BY: MARTIN A. B. K. AMIDU
DEDICATION: This article is dedicated to Group Captain Richard Forejoe, formerly of the Ghana Airforce, for his professional integrity and commitment to the ordinary Ghanaian, and the international socialist democratic revolutionary cause for which we became friends and comrades.
INTRODUCTION AND SUMMATION
The Nana Akufo-Addo Government has in its usual arrogance, impunity, and abuse of power refused to learn any lessons from its unproductive escalatory conflict strategies and tactics, and the counter moves by the Minority in Parliament that inevitably resulted in the brawl in Parliament at dawn on 21 December 2021 when the First Deputy Speaker, Mr. Joe Osei-Owusu, who was presiding over the plenary sought to use a subterfuge to partake in the vote on the question whether the Electronic Transfer Levy Bill ought to be considered for enactment by the House under a certificate of urgency.
Even though Parliament was compelled to adjourn its Michaelmas term sittings on 21 December 2021 to the 18 and later to today the 25 January 2022, to allow for “cooler heads” and consultations, the contenting parties in Parliament and their supporting constituents continued to escalate their conflict interaction during the vacation into the resumption of parliamentary business.
The Government has demonstrated a determination throughout this period to impose the draconian 1.75% Electronic Transfer Levy on Ghanaians who avail themselves of the services of electronic transfers despite conclusive research and analysis results and findings available on open-source pointing incontestably to the fact that the majority of Ghanaians do not, on a non-partisan basis, agree with the reasons assigned by the Government for imposing the draconian levy or even a lesser percentage of such tax on the nation in the present deprived environment of the ordinary citizen.
On the available non-partisan facts, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, the de facto Co-President, and de jure Minister of Finance, appears to be living in a different country or acting upon a delusion due to some infirmity when on 19th January 2022 he said at a press conference that: “After extensive consultations, the E-levy will be re-submitted to Parliament this month. We look forward to joining hands with our Honourable Members of Parliament to approve the E- Levy on a consensus basis so we can collectively address the big issue of unemployment.”
This Minister of Finance had on 20 November 2021 made a similar deceptive or delusional statement on Joy News that the Akufo-Addo government was going to find a way with the Minority Caucus in Parliament to accept the electronic transfer levy which proved to be an unpardonable misrepresentation of the mode of the nation on the acceptability of the draconian levy.
Not surprisingly, on 22 January 2022 the Deputy Minority Chief Whip, Mr Ahmed Ibrahim responded to the deception or delusion conveyed by Mr. Ofori-Atta on consultations with the Minority Caucus in Parliament and challenged him to disclose the persons on the minority side he had consulted as the Minority Leadership was outside the country. “I want to put on record as the Deputy Minority Chief Whip that there have not been any consultations whatsoever on the controversial e-levy with the Minority MPs,” he stated.
Other civil society groups also challenged what appeared to be a deception or delusional contention that the generality of Ghanaians support the imposition of the Electronic Transfer Levy.
From the available research results and conclusions, the people of Ghana will overwhelmingly vote against the imposition of this electronic transfer levy on them if the question of whether to impose the levy were put to them at a referendum.
The evidence also points to the fact that the Government will also lose any secret ballot in Parliament on the E- Levy. It is a wonder that the Government is not using or has deliberately ignored its own machinery in measuring the conflict mode of the nation through the various agencies specializing in this field of tradecraft. It has rather again chosen nonchalantly to take the path of imposing an unpopular measure on the ordinary Ghanaian on the assumption that the Ghanaian’s memory is too short and would soon forget the hardships of the levy on his wellbeing by the next election, or that it has a docile Electoral Commission in place to rig the next election in 2024 for its side.
Democracies begin their gradual death when Governments refuse or fail to listen to or hear the voice of the people either through arrogance, impunity, or abuse of power as we are witnessing in Ghana under the Nana Akufo-Addo Government. The 1992 Constitution is being subverted and undermined by the Nana Akufo-Addo Government in its interpretation and application of both the letter and the spirit of the constitution since Nana Akufo-Addo’s assumption of power on 7 January 2017. And all Ghanaian patriots who cherish the survival of the 1992 Constitution and true democracy have a duty and responsibility to come together to ensure that any eventuality of a forceful implementation of the electronic transfer levy with the vote of a slim majority of one vote is challenged by popular protest and boycott of the levy before a further nail is hammered into the coffin of our dying democracy under the democratic-autocratic Presidency of Nana Addo.
ESCALATROY CONFLICT DYNAMICS SINCE 20 DECEMBER 2021
On 20 December 2021 when the news of the parliamentary brawl over whether the First Deputy Speaker, Mr. Joe Osei-Owusu, could preside over the proceedings of parliament to consider the question whether or not the recommendations of the Finance Committee of Parliament for the approval of the E-Levy of 1.75% ought to be considered by the House on a certificate of urgency, the impression that gained currency was that the Speaker had disappeared without any notice or trace, compelling the First Deputy Speaker to preside on that matter in the Speaker’s absence.
Mr. Afenyo-Markin, the Deputy Majority Leader, and later the Majority Leader himself, Mr. Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, led the charge in deploying the escalatory conflict strategies of attributions and blaming the Speaker for the almost violent impasse in Parliament.
The Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Alban Sumana Bagbin, who was accused by the Majority Caucus of Parliament of showing lack of leadership by abandoning his duties of presiding over the plenary that day eventually broke his silence in an interview with Ghana Television (GTV) on Thursday, 30 December 2021. Mr Bagbin stated that he opened and presided over the business of parliament on 20 December 2021 and was ready, able, and willing to conduct the business of the day that included the consideration of the Finance Committee of Parliament’s report on the Electronic Transfer
Levy Bill, 2021.
The Majority Caucus had adopted the conflict strategy of ensuring that the Electronic Transfer Levy Bill was considered by the Finance Committee of Parliament, chaired by an immediate past Deputy Minister of Finance, and reported to the plenary of the House under a certificate of urgency for possible approval on the same day, 20 December 2021.
The Majority Leader and his caucus ensured that they were absent from the floor of the House as at 4: 30 o’clock in the afternoon while the Speaker was still in the chair waiting for the conclusion of the day’s business and adjournment for the vacation.
According to the Speaker, while he was still in the Speaker’s chair the Majority Leader showed his face and then sent a text to him at around 4:30 stating that he was then going to have a bite and comeback to the House. The Majority Leader as if to make assurance double sure whispered to the Speaker’s usher to inform him that he was going to have a bite and come back. Subsequently, as the Majority Caucus was not availing itself for the conclusion of the business of the day after 6:00 o’clock in the afternoon and the adjournment of the proceedings for the vacation, the Speaker decided to on account of illness leave for home.
The Speaker took the precaution of delegating the Second Deputy Speaker to preside in his place and on his behalf and left with the Second Deputy Speaker the Speaker’s prepared speech for the adjournment of the House for the Christmas vacation. A portion of the Speaker’s interview puts the matter in better perspective when he said: “The time that I was seated there, the Majority leader only shows face and then send a text to me around 4:30 that he was now going to have a bite then come back to the House, he also whispered to my usher to to (sic) inform me he was going to have a bite and come back…. When I left he wasn’t on the floor. How can you now, lead your team to now be attacking me and say that I should lead. In fact one of them said I should learn how to (sic) lead….”
The Speaker’s defence to the charges of abandoning his leadership responsibilities which facilitated and resulted in the brawl in Parliament on 20 December 2021 is simply that the Majority Leader and his caucus deliberately created a situation in which the Speaker was unavoidably absent giving rise to the confusion and misunderstanding that resulted in Parliament on the dawn of 21 December 2021.
The defence of the Speaker of Parliament has never been challenged or refuted directly by the Majority Leader or any of the members of the Majority Caucus except to find fresh grounds of apportioning blame to the Speaker from past conduct. The escalatory conflict behaviour adopted by the Government to force through the draconian levy makes it more reasonable to conclude that the Majority Caucus created a situation for the Speaker to leave the House for the First Deputy Speaker to assume control of the proceedings on the pending Bill.
The Speaker had to be made the scapegoat when the Majority’s conflict strategy backfired when the First Deputy Speaker sought to participate in the vote.
What happened in Parliament during the deliberation whether the report of the Finance Committee of Parliament on the approval of the Electronic Transfer Levy Bill, 2021 ought to be considered under a certificate of urgency was a foreseeable consequence of the moves and countermoves of the conflict escalation strategy and tactics adopted by the Majority Caucus on the one hand, and the overwhelming majority of the backbench of the Minority Caucus who were listening to the wishes of their constituents and other Ghanaians who opposed the imposition of the draconian E-Levy on Ghanaians.
The Minority Leadership and the Functional Executive Committee of their party outside parliament appeared to have been vacillating between betraying the interest of the ordinary Ghanaian to the wishes of the Government, and the danger and anger of the rank-and-file of their party and the ordinary voter. This is an expected natural outcome of in-group conflict dynamics of group or organizational conflict interaction where there arises a mismatch between the interests of group or organizational leadership, and the aspirations and interests of rank-and-file Members of Parliament listening to constituents’ interests.
THE IMPACT OF CONFLICT RESIDUES ON ESCALATIONS
Anybody with a slight acquaintance with the scientific study and analysis of the interdisciplinary subject of conflict studies, resolution, and research would have noticed that the 2022 Budget and Policy Statement presented by the Government to Parliament on 17 November 2021 had polarized the generality of the nation along non-partisan lines of Ghanaians who support, and those who oppose the introduction of the draconian measures contained in it and the unaccountable and opaque E-Levy. Despite the evidence, the Government was determined to buy its way through, both literally and figuratively, to have the draconian budget including the E-Levy approved by Parliament willy nilly as exemplified by what Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, the Co-President and Minister of Finance reportedly told Joy News in Ho when he gave “an indication that the Akufo-Addo led government will find a way to win the Minority Caucus in Parliament to accept the electronic transaction levy [e-levy].”
But the rejected budget events of 26 November 2021; the counter events of the approved budget on 30 November 2021; and the desperate attempts by the Minority Leadership to repair and reclaim its damaged image among ordinary Ghanaians resulting from their second betrayal of Ghanaians on 30 November 2021 followed by the unpopular announcement by the Minority Leadership of its acceptance of a 1% e-Levy on 1st December 2021 were all part of the conflict residues that informed the brawl on 20 December 202.
The other residues of conflict flowing from the Speaker’s return from his infamous Dubai medical trip and his 16 December 2021 ruling, directives and orders on the event that took place in Parliament in his absence ending in the Speaker’s orders to the Minister of Finance to submit an amended budget to Parliament that was flagrantly disobeyed by the Government and the Majority Caucus; and the decision by the Government and Majority Leadership to disaggregate the approval of the Appropriations Bill from the consideration of the recommendations of the Finance Committee on the Electronic Transfer Levy Bill further escalated the conflict situation.
Any reasonable and responsible government with an acquaintance with the dynamics of conflict, conflict resolution, and security studies would have been put on the alert that an intractable conflict had developed from the budget approval process which could explode into open physical conflict confrontation at any time, such as it did on 20 December 2021.
The Other Harbingers Of The Parliamentary Brawl Of 20 December 2021 On 1 December 2021, for instance, Mr. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa was reported by Joy News to have disclosed that the absence of the Minority group in Parliament on Tuesday, 30 November 2021 when the 2022 budget was approved was in the best interest of the Parliament. In his view as reported, “there would have been a recurrence of the January 7, 2021 ‘showdown’, if the Minority Group were in the Chamber. It would have been a full- blown conflict. It would have gotten quite nasty.” He explains the rationale behind the absence of the minority from the sitting as follows: “It was either we go in there to put up a fight which could have degenerated into something else. But we thought that look, let’s conduct ourselves honourably. Let’s be peaceful. Let us just sit back and observe as they fall on their own sword. And then we would seek remedies. So far as we are concerned, what happened yesterday is not the finality. We (Minority Group) are clear in our minds that it is an unconstitutionality. It is a nullity. It is void. They (Majority Group) didn’t even have the numbers to take the decision.”
The Minority backbench learnt a bitter lesson from this warped reasoning sold to them as a conflict strategy by their leadership who compromised behind their backs and betrayed Ghanaians to the Government. It was nothing less than yielding or conflict avoidance which studies have shown time without number temporarily de-escalates conflicts but can lead to serious consequences as Ghanaians saw on 20 December 2021.
This is consistent with the general conflict theory that conflicts when resolved unsatisfactorily leaves residues which informs the next conflict circle. Mr. Edward Bawa also from the minority side of Parliament reacted to the statement by the First Deputy Speaker who presided over the business of the House and counted himself as part of the quorum for the parliamentary sitting on 30 November 2021 for purposes of approving the same budget that had been rejected by Parliament on 26 November 2022.
Mr. Bawa insisted in an interview on 2nd December 2021 on Joy News that going forward, the First Deputy Speaker will not be permitted to act in place of the Speaker when he was absent. He reportedly told Joy FM’s Kwesi Parker Wilson, inter alia, that: “If the person who is supposed to hold the forum says I am not the person, it tells us that whoever comes there in the form and shape of Joseph Osei Owusu is an imposter and so we will not be comfortable with that. We are only holding him to his own words that he is not the speaker… If he comes to preside over sittings, it will be a betrayal of his own position.”
The roots of the events of 20 December 2021 should, therefore, not only be looked at solely within the context of the physical confrontation of that day. Any objective analysis should be wholistic and systematic in tracing the escalatory conflict interaction and strategies between the Majority Caucus on the one hand, and the backbench of the Minority Caucus on the other hand, since the beginning of the 8th Parliament running through the approval of Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the effect of the allegations of bribery and corruption of the Minority Leadership and the Functional
Executive Committee of the party outside parliament on the perception of their various constituents outside parliament and the electorate as a whole. In studying and analyzing the escalatory conflict moves and counter moves that led to the physical confrontation in Parliament one cannot fail to
consider the very spirited tacit bargaining conducted by various patriots, and civil society groups outside parliament explaining the folly of imposing the E-Levy on ordinary Ghanaians in the draconian budget. The tacit bargaining by these patriots had the effect of mobilizing and educating ordinary Ghanaians to the insensitivity of a government which had assured the electorate that Ghana was sitting on so much wealth that no reasonable Government ought to impose draconian taxes on them.
INTENSE CONFLICT ESCALATIONS DURING THE VACATION ADJOURMENT
The conflict over the recommendations of the report of the Finance Committee of Parliament which met only in the morning of 20 December 2021 and the proposed approval of the E- Levy Bill under a certificate of urgency had so escalated that the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu prayed the sit-in Speaker, First Deputy Speaker Joe Osei-Owusu, to adjourn the house until January 18, 2022, for cooler heads to prevail. In making his motion for the adjournment of Parliament he stated that:
“We adjourned sitting yesterday [Monday] and indicated to ourselves that the house will be reconvening at 9:00 am today, [Tuesday, December 21, 2021] but we have been waiting for all this while making the necessary calls but thus far, nothing responsive, and I think where we are if we take an adjournment, it will allow coolers to come back to this house, and then we come back to continue with business in a much more serene environment.
In that regard, Mr Speaker, I invite you to adjourn the house in the hope that we can come back on January 18.” The Minority Leader, Mr. Haruna Iddrisu seconded the motion after stating that the adjournment will allow for further deliberation and concluded that: “It is important that we carry the country along, and we need to demonstrate to the country that our democracy is growing and will not suffer some unacceptable scenes and spectacles we’ve witnessed on the floor. So, I can only concur with what the leader has said, so you adjourn the House sine die for some consultation on the outstanding issue.” Parliament accordingly adjourned sitting sine die to 18 January 2022.
This was subsequently extended to today, 25 January 2022. As Joy News reported it: “This means the controversial e-levy has not been passed and would be revisited in 2022 when the House reconvenes.”
What happened immediately after these commitments from the two leaders that they irresponsibly led the nation from the frying pan into the fire by more intensive escalatory conflict behaviour from the Members of Parliament of both sides? It is amazing that various people, civil society organizations, and groups have condemned the physical confrontation that took place between the backbenchers of the Minority and the Majority Caucus in Parliament without any professional understanding of how conflict dynamics works in groups and organizations to unintentionally lead to such consequential and unproductive conflict behaviour. None of the critics appears to have bothered about the escalatory conflict moves and counter moves initiated and executed by the Majority Caucus and responded to by the Minority Caucus before and after the events of 20 December 2021. So, an intense and intractable conflict between the Majority and the Minority gathered pace in a manner that we now know from Joy FM that the Majority Leader, a member of the executive arm of government, had facilitated and enabled President Akufo-Addo to meet with the Minority Leadership of parliament led by Mr. Haruna Iddrisu on three (3) occasions. By putting these previously discreet facts in the public domain with the reported ridder that “…though the details of the meetings are sketchy” the public which had already internalized the perception of the consistent betrayal of Ghanaians by the Minority Leadership to the Government are now more reinforced in their perception of that social reality. In the Majority Leader’s own words disclosed on Joy News: “We have gone to see President Akufo-Addo on three different occasions through my instrumentality. Just so that we bond together. Akufo-Addo is the President who has also met the leaders of parliament on so many occasions. It has never been done before apart from President Kufuor who did it once and because of newspaper coverage the leaders of the opposition decided not to be part of such meeting again. Akufo-Addo has done so on three occasions through my own instrumentality.”
The Majority Leader claimed to have been responding to allegations by a former Member of Parliament, Mr. George Loh, who had accused him of not showing good leadership in the current dispensation. A good and responsible leader of Parliament should not be answering tacit bargainers from outside the negotiating in-group of both sides at any negotiation table or forum least it generates into complete breakdown of trust between the parties.
The Majority Leader’s escalatory move disclosing that the Minority Leadership was hobnobbing with the President led to an immediate response from the Minority Chief Whip, Alhaji Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak. He stated in a Citi News interview that the Minority Caucus in Parliament will no longer hold unofficial meetings with the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu and that all meetings with him will have to be recorded in minutes form when Parliament resumes sittings on 25 January 2022. This apparent irrevocable commitment by the Minority not to deal unofficially with the Majority was generated, inter alia, as objections to the falsity of Mr. Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu’s allegations attributing to the Speaker the accusations that the Speaker had insisted at a meeting before the budget plenary presentation to the Minister of Finance that “no GH¢1.72 billion for parliament, no budget approval”. The Majority Leader was also reported to have attributed to the Speaker the allegation that the Speaker had said at a meeting that “the consideration of the e-levy bill will be payback time for the ‘sins’ of Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta’s father, Akwasi Andrews Jones Amoako Atta Ofori Atta, who led parliament, several decades ago, to reject one of the budgets of President Dr. Hilla Limann.”
The foregoing analysis establishes that the Majority Leader took advantage of his executive capacity as a Minister of State in consistently leading his side at media interviews and party programmes to escalate the conflict even during the vacation by making inflammatory statements that impinge not only on the confidentiality of good faith discussions off the record with the opposite side, but has also sought to intimidate the minority into dropping any opposition it may have to the passage of the Electronic Transfer Levy Bill when Parliament resumes today, 25 January 2022. Consequently, on 22 January 2022 the Majority Leader was reported to have stated in an interview with the Daily Guide newspaper that: “…, the E-levy has been technically approved by Parliament”. In his view “… the E-levy is contained in the 2022 budget and economic policy of government as well as the Appropriation Bill – both of which have been approved by Parliament.” Based on this contestable escalating conflict logical assumption the Majority Leader concluded that:
“Because the E-Levy is not already in place, it was fed into the budget which we have approved, what is left now is to use legal means to introduce the E-Levy Bill, the takings of which have found expressions in the budget approved. How does anybody then say that I don’t want to approve of the law? That is the difficulty that I have.” The response to this escalatory conflict strategy of the Majority which sought to take the Minority for granted by treating the Minority as an unreasoning appendage of the Government chariot received a response in an interview granted by the minority Member of Parliament for Kpando, Ms. Della Sowah, when she said on the sideline of a town hall meeting organized by the Volta Region Members of Parliament caucus for the constituents reported on Ghana Web on the same 22 January 2022 that the Minority Caucus in parliament will for the second time reject the Bill. Her reason was that the constituents oppose the draconian E-Levy:
“Total rejection, cause that’s what our constituents are saying, everywhere I go that’s what they’re saying that as for the E-Levy, no go no go no go so we can’t do otherwise than to listen to the voice of the people … As far as it lies in our hands or power, we will resist it, as a Caucus, 137 (MPs) we say no, not even 0.5% we don’t even want that”.
Parliament resumes its session today when the Government which has never been transparent and accountable with the management of the public purse has irresponsibly further escalated the conflict on whether it is substantially democratic and fair for a government, to impose a draconian Electronic Transfer Levy on the electorate with a very slim parliamentary majority of one single vote from a supposedly independent Member of Parliament. Patriots have a duty and responsibility to put Ghana First by defending the Constitution and the public purse should this arrogant and abusive Government refuse to listen to the voice of the people. Our compatriots and patriots in other African countries persisted and successfully used the advocacy of positive defiance in mobilizing the electorate to overwhelmingly boycott the use of electronic transfers as a means of mobile money transfer payments and receipts in defence of their democracy from dying. The option is available to Ghanaian patriots and citizens. The Government needs to wake up to what popular dissatisfaction with arrogance, impunity and abuse of power has done and can do to democracies and constitutionalism and stop creating situations that may lead to the gradual death of the 1992 Constitution. In the name of God, Nana Akufo-Addo do not create circumstances for the death of our democracy and the 1992 Constitution. Put Ghana First!
Martin A. B. K. Amidu.