MPs Haggle Over Time For Comments

The debate on the President’s State of the Nation Address continued in Parliament on Wednesday, amid controversy over the time allotted to each member to comment.

The First Deputy Speaker, Mr Ebo Barton-Odro, who was in the Speaker’s Chair during the debate, sought to ensure that each member spoke within the allotted time of five minutes and was quick to cut short members who, in his opinion, had exceeded their time.

But the Minority group protested.

They were of the view that the Deputy Speaker was unnecessarily curtailing the time for debate and preventing members from expressing their views.

The Minority expressed those sentiments when Mr Barton-Odro sought to cut short the contribution of Dr Mark Assibey-Yeboah (NPP, New Juaben South).

Dr Assibey-Yeboah had said, among other things, that the measures put in place to stop the free fall of the cedi were “business unfriendly“ and “antiquated” and that the policies were not working.

His contribution, however, was interrupted several times by some members of the Majority, who rose to their feet on points of order and sought to draw the Deputy Speaker’s attention to the fact that some aspects of the statement made by Dr Assibey-Yeboah were inaccurate.

Minority’s Protest

The Minority group had thought that due to the many interruptions, Dr Assibey-Yeboah would be allotted more time and so when the Deputy Speaker said Dr Assibey-Yeboah had a minute more to make his contribution, there was an uproar.

The “back-benchers” on the Minority side of the chamber banged their desks and shouted in protest.

The Minority Chief Whip, Mr Dan Botwe, said Dr Assibey-Yeboah had not spoken for even three minutes and so he found it difficult to understand why the First Deputy Speaker would say that he (Dr Assiby-Yeboah) had a minute left.

He said the move created the impression that the contributions of Minority members were being curtailed.

The MP for Nadowli/Kaleo, Mr Alban Bagbin, said the practice in the House had been that back-benchers were allotted shorter time to contribute to debates but the Speaker had the power to use his discretion to allow a contributor to speak for a longer period if that contributor had some special knowledge which would enrich the debate.

He appealed to the Deputy Speaker to give Dr Assibey-Yeboah more time to speak, saying Dr Assibey-Yeboah looked frustrated as a result of the notice that he had a minute more.

The Second Deputy Speaker, Mr Joe Ghartey, said, among other things, that if a member’s contribution was stifled by numerous points of order, that member needed to be given extra time to state his views.

He said in the House, justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

Mr Barton-Odro said he had told Dr Assibey-Yeboah that although he had one minute more, because of the interjections, he was giving him two extra minutes.

He did not permit any further comments on the issue, a situation which brought the matter to an end.

The debate itself was characterised by partisanship, with all Minority members condemning the address and all members of the Majority praising it.