Speaker Bagbin should appoint parliament’s clerk to preside in his absence – Kofi Bentil

Vice President of Imani Africa, Kofi Bentil has suggested that Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin should appoint a senior clerk to preside over affairs of the house during his absence instead of his deputies.

Alban Bagbin and Kofi Bentil

His proposition follows the supreme court ruling last week, which said that deputy speakers who are members of parliament are entitled to vote while presiding.

The apex court ruling has since generated widespread debate, with the opposition National Democratic Congress, former President Mahama and many other analysts expressing opposition to it, while President Akufo-Addo and some New Patriotic Party members have hailed it, saying it has put all the controversy to rest.

According to Bentil, after listening to both the proponents and the opponents of the supreme court ruling and juxtaposing their views to the judgement of the court itself, he is convinced that the only way to avoid further turbulence in parliament is to allow a clerk who is a non-MP to preside instead of a deputy speaker who also represents his constituents.

"After listening to all the sides and saying my own also. I am more convinced now than ever that given the reasons in the Judgement, the best way forward is for the senior most clerk NOT an MP to chair when the Speaker is away," Bentil wrote on his Facebook page on Monday, March 14.

His suggestion has sparked mixed reactions, with some people agreeing with him while others disagree.

Renowned lawyer, educationalist and executive director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, professor H Kwasi Prempeh, in his reaction said Bentil’s suggestion was outlandish.

"We must be too special in Ghana. Nobody else in the world does it the way you've suggested," the CDD boss wrote.

"We have always pretended that a government-sponsored Speaker would be objective. An MP presiding cannot disenfranchise any other MP. That's what matters! Constituents do not elect MPs to Parliament to preside objectively over debates; they elect them to go and make decisions--cast votes--on their behalf. We cannot use any long and winding arguments to deprive those constituents and their MP of their inherent right to vote in Parliament. Article 102(5) states the only situation where an MP is disqualified from voting; presiding over a proceeding is not deemed a disqualifying conflict of interest," he added.

Meanwhile, Bentil, in defending his idea, asked: "How many nations have the hybrid system we’ve crafted for ourselves?"

He argued: "It is a logical step to do this.

"In other words, having non-MP deputies will perfectly and durably solve the problem!!! No other solution is more complete. Let Ghana show the way again. It’s puerile to pretend that an MP will be objective in chairing a debate when he has a vested interest".

The 8th parliament recorded some violent scenes last year due to its hung nature, which makes it difficult for members to reach consensus on matters.

Also, the majority side of the house doesn't have the requisite numbers to push through government businesses that the minority side is opposed to.

To worsen the atmosphere in the legislative house further was Speaker Bagbin and his first deputy, Joseph Osei Owusu's openly disagreement with each other after the latter overruled decisions of the former a few times.

On November 30, 2021, they clashed over the latter’s decision to vote on a motion while presiding, a move the former said was unacceptable.

Later, a lawyer cum law lecturer, Justice Abdulai invited the Supreme Court to pronounce as unconstitutional, the Bekwai MP’s action of counting himself for the purposes of quorum.

He argued in the context of articles 102 and 104 of the 1992 Constitution that the Deputy Speaker was not permitted to count himself for the purposes of quorum, since he had neither an original nor a casting vote as Speaker presiding.

But the 7-Member Supreme Court held that a Member-Speaker is entitled to be counted for purposes of quorum, for doing business, and to vote in the business of the House (even while presiding).

The court emphasized that a Speaker or Member can be counted as part of the quorum for decision making in the House under article 104(1) of the 1992 Constitution.

It therefore, struck down Order 109 (3) of the Standing Orders of Parliament, describing it as "unconstitutional".

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