General News of Monday, 7 December 2015
Barely four days after the Supreme Court had ruled against the refusal of the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Edward Doe Adjaho, to take the Presidential Oath in November 2014 to act as President of Ghana, the Parliamentary Press Corps has stumbled upon some credible information that Mr Adjaho followed precedent established by the first Speaker of the Fourth Republic, (the late) Justice D.F. Annan.
Some people a team of the press corps spoke to, including MPs and political scientists, said the Supreme Court was perhaps not apprised with the true intent of the Speaker and the constraints the House found itself in, which situation largely informed the decision.
In November 2014, both President John Dramani Mahama and Vice-President Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur were out of the country and, per Article 60 (11) and (12), the Speaker had to be sworn into office to assume the presidency until either of them returned home.
Mr Adjaho, on the arrival of the Chief Justice to Parliament to swear him in, explained to her and Ghanaians that the swearing in was a symbolic exercise and that since he had taken the oath before, he thought it was not necessary to subscribe to it each time the President and his vice were absent from the country.
The action of the Speaker attracted mixed reactions from lawyers, political party activists, commentators, as well as political scientists, some of whom hailed the decision, while others expressed misgivings.
As the controversy over the development raged on in the media, the Chief Executive Officer of an Accra-based private radio station, Citi FM, Mr Samuel Attah-Mensah, and a United States-based Ghanaian lawyer, Professor Kwaku Asare, filed separate suits seeking the interpretation of Article 60(12) of the 1992 Constitution which requires that the Speaker takes the oath of office when he is to act as President.
Mr Adjaho had, on November 5 and 7, 2014, declined to be sworn into office to act as President in the absence of both the President and his vice.
The Supreme Court, in its ruling, said the institution of Parliament was different from the Office of the President and that subscribing to the Oath of President validated the Speaker’s assumption of office of the President.
It said Mr Adjaho’s refusal to swear the oath amounted to an act in contravention of the Constitution.
But preliminary research by a team from the Parliamentary Press Corps has established that Mr Adjaho took that decision in line with the precedent set by Justice Annan in July 2000.
Justice Annan had assumed the office of the President for five days but did not subscribe to the presidential oath for the second time during each tenure.
This is what the Hansard of July 7, 2000 said: “Absence from Ghana” – In accordance with Article 59 of the Constitution, I, Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings, President of the Republic of Ghana, wish to notify you that I shall be travelling to Lome, Togo, to attend the heads of states of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). I shall depart from Ghana on Sunday, July 9, 2000 and return on Thursday, July 13, 2000. Pursuant to Article 60 (11) of the Constitution, the Speaker shall act in my absence.”
The communication to the then Speaker was signed by President Rawlings at the time, similar to what President Mahama did in the case of the current scenario, and was read to the House on Tuesday, July 11, 2000 by the then First Deputy Speaker, Mr Ken Dzirasah.
The research revealed that on that Tuesday when the communication from the Presidency was read, Speaker Annan had already assumed office as President, having received the letter over that weekend and with the knowledge that both the President and his vice were outside the country.
He, therefore, assumed the office of the President, paving the way for his deputy speakers to preside over the sitting, but he had, at that time, not subscribed to the presidential oath and did not do so until the return of the President.
According to records, Speaker Annan was first administered the presidential oath in 1995, during his first tenure as Speaker, and then in 1997, during his second term, but never subscribed to it again each time the President and his vice were absent from the country.
The Press Corps, in its search, found out that at the time Justice Annan set the precedent, the current President was the MP for Bole and Minister for Communications, while the 2016 flag bearer of the NPP, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, was also in the House as MP for Abuakwa and Minority Spokesperson for Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, with the current Majority Leader, Mr A.S.K. Bagbin, as the Chairman of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and the current Speaker, Mr Adjaho, being the Majority Chief Whip.
The search also established that at that time Mr J. H. Mensah was the Minority Leader, while Dr Kwabena Adjei, a former NDC National Chairman, was the Majority Leader.
When the press corps reached the office of the Speaker for comments on the ruling, the response was that “the Speaker has not read the judgement and so as a lawyer himself, it would not be proper to make any pronouncement on a judgement he has not read”.
A source told the press corps that “the Speaker believes in the rule of law and will, therefore, accept the ruling of the Supreme Court in principle”.
A legal expert who spoke on the matter said the Supreme Court, in its earlier ruling in the case of Asare v Attorney-General, did not determine the number of times a Speaker was to subscribe to the oath during his tenure and that the issue before the court was the constitutionality of the oath that Speaker Ala Adjetey took.
He said if that matter had been determined in that case, the plaintiff in this matter would not have gone for interpretation at all.
The research also established that a number of people had expressed the view that taking the oath each time the President was away would attract unnecessary expenditure in terms of transport and other administrative expenses.
Others were also of the view that the Speaker’s decision would save the country additional expenditure, but particularly so because the incident occurred at a time when Parliament was termed as broke, with MPs, almost on a daily basis, rising to lament the financial position of the House on the floor.
According to figures sighted by the research team, it costs the country a huge amount to recall MPs from their constituencies when they were on recess, only to witness the swearing in of the Speaker into office as President.
But what is worse is that the team learnt it is also possible that MPs could be brought all the way from their constituencies only for one of them to raise the issue of quorum, since the House always needs a certain number of MPs to be able to transact business.
Should that happen, it will mean that the swearing-in will have to be shifted, perhaps to the next day, until a quorum is formed and a vacuum created in the Presidency, a situation that will cost the country unnecessary expenditure.