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General News Mon, 12 Jul 2010

Parliament's Debates on electricity, water tariffs truncated

Accra, July 12, GNA - Debates in parliament on Monday over the recent electricity and water tariffs increases truncated midway as the matter was found to be in court.

Mr Cletus Avoka, Majority Leader who brought the court issue to the notice of the House, said one Mr Kofi Owusu and Mr Kwame Boateng filed a writ against the Public Utility and Regulatory Commission (PURC) at the Fast Track High Court challenging the increase.

He said Standing Order 93, sections 1 and 3, prevented parliament from debating issues pending in court.

Papa Owusu-Ankoma, member for Sekondi, said parliament by this debate was only expressing concern and not compelling action. "This honourable House expresses concern on the recently announced increases in electricity and water tariffs," he said.

He argued that before the House could take the view of the Majority Leader, he must produce official documents that depicted the veracity of his claim.

"This debate will not prejudice the decision of the court and until the Majority Leader produces the full document concerning the matter, debate must continue," he said.

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Mr Haruna Iddrisu, member for Tamale South and Minister for Communications, said the debate was laden with prejudice. He said Mr Owusu-Ankoma in his submission left a vital element of the motion which called for the immediate reconsideration of the tariff. He cautioned parliament to avoid actions that could set the two arms of government against each other.

Mr Joe Ghartey, member for Esikado/Ketan, told the House not to approach the rules mechanically but to adopt a purposive approach. He said the principle of separation of powers made parliament distinct from the rest of the arms of government. Mr Ghartey argued that evidence of the case before the court was not available and therefore making comments on it would not influence the determination of the case.

Mr Abdulai Inusah Fuseini, member for Tamale Central and Deputy Minister of Energy, held the view that concerns alone had the potential to be prejudicial as it showed disrespect to other arms of government such as the Judiciary.

"Give the plaintiff the uttermost respect as a citizen of the country," he said, adding that "we are not running away from this debate but let's uphold the sanctity of the courts." Mr Hackman Owusu -Agyemang, member for Juaben North, accused the Majority for running away from the debate.

He noted that the motion was filed for a long time and wondered why there was no complain about it until now. Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, Minority Leader, said the Speaker was the one responsible for accepting, or otherwise, of motions and accused the Majority for stifling and restricting the House from debating the issue.

"The House is not prohibited by any law to stop the debates unless it is the decision of the Speaker," he said. He questioned whether President John Mills, head of the Executive, had not offended the law when he called a meeting with PURC on the same matter.

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"The suspension of this debate is a colossal abuse of parliament," he said.

When the First Deputy Speaker, Mr Edward Doe Adjaho, who was presiding over the debate asked Mr Avoka to give his final comments before he ruled, Mr Avoka said unless Order 91/1 was changed from the Standing Orders of Parliament, debating on the matter was unlawful. "Law is law; we should suspend debate until the courts determine the matter," he said, adding that it was not right to knock the head of the Legislature against that of the Judiciary.

Mr Adjaho ruling on the matter, said the matter before the House was a serious one and identified two elements in it. He noted that the person who filed the writ could frustrate parliament to debate the issue and the problems of handling Standing Order 93/1.

He said it would be difficult ruling on the matter, adding that "precedence is important to this matter."

Mr Adjaho said in the case between Mr Justice D.F. Annan, former Speaker of the House, and Mr JH Mensah, the debate was suspended. "I find myself in a difficult situation, I do not want to suspend the debate, the best I can do is to see Mrs Joyce Bamford-Addo for advice on the matter," he said as he adjourned the House. Motion for the debate was tabled by Mr Edward Ennin, member for Obuasi, who accused Government of killing industries with such an astronomical tariff increase. Seconding the motion, Mr Twumasi Kwame Amporfo, member for Nkoranza South, called for immediate reconsideration of the tariffs. 12 July 10

Source: GNA