On two occasions, Dr. Jones Ofori Atta, the father of Ken Ofori Atta led a parliamentary rejection of Dr. Hilla Limann in 1979 and 1981. On the historic first occasion, Dr. Ofori Atta, who was then the ranking member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Finance, moved a counter motion calling for the rejection of Limann’s premier budget.
Dr. Ofori Atta was the MP for Begoro in the Eastern Region and a member of the Popular Front Party (PFP). He argued that the budget was too austere and that it would bring untold hardships to majority of Ghanaians who were in the low income bracket. His counter motion was supported by Dr. G.K. Agama, the Member of Parliament for Tongu in the Volta Region. He was the United Convention Party’s (UNC) spokesperson on Finance.
In the end, Jones Ofori-Atta managed to get along with him some MPs from the majority People’s National Party MPs, to help in thwarting the approval of Limann’s first ever budget. The budget fiasco brought a first ministerial casualty in the Limann administration. He was in the person of Dr. Amon Nikoi, who resigned his position as the Finance Minister.
He was replaced by Dr. George Benneh, who hitherto, was the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources. Dr. Benneh had to factor in all concerns raised by the opposition MPs and repacked the 1979 budget for re-submission and subsequent approval by Parliament.
Fast forward 1981; and Dr. Benneh would also square-off with Jones on a similar subject. Again, Jones in a similar counter motion moved for the rejection of Limann’s 1981 budget. He was supported by then MP for Nkawkaw, Kwaku Baah, who had been expelled from the PFP, together with MP for Berekum, J.H. Owusu Acheampong for challenging the leadership style of Mr. Victor Owusu.
Mr. Victor Owusu was the presidential candidate of the PFP in the 1979 presidential elections. He lost in a run-off to Dr. Hilla Limann. To demonstrate the level of hardships in the country, Mr. Kwaku Baah brought some assorted foodstuffs that included Fante and Ga kenkey, kobi, fried fish and many others to support his claim that the living conditions in the country were unbearable. This happened on the day of the 1981 budget approval.
Indeed, it was a time that Dr. Limann had accessed the World Bank and IMF loans which had its own austerity measures. So to a large extent, the times were not normal. But Dr. Limann and his team also felt with the kind of economic depression that Ghana found itself, the only way of getting out of the woods, was to seek assistance from the Bretton Wood institutions.
However, that did not sink well with the opposition party at the time, resulting in the withdrawal of the Benneh budget for the necessary fittings and adjustments. It must however be stated on authority that, that budget was not totally rejected; the House failed to approve it and that made it possible for Dr. Benneh to still stay at post to make the necessary amendments to the budget and sent it back to Parliament for approval.
A kitchen cabinet member of the Limann administration at the time and also the General Secretary of Dr. Limann’s PNP, Professor Emeritus Addae Mensah captures succinctly, what happened on the day Parliament failed to reach consensus in his book “LIMANN, SCHOLAR, DIPLOMAT, STATESMAN:
“The debate on the budget was very lively. It was during that debate that on 22nd July 1981, Mr. Kwaku Baah, a member of parliament for Nkawkaw caused a major sensation in parliament. Incidentally, contrary to popular belief, Mr. Baah at that time was an independent member of parliament.
He and Owusu Acheampong, a member of parliament for Berekum, had been expelled from the Popular Front Party (PFP) for challenging the leadership of Mr. Victor Owusu and taking issue with his leadership style. They had subsequently lost a court action seeking the court to declare their expulsion as null and void.
To support his arguments during the debate on the budget, Mr. Baah tabled on the floor of parliament various exhibits that he claimed depicted the hardships Ghanaians were going through.
He presented nine items, namely two small polythene bags of sugar and rice, 2 cedis worth of “koobi” (sun-dried tilapia fish), a finger of plantain costing 2 cedis, a ball of Fanti kenkey costing 4 cedis, an under-tennis ball size of bread costing 1 cedi, a tin of locally produced milk costing 10 cedis and a packet of Omo washing detergent costing 20 cedis.
President Limann did not have a Minister for Parliamentary Affairs. But to promote the smooth and cordial relationship between the executive and the legislature, and to ensure that matters of parliament that required the attention of the executive were transmitted to the executive in good time, he appointed a civil servant as a liaison officer for parliament at the office of the President.
On the 23rd of July, both he and I were in parliament when what turned out to be the final debate on the budget took place. The house was full, to begin with, but as the debate dragged on for some hours, many members from both sides of the house drifted out of the house. Many of them were within the building, but not in the chamber of the house where the debate was taking place. This was quite normal with parliament. A few had left the building altogether to pursue other interests.
At a certain stage during the debate, one smart member of the minority, Mr. Kwabena Adae-Mensah, PFP member for Bantama constituency, did a quick count and realized that the minority side outnumbered the majority side by a few members. He allegedly immediately went to Dr. Jones Ofori-Atta, PFP member for Begoro constituency who was then on the floor speaking to the debate, to whisper something into his ears.
Dr. Ofori-Atta immediately called on the speaker to permit him to move an amendment (or counter) to the motion on the floor to bring the debate to an end.The speaker obliged. As was the practice, immediately the amendment motion was tabled the doors of the chamber were closed, thus barring any member who was then not in the chamber from entering the chamber to vote.
The majority side did all it could to bring its members into the chamber before the doors were locked. Three members of the majority PNP who got to the doors just when the doors were being locked were barred by the ushers of the House by their standing orders. Dr. Ofori Atta’s motion was as follows:
“That the House takes note of the financial Policy Statement and regrets that it fails to deal with the fundamental and urgent economic problems of the country. The House, therefore, calls on the Government to take immediate and realistic steps to tackle these pressing problems. These are the imbalances in government finances, intolerable hardships faced by ordinary Ghanaians, and the low level of cocoa producer price.”
The original motion on the floor of the house tabled by Hon. C.C. Fitih, the Majority Leader and PNP member for West Dayi, which had been debated for the past week, was simply “That this House approves the financial policy of the Government for the year ending June 30th, 1982.”
Voting on the amendment motion moved by Dr. Jones Ofori-Atta was by show of hands and was carried by 54 votes to 51. Interestingly, if the three majority members who were time-barred just when about to enter the chamber had been allowed in, the vote might have been 54 to 54, thus creating a stalemate and probably a second call or a vote by ballot.
After the Speaker’s ruling accepted, the vote by the show of hands, the Majority Leader Fitih announced that he had taken the vote in good faith and would not call for a division for a secret ballot.
Mr. Odoi Sykes, the PFP member for Ashiedu Keteke constituency himself associated with Mr. Fitih’s statement, but Dr Kportufe Agama, the UNC member for South Tongu intimated that the vote was a vote of no confidence, not in the government or the President, but in the Finance Minister, George Benneh.
This statement did not go down well with sections of the Ghanaian public, especially the chiefs and people of Brong Ahafo, Benneh’s home region. They issued a statement through Nana Bretuo Ampofo, Gyasehene of Nsoatre, to the effect that Parliament’s action was aimed at discrediting George Benneh and that this had been done with the connivance of some of the majority PNP members of parliament.
Until that unfortunate situation, Benneh had been regarded by many Ghanaians as having done a very good job first as Minister for Lands, Natural Resources, Fuel and Power, and later as Finance Minister.
President Limann immediately called a series of meetings. He first met the PNP MPs at the Castle to discuss with them what had caused the acceptance of the minority’s amendment motion. This was a very passionate but frank exchange of views between the President and his Party’s members of Parliament.
Many of the members who were inadvertently out of the chamber for one reason or the other gave their reasons and apologised. But many were those who also took the opportunity to voice some of their concerns and frustrations
Even though they appreciated all the efforts that the President had made to make their work bearable, including the Nigerian Peugeot cars, their main concern was that it they were not respected by many Ghanaians as members of parliament, and that it appeared as if Ghanaians did not understand or appreciate the work of a parliamentarian.”
The President is said to have also held meetings with leadership and a cross section of MPs from both sides of the house. He also met the Vice President, Ministers of Finance, Trade, Presidential Affairs, Agriculture among others.
The joint committee made its recommendations to the executive which laid the “revised” budget before parliament on 5° August. Virtually all principles and reasons behind the proposals in the original budget were accepted and retained. Some very minor changes were made in the quantum of taxes imposed on a few items.
These included a reduction in the proposed hospital fees, taxes on imported diesel vehicles, and a small decrease in recurrent expenditure, but excluding expenditure on education, transport and health. Parliament finally approved the budget on 6th August.”
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