The Greater Accra Deputy Youth Organizer of the opposition National Democratic Congress, Amos Blessing Amorse has made a case following reports that Parliament will today vote to determine whether or not the Dome Kwabenya MP, Sarah Adwa Sarfo must vacate her seat to pave way for a by-election.
He argued that all the three members of Parliament have must vacate their seats.
Read his full articles:
PARLIAMENT CANNOT PARDON KENNEDY AGYAPONG, HENRY QUARTEY AND PUNISH ADWOA SARFO – ALL THREE MUST VACATE THEIR SEATS FOR BYE-ELECTION
The Privileges Committee of Parliament, without mincing words, got it wrong when it stated in its report that Members of Parliament for Assin Central, Kennedy Ohene Agyapong and Ayawaso Central, Henry Quartey gave satisfactory reason(s) for absenting themselves from sittings for more than 15 times, therefore their seats must not be declared vacant.
It is even more problematic and legally untenable for the Committee, by majority decision, to indicate that because Dome Kwabenya MP, Adwoa Sarfo failed to appear before them, her seat must be declared vacant. I may not fault the Committee entirely for coming through with this unreasonably and procedurally flawed report. The abuse of the process started when the Speaker referred the trio to the Committtee. A flawed process will birth flawed results and that is the issue we have at hand.
Beyond the procedural issues the Minority, through Muntaka Mubarak, raised about the Speaker’s referral, which, with the greatest of respect, I found not persuasive, there was a potent ground on which the referral to the Committee was flawed. The Court of Appeal in the Eric Amoateng case envisaged a possibility of absurd outcome if a referral was made in respect of an MP who absented himself from sitting for more than 15 consecutive times without reason and written permission of the speaker.
To stamp out this absurdity like we are faced now in the case of the report on the three NPP MPs, the Court of Appeal spoke in unambiguous terms that once a Memeber absented himself for more than 15 times without permission of the Speaker and explanation to the Committtee, the seat becomes vacant by operation of law.
Probably, the Speaker did not avert his mind to the reasoning of the Justices when he made the referral eventhough he made reference to the Amoateng case. The contending issue however, was whether or not permission out to have been given by the Speaker and explanation given to the Committtee prior to a member absenting himself for 15 times or the two prerequisite should be done after a breach of article 97(1)(c) had occurred?
In my candid opinion based on the reasoning of the Justices in the Amoateng case, written permission of the Speaker and explanation to the Privileges Committtee requirements must come before a breach of the said provision. This means a member who anticipates that he may be absent for 15 consecutive times must get the written permission of the Speaker and offer reasonable explanation for his anticipated breach of article 97(1)(c). The member’s “sins” become egregious when he absents himself for more than 15 times. It becomes an unpardonable sin!
The Justices in Amoateng’s case made this point poignantly and forcefully in the following words through Justice Acquah – “I have already found that the maximum period the Speaker could allow a member of Parliament to absent himself from Parliament is 15 days. It’s is unacceptable for Parliament to grant leave of absence longer than envisaged under article 97(1)(c) of the Constitution and the Standing Orders of Parliament. I find that it was unlawful for Parliament to grant the Honourable Member of Parliament indefinite leave of absence.”
The Court went further to explain that where the Constitution or any legislation provides a ceiling beyond which an act could be regarded as a breach, Parliament cannot lawfully raise that ceiling to grant legitimacy to a breach. “It is trite law that when an enactment sets down time limit for doing an act, that time limit cannot be exceeded. Article 97(1)(c) and Standing Order 15 (now 16(1)) sets down fifteen days as the maximum period which a member can be absent without Speaker’s permission or Parliamentary Committee on Privileges. It follows therefore that neither the Speaker nor the Committee on Privileges can grant a member more than 15 days absence,” per Acquah JA.
On the basis of this, it is baffling for the Committee on Privileges, by majority decision, to pardon Kennedy Agyapong and Henry Quartey when their own report indicates that these two, just as Adwoa Sarfo, absented themselves for more than 15 times without permission. The Committee’s own report revealed that Kennedy Agyapong absented himself 20 times, Henry Quartey, 30 times, and Adwoa Sarfo, 42 times.
No matter how compelling their reasons for absenting themselves for these number of times are; to quote Acquah JA (as he then was), “neither the Speaker nor the Committee on Privileges [or Parliament] can grant a member more than 15 days absence.” Both Kennedy Agyapong and Henry Quartey are as guilty as Adwoa Sarfo. This therefore means that Parliament must give fidelity to the Constitution and the Standing Order by declaring the three seats vacant.
This supports the reason why it was needless for the Spesker to have referred the three to the Committtee. This is because no matter their explanations to the Committtee, neither the Speaker, Committee or Parliament can save them. The Speaker should have relied on the fact that, by operation of law, as Acquah JA intimated in the Amoateng case, the three seats became vacant the very day the trio crossed the 15 days threshold.
It is however astonishing and jaw-dropping that Chairman of the Committee on Privileges, Joe Osei Wusu, a lawyer, is feigning ignorance about this and, he is rather running off tract commentaries in the media. He is quoted in the media to have said “in respect of the two, Kennedy Agyapong and Adwoa Sarfo, all our report will say is that they appeared before the Committee, they offered explanations, and the Committee finds the explanations reasonable.”
What Joe Wise must know is that, Ken Agyapong and Henry Quartey’s explanations may be reasonable to the Committtee, but insofar as they crossed the 15 days threshold set by article 97(1)(c) and order 16, the Committe cannot pardon them. The Committee does not have such powers under any law not to talk of the Speaker or Parliament as an institution.
The only legally permissible thing for Parliament to do is to declare the three seats; Dome Kwabenya, Ayawaso Central and Assin Central, vacant and task the Clerk to inform the Electoral Commission to start processes for bye election. Anything short of this is an illegality which must be challenged at the apex Court.
Amos Blessing Amorse
Deputy Greater Regional Youth Organizer
National Democratic Congress