The drama in Parliament since last Friday (26 November 2021) has borne shades of musical chairs.
We all reminisce, with fondness, playing musical chairs when we were little. Those unforgettable memories and moments of delirium when we shoved and jostled awkwardly amongst family and friends at parties. It was all in anticipation of the sound of silence – when our abaaba see dance moves would be truncated so we could find an empty chair to sit on.
As with every game, there were those who were very good at it. They almost always made it to the final. Sometimes, you needed them to take you under their wing to progress in the contest. If the conductor in charge of the music wanted to favour you, he would pause the song when you were advantageously positioned. But largely, it was all down to every man, woman and child to fight for themselves. So the game went on and each time the music stopped, a chair was removed as – one after the other – the players got eliminated until only one participant triumphed.
Last week, when the Speaker – the conductor of Parliament – asked for voting to begin on Agyenkwa, all 137 of the Minority were seated in the Chamber. Where were the other players? It was rumoured they were having a census in Caucus. Each time they counted, they came up a woman short of their expected number. How could the Majority be possibly outnumbered when the stakes were so high?
One player finally reigns supreme at the end of the musical chairs. But last Friday, the Majority knew they didn’t have the winner amongst them. So they decided not to play the game. They walked out en masse – or well, so they thought – before the Speaker asked for voting to begin on the 2022 Budget. He was accused of bias and disrespect – which successive Speakers get pilloried with.
With the knowledge that 50% of all Parliamentarians needed to be present to vote on the matter, it was mission accomplished. But in a Facebook post since attributed to the Speaker, he claimed he saw – maybe via hawk-eye – a member from the Majority seated in the Chamber at the time of voting. Who knows? We may need a VAR playback on that. So voting did happen and the Budget was roundly rejected, unsurprisingly, by the Minority.
And the Majority were incandescent with rage. The target of their ire was the Speaker. Claims of breach of the Constitution and Standing Orders of the House as well as peddling partisanship were hurled at him. By a stroke of good fortune, he manoeuvred his way out of the ensuing brouhaha. He had managed to secure seats (for himself and his entourage) on a pre-arranged flight to Dubai the next day. He didn’t need his temperature rising before his medical review.
With the Speaker out of town, the Majority took ship to stormy waters. The talk, over the weekend, of the need for consensus between both sides did not play out. On Tuesday, the Second Deputy Speaker, sitting in the chair as acting Speaker (and MP), did an in-and-out and managed to get Agyenkwa over the line – with the Majority approving the budget. More bedlam was to unfold in Parliament yesterday when the entire house descended into a hoarse-voice contest. The discordant sounds could in no way be the music suitable for the chairs’ game as the Speaker’s chair was reportedly removed from its usual place in the ensuing chaos. Why has Agyenkwa (meaning saviour) been so bedevilled right from birth?
Constitutional lawyers and experts as well as political commentators have found their voice on TV and radio – with opinions and interpretations of Article 104 and Standing Order 109 as varied and intriguing as the corona virus strains. A private individual, as widely expected, has asked the Supreme Court to bring clarity to the confusion that has submerged us.
The Minority tried to have their say and way, the Majority’s position held sway and the public is in dismay. The divide in Parliament has gotten wider and despite some concessions announced (yesterday) to the e-levy’s rate and other interventions, the entrenched positions taken by both sides remain. This makes for very worrying times ahead. ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” should not boom anywhere near the House.
So what’s the learning? In Economics, a situation is zero-sum if the gains of one party are exactly balanced by the losses of another and no net gain (or loss) is created. That is this Parliament today. There has been no gainer. No winner either. Until the entire House gets back together to debate issues constructively, we (who put them there) will be the ultimate losers – as putting the economy back on track in 2022 will be adversely impacted. The costs to us, when successful functioning of the House is absent, is multitudinous.
We could do with some more cheer as another Christmas season beckons to celebrate Agyenkwa Jesus.
The writer, Benjamin Bright-Davies, is the CEO of CashBack Capital.