The Minority has staged a walkout from Parliament over the “cash for seat” committee report on the probe of claims the Trade Ministry extorted $100,000 from expatriates to allow them to sit close to the President during the Ghana Expatriates Business Awards in December 2017.
The Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, held that under the circumstances, his side of the House could not take part in the deliberations.
He argued that per the Standing Orders of Parliament, no motion shall be debated until at least 48 hours sitting days have elapsed.
“I have a difficulty that we are suspending the Standing Orders on this matter especially seeing that I got my copy of the report only this morning. All members got their copies only this morning… so why the rush?”
“In the interest of transparency and accountability, this matter cannot be railroaded through Parliament and I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that if the Chairman wants to proceed, he knows our position… of the 146 pages, I together with many other members are yet to satisfy and read through it thoroughly in order to make meaningfull contributions to the debate.”
Majority to proceed with debate
The Majority in Parliament has however decided to go ahead with the debate on the report.
The Majority Leader, Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, said the Minority MP’s non-cooperation on the matter was borne out of their lack of understanding of Parliamentary standing orders.
Controversy over ‘Minority report’
The bi-partisan committee probing the extortion claims was enveloped by controversy when its Minority members decided to prepare and leak a separate report that indicted some persons of interests in the probe, including the Ministry of Trade and the organizers of the awards scheme, the Millennium Excellence Foundation.
The Minority side of the Committee, comprising of Dr. Dominic Ayine and James Avedzi, concluded that, the Ministry of Trade engaged in multiple infractions including breaches of the public financial management law and multiple ethical violations.
It also said the Millennium Excellence Foundation, among other things, presented forged evidence to the Committee.
Dr. Ayine subsequently called for the withdrawal of the already laid report so that a composite report will be presented to Parliament.
Prior to the walkout, there were reports that the Minority was planning to boycott the debate of the report over the matter.
Background of “cash for seat” saga
The Ministry of Trade, which partnered the event organizers, Millennium Excellence Foundation, is alleged to have charged between $25,000 and $100,000, to enable expatriates to sit close to the President at the awards ceremony.
The allegation was first made by the Minority Chief Whip, Muntaka Mubarak in Parliament in December 2017.
Mr. Mubarak said the fees charged at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards were not approved by Parliament, adding that the monies were also not accounted for in the Internally Generated Funds [IGF] of the Ministry’s accounts.
The allegation was further reinforced by Mr. Ablakwa, who suffered verbal assaults from Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Carlos Ahenkorah over the matter.
The Ministry of Trade said it played no role in determining prices for seats at the event, and clarified that it only facilitated the implementation of a new initiative by the Millennium Excellence Foundation.
But the Ministry after an order from the President to probe the matter clarified that an amount of GHc2, 667,215 was realized from the event. This was made known only after the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, had asked the Trade Minister, Alan Kyerematen, to investigate the matter and report to him.
The organizers of the Awards had also explained that no one paid to sit close to the President and that the amount was raised from sponsorship through a fundraising at the event.
Parliament subsequently formed a five-member bi-partisan committee to investigate the matter.
The Committee held several public hearings and a few in-camera sessions that featured all parties named in the allegation, and those who made the allegation.
The Trades Ministry and the Foundation maintained their innocence in the matter and insisted that due process was followed in the soliciting of funds for the awards scheme.