EDITORIAL: Boycott puts NDC under pressure
Far from bringing relief to the Minority in Parliament and their teeming supporters around the country, the decision by the Parliamentary caucus of the National Democratic Congress to boycott proceedings in the House in protest against alleged executive intrusions on Members rights and privileges, appears to have put additional pressure on the party and its supporters. The NDC appear, so far, unable to successfully rationalize the action to the Speaker of the House. More importantly, the court of public opinion has not acquitted them on their submissions.
The Speaker Peter Ala Adjetey, has demanded a return to the House for a debate on the issue, unable to justify the walkout along the lines of the concerns raised by the NDC. On local FM stations, most callers to phone-in programmes found no justification in the action taken by the minority. For a party with a number of internal flash points following the electoral defeat of December 2000, the NDC is facing problems with crisis management.
When the ninety-one member Parliamentary caucus meet in the House tomorrow (Tuesday) to review the success or otherwise of their three-day boycott of Parliament organized in protest against what they saw as an attack on Parliamentary privileges, and a number of other grievances outlined in a statement read before the Parliamentary press corp. last Wednesday, the NDC Parliamentarians, will have one other agenda to deal with. It is to do with the perception of the voting public that rejected their message in the 2000 elections.
In a memorandum to the Minority Leader Alban S.K. Bagbin and copied to Majority Leader Paapa Owusu Ankomah, the Speaker said the matters raised were of concern to both sides of the House including himself and should therefore attract a non-partisan approach to the problem.
?Your memorandum? which is dated 8th November, 2002, was received in my office on 19th November, 2002, when it was brought before me. I immediately read through the little over seven pages of your memorandum and it was obvious to me that the matters raised therein are very serious and concern all Members of the Honourable House as well as the Speaker.
?I have had a careful look at the relevant provisions of the Constitution of Ghana, 1992, and the Standing Orders of this Honourable House. I have also had a look at the various references to Erskine May?s Parliamentary Practice and other authorities cited by you as well as the position of the US Congress and in India Lok Sabha.?
Ala Adjetey went on to state that in his opinion, he has not got the powers to decide on the petition sent him by the NDC without referring the matter to the full House. ?I have come to the conclusion that the Speaker on a situation like this where complaint is made to the House about a breach of privilege, should refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges which should deliberate the matter and submit a report to the House.
Having regard to the fact that the Speaker, under our Constitution, is not a Member of Parliament, it is my view that the decision as to whether there has been or is a breach of privilege is a matter for the House itself which takes the decision after examining a report from the Committee of Privileges to which the matter would have been referred.?
Last Wednesday, the NDC in Parliament called a press conference and gave a number of reasons why they were boycotting proceedings in the House for three days. ?Recent events in the country, read Minority Leader Alban Bagbin, from a prepared statement, ?have brought to the fore the question of the nature and extent of rights and privileges enjoyed by Parliament as a collective body and by Members of Parliament as individuals. The Rights, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Members of Parliament are provided for in the Constitution, in order that Parliament as the bastion of democratic governance can carry out its role without let or hindrance.?
Recalling a number of incidents involving some members of Parliament, Bagbin said: The current prosecution of Hon Dan Abodakpi, a sitting Member of Parliament, at a time Parliament is in session, for allegedly causing financial loss to the state is another recent instance of Executive intrusion into the field of Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities of an individual Member of Parliament.?
Giving reasons for their action, Bagbin stated further: ?It is our conviction that an intimidated Member of Parliament cannot exercise Freedom of Speech effectively.
In other words, Freedom of Speech is meaningless in an environment of intimidation. ?If care is not taken a floodgate will be opened where the State apparatus would start arresting, detaining and prosecuting MPs without the knowledge of Mr Speaker and the House. No mean a person than the Senior Minister Hon J.H. Mensah shocked the Minority and in fact the whole country, when he emphatically declared on three occasions that it is government?s intention to prosecute and imprison all key members of the opposition NDC Party especially NDC Members of Parliament before the next elections.
?This, according to him, will lead to a disintegration of our party. We now have sufficient evidence to believe that this intention is now being implemented in earnest by the government. Hon E.T. Mensah, Hon Dr John Abu and Hon Ato Quarshie, to mention a few, are now being rushed through process to prosecute them. Again, it is important to note that all this is being done without the knowledge of the Speaker.?
They also complained about what the NDC in Parliament termed, ?selective application of zero tolerance for corruption. They include Government?s unwillingness to call the Finance Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo and the Governor of Bank of Ghana, Paul Acquah to order for their part in contracting the infamous IFC loan, which has turned out to be a scam. ?The waste of scarce state resources in respect of the numerous trips to Europe and the US, tickets, hotel bills, per diems and indeed the wanton waste of the whole nation?s time and energy in pursuing the elusive money, is not considered a financial loss to the state because of the appropriate political colour of the perpetrators.?
Bagbin further alleged underhand dealings including financial dealings by a Board Member at Ghana Telecom, misuse of state funds at Ghana Free zone and a Mutsubishi Pajero allegedly sold to an NPP chairman ?at a ridiculously low amount of c500,000.?
Responding to the NDC boycott threat, Presidential spokesman Kwabena Agyepong said the government would not be blackmailed into abandoning investigations into allegations of serious financial malpractices. Government will like to draw attention to the concept of Probity and Accountability which is the cornerstone of the 1992 Constitution and to assure Ghanaians that the Kufuor Administration will not be diverted off its course of tracing funds and other resources belonging to the state that have allegedly been diverted by individuals or group of persons and used for purposes other than their intended use.?
The actions and pronouncements of top officials of the NDC since they lost power seem to suggest that the centre cannot hold. On a campaign trail for the party?s Presidential slot, former Vice-President John Evans Atta Mills asked party members blaming him for the NDC defeat in the 2000 elections to get off his back.
?So many people blame me for our inability to win the elections but the question I keep asking is: Was Mills responsible for the loss of over 40 parliamentary seats to the New Patriotic Party?? the Professor of law was addressing newsmen at Wa.
Party Chairman Dr Obed Asamoah has also come under barrage of attacks from party members who accuse him of allegedly failing to account for monies raised from the sale of party vehicles. That the NDC had to resort to sale of party vehicles to survive is itself an admission that the party is having a rough-ride with finances.
Dr Kwesi Botchwey, Mills? rival in the Presidential candidate race, was reported on a number of occasions to have bailed the party out by paying the wages of party workers at the headquarters and in the regions. Even then, there are reports of mounting unpaid wages and bills.
Botchwey himself has also been accused of abandoning the party when the going got tough. Against this background, there are many analysts who believe the boycott action by the Parliamentary NDC is a calculated attempt to divert attention from the real problems the party is facing. Whether or not the NDC could ride the tiger successfully to the 2004 elections remains to be seen.