There was confusion in Parliament yesterday following a directive issued by the Minister for Roads and Highways, Kwasi Amoako-Atta, for collection of road and bridge tolls at all locations nationwide to cease.
Following the abolition of road tolls during the Finance Minister’s presentation of the 2022 Budget, the minister had issued a statement asking all toll booths to cease operation, and the Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, upon hearing about the Roads Ministers’ notice, asked that the ministerial fiat be withdrawn.
According to the Speaker, the minister (NPP MP for Atiwa West) might have acted wrongly since he has no such power or authority when Parliament has not given the clearance, saying that “the statement offends the powers of this House to legislate.”
“The issue does not amount to a disrespect of the House. The Minister might have misunderstood or misapplied the law. We have to draw his attention that he has no such authority, what he sought to,” Mr. Bagbin said, adding “the Minister, a senior member of this House, might have reacted wrongly and therefore I call on him to honourably withdraw that directive.”
He said that failure by the Roads Minister to comply would amount to “a serious breach of the directive of the Speaker and that could amount to contempt of Parliament.”
Mr. Bagbin explained that the Finance Minister presentation was a proposal made to Parliament which would require approval from the House.
But the Majority caucus said the Speaker erred in directing the minister to withdraw the fiat, intimating that Mr. Bagbin failed to convey the “sense of the House”, beside the initial procedural error made by the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrissu, who raised the matter on the floor.
“Per our Standing Order, the Speaker is an arbiter or a referee when we are sitting and so anytime there should be a directive, from Parliament as an institution, it has to convey a consensus position of the House,” Majority Chief Whip, Frank Annoh-Dompreh (NPP Nsawam Adoagyiri) stated.
He explained that the Speaker should have put the issue to vote to gauge the mood of the House, pointing out that “sometimes, matters come up and we put them to vote either by voice vote or voting. We do that to get the sense of the House.”
“On this occasion, the Speaker has no persona in this matter, and I respect him a lot – he is the longest serving MP, but when he errs we need to put it to him in a very dignified way.”
“We think that the Speaker failed to convey the sense of the House,” Mr. Annoh-Dompreh stressed, insisting the issue should have been referred to a committee of Parliament to go into first, by putting the question to the House, asking first for all those in favour of the motion to indicate so orally “aye”, and then ask second all those opposed to the motion to indicate so verbally “no”.
“The question they ask more often is not rhetorical. It is based on practice and our Standing Orders because the Speaker cannot rule by his own authority and say that I am directing.”
“The Speaker is not above Parliament. The Speaker is not a Member of Parliament, and so the Speaker should convey the position of the House,” he asserted and asked the Speaker to reconsider his directive to the minister.
In the cessation notice, Mr. Amoako-Atta had said the “directive takes effect from 12am on Thursday, November 18, 2021,” adding “this takes effect immediately when the Budget is approved. The toll collection personnel will be reassigned. The expected impact on productivity and reduced environmental pollution will more than off-set the revenue forgone by removing the tolls.”
Shortly after the announcement, the Roads and Highways Minister came up with the statement, directing the cessation of the collection of road and bridge tolls, and saying the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service would be on hand to provide security at the toll locations from the effective date.
“Motorists are kindly advised to approach the locations with caution and observe all safety measures that will be put in place. The motoring public will be advised of further measures in due course,” the statement said in part.