The national chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Freddie Blay has admitted that absenteeism in Parliament is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with.
However, he indicated that no matter how grave the problem is, it is not peculiar to Ghana, adding that he finds it “bizarre” that the Speaker of Parliament had to rely on petitions from outside the House to refer some truant MPs to the privileges committee.
“I find it a little bizarre; let me first say so. Absenteeism from Parliament itself is a serious problem, but it is not peculiar to Ghana. It’s typical of all parliaments and several jurisdictions in the world, a lot depends on what you want to do with that. Variably, you admonish parliamentarians, you advise them and therefore, you allow the caucuses to whip their membership so that they’ll be up and coming to their duties as representatives of their constituents,” the former First Deputy Speaker of Parliament said on Asaase Radio’s The Big Bulletin with Beatrice Adu.
“Definitely, the Speaker is not a headmaster who is marking the register. If it comes to his notice through his clerk… I find it a little bit strange that somebody from outside; so to speak, will come and petition.”
Absenteeism is a headache
“Absenteeism is a headache in Parliament, to deal with it is not to one day stand up and say I’m picking on board; let the parliamentarians themselves agree that this is what we want to do now, ‘from now onwards, Mr Speaker, if anybody is 15 days out of Parliament without permission from me as a speaker, I’ll refer them in accordance with the rules to the privileges committee’.
“But in this case that I’m being told, that somebody else from outside is drawing the attention of the Speaker. But even then, if that is brought, it must be at the plenary. It should be discussed at the plenary before you refer the matter to privileges. I think he’s [Speaker] surrendering his discretion to outsiders,” Blay said on Wednesday (6 April).
Three MPs referred to privileges committee
Bagbin referred three New Patriotic Party (NPP) MPs to the privileges committee of Parliament over absenteeism.
The MPs are Sara Adwoa Safo, MP for Dome/Kwabenya, Henry Quartey, MP for Ayawaso Central and Kennedy Agyapong, MP for Assin Central.
The privileges committee is expected to submit its report to the House in two weeks’ time after the trio were cited for absenting themselves for more than 15 days.
Meanwhile, the Minority vehemently opposed the directive. The reservations by the Minority resulted in a standoff between the Speaker and the Minority chief whip Muntaka Mubarak.
The Minority insists that it does not lie in the Speaker’s remit to initiate the referral without any request from a Member of Parliament as contained in the standing orders.
“Mr Speaker, with the greatest of respect, we agree you’ve made a statement. But if we allow Speakers to take petitions from outsiders to refer members of parliament to privileges, colleagues will be doing ourselves the greatest disservice. Because we will one day get a dictator Speaker who’ll soon take statements from outsiders and begin to penalise individual members of parliament.”
Muntaka dares Bagbin
The Minority chief whip Muntaka Mubarak has filed a motion seeking to revoke Alban Bagbin‘s decision.
In a memo to the Speaker of Parliament on Tuesday (5 April), Mubarak prayed the House to revoke, cancel or rescind the referral of three legislators to the privileges committee by the Speaker for absence without permission.
The action by Bagbin follows a petition by former MP for Kumbungu Ras Mubarak to the Speaker to take action on the MPs for absenting themselves for 15 days without permission.