Members of the Minority group in Ghana’s Parliament had long ago served notice not to support the Bill introduced to Parliament by the President Akufo-Addo Government ostensibly to control the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak in the country before the actual debate begun on the Committee report .
Instead, the Minority Group is of the view that the Bill will rather give excessive powers to the President to unimpededly tamper with the fundamental human rights of the people, which has nothing to do with the control of Coronavirus outbreak.
The Imposition of Restriction Bill, 2020 is to give a legal backing to the President’s order banning public gatherings and travels in and out of the country as part of measures to control the spread of the Coronavirus in the country.
However, according to the Minority Group the Bill in its current state does not reflect the acclaimed purpose the Government claims it wants to use it for. They have also indicated that there was nothing urgent about the Bill of which the Government is seeking Parliament to consider it under a certificate of urgency.
The Bill which was laid under a certificate of urgency on the Floor of the House on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 by the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Miss Gloria Afua Akuffo on behalf of the President, is intended to provide a legislative framework in consonance with the constitution, for the imposition of restrictions, as a quick and effective means of intervention to address emergencies.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide powers to impose restrictions on persons in the event of disaster, emergency or similar circumstance, to ensure public safety and protection.
According to the Memorandum of the Bill, it recognizes the general fundamental freedoms guaranteed under article 21 of the Constitution, but also takes cognizance of the fact that the exercise of the right to the general fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution is subject to laws that are reasonably required, among others in the interest of public safety and public health as provided for in paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of clause (4) of article 21 of the Constitution.
Speaking in an interview with the media outside the Chamber, the Member of Parliament for South Dayi, Rockson-Nelson Dafeamekpor disclosed that the Minority caucus on the Committee of Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs have voted against the Bill in its entirety even though the initial mandate of the Committee is to determine the urgency of the Bill.
“We have considered the Bill in its entirety from the Memorandum to the various provisions. It does not demonstrate a case for an emergency for which this Bill will have to be considered. The title of the Bill is Imposition of Restriction Bill, 2020.
“Our case is that one: there is no mention of COVID 19 Coronavirus situation in the Bill. Not in the Memorandum, not in any part of the provisions. Two; the powers as the President has already exercised is firmly anchored under Article 21 and 31 of the Constitution. He has already given the directives and the directives are already being observed,” he observed.
The MP for Bolga East and Former Deputy Attorney General in the previous NDC administration led by Former President Mahama, Dr. Dominic Ayine also advanced similar arguments to justify the Minority’s disapproval of the Bill before the Committee.
In a response to the position taken by the Minority, the Minister for Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, told press men in Parliament that the Minority was moving ahead of itself since the mandate of the Committee at the point was only to determine the urgency or otherwise of the Bill.
Besides that, he added that, the Bill is before Parliament and therefore if they have any concerns they could propose amendments to the Bill at the consideration stage.
When the report of the Committee was finally considered on the Floor of the House before the close of day Thursday, March 19, 2020 the entrenched positions of the two sides of the House on the Bill played out as expected.
The Minority side led by the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu insisted that there was nothing urgent about the Bill which required Parliament to pass it under a certificate of urgency. Besides, he said, “there can be no urgency in the suspension of the fundamental human rights of the people under the pretext of fighting the Coronavirus spread in the country.”
The Majority side also led by the Majority Leader, Osei-Kyei Mensah Bonsu forcefully justified with reasons why the Bill sought to suspend certain rights in Article 21 and 31 of the 1992 Constitution in an emergency situation.
According to him, in anticipation of future emergencies and disasters beyond the current COVID 19 global pandemic, “the President in his wisdom has fashioned this law to deal with such situations in the future.”
Attempts by the Minority to get the House rescind the Committees recommendation to consider the Bill as urgent was thwarted as its plea to the Speaker to do a head count to determine whether the House was properly constituted to take a decision on the matter was ignored.
At the end of the debate, the First Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei Owusu put the question and by the voice votes of the Majority who were the loudest at the time, the Majority had their way after the Minority had had their say.