei Mensa-Bonsu, seemed to say as he walked into parliament’s chamber with a slight frown. His deputy, Afenyo Markins, wore a full frown. Majority Deputy chief whip, Lydia Alhassan, wore a gown. White.
Something was about to happen.
Hours before, parliament’s chamber had been empty. Journalists with overcharged camera batteries had been waiting since 10 a.m. for proceedings to start.
They had sniffed drama and, like vultures sensing the presence of carcass, had perched early in the gallery, holding their microphones like drum rolls.
But nothing was happening.
“Go and get something to eat,” K.T. Hammond emerged after 2 p.m. to laugh at the bored reporters in an empty chamber.
“We are not ready to come out. It is a serious movement,” he joked at the news torture going on.
The bell rang, rallying the MPs to come into the chamber, much like a JSS bell ringing for a change of lessons.
Five times the bell rang.
It took seven hours since the advertised starting time of 10a.m. An MP explained that parliament was a master of its own rules.
When Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu stood to address the house, not a single NPP MP was absent. All the 138 were present.
The 2020 parliamentary election resulted in 137 MPs from the NDC, 138 MPs from the governing NPP, thanks to an independent candidate who decided to align with the NPP, his original party. No election result in Ghana has had such a wicked twist of finely balanced power.
But there was some fear. There is some fear, some political analysts have observed.
The NPP has a majority that leaves no room for sickness or slothfulness. One traveling MP can unravel everything. In this parliament, mixing business with a pleasure trip can be fatal.
Any absent-minded absenteeism on any day could mean that a slim Majority could suddenly look like a grim minority on Tuesday, an ineffective majority on Wednesday, or an emaciated majority on Friday, when most public servants are mentally attending a funeral on Saturday.
But it was so not today for the Majority side of the house.
At the Minority side of the house, however, every single NDC seat was empty.
The NDC is believed to have boycotted proceedings, knowing that in their absence, parliament would not have the necessary 138 MPs to reverse their Minority decision.
This is because the Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Bagbin, had traveled out of the country. And one of the 138 NPP MPs, the First Deputy Speaker, would be in the Speaker’s seat, reducing the NPP members on the floor to 137.
In the minds of the Minority, they had left the field for the NPP MPs except for the goal post. They had hoisted it off the ground and taken it home. Let them play all the ‘tika-tika’ they wanted. There would simply be no goals today. It was possession for possession’s sake.
But Joe Wise, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, was about to live up to the meaning of his surname.
A hatched plot was about to roll out. And it was to start with a pass to the Majority leader to dribble around the rules of parliament.
He read Order 109 of the Standing Orders, explaining that no question can be put forward for a decision unless 138 MPs were present.
But on that fateful day when the 2022 budget was rejected, only 137 MPs were present. The decision to reject the budget was null and void. It “did not meet the acid test established by the constitution,” he said.
He moved for that decision to be set aside. His deputy, Afenyo Markins, collected the pass and used a significant amount of time to shower praises on the deputy speaker.
He explained that, by standing order 13, Joe Wise was “so well-fortified, so very well-fortified” to chair the occasion. His repetitive use of “fortified” conjuring images of the investiture of a fresh fetish priest.
It was Joe Wise’s turn to finish the move.
Joe Wise said he was correcting an error by his boss because the chamber took a decision without the required number of MPs present and so the decision stood “vitiated”.
With great euphemism, he said his boss “appeared not to have averted his mind” to a lack of decision-making quorum.
It could not have been Bagbin’s fault, he suggested, praising the Speaker for his deep knowledge of the rules and his expertise of parliamentary procedure; only that the 64-year old Bagbin had forgotten and had someone drawn the Speaker’s attention to this slight error, he was convinced Alban Bagbin would have done the right thing.
To be sure no such mistake is repeated, Joe Wise asked for a count of the MPs present. Everyone thought the number was obvious. 137.
Joe Wise is an MP. Bagbin is not. So, 138 MPs. Suddenly and dangerously, a decision-making quorum existed.
The acting Speaker had one last card up his sleeve. He said the constitution only says 138 was needed for a decision. And a simple majority out of the 138 was all that was needed to make one.
Before this, many political pundits had thought at least 138 votes were needed. But no. At least 138 MPs just needed to the present.
With many likely glued to their TV sets, the Minority MPs watching away from parliament were about to witness a horror, a reversal of an “error”.
Joe Wise put the question to vote to scrap the ‘decision’ to reject the 2022 budget. Given the pass, the NPP MPs simply struck the ball into an empty net: “Hear! Hear! Hear!”
And the “rejection” was rejected.
He would now put another question to a vote to approve the 2022 budget statement. Given another pass, the NPP MPs simply struck the ball into another empty net: “Hear, hear, hear.”
The NDC “mischief” had been cured.
The writer can be reached via email at [email protected]