The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, and Communications Minister Ursula Owusu-Ekuful on Tuesday crossed swords during the sitting of Parliament as the two engaged in a give-and-take over the controversial Import Restrictions Bill.
It took the Speaker’s commanding voice and a concurring Ursula to end the spat.
“Hon. Minister, Honourable Minister, Honourable Minister, this is not the Ministry of Communications, this is Parliament”, the Speaker sought to remind the Ablekuma West MP, who responded, “I am very much aware of that, Sir,” before the speaker thundered; “Resume your seat.”
The drama started after yet another failed attempt by the Minister of Trade, KT Hammond to lay the controversial Import Restrictions Bill that seeks to empower the Trade Ministry to approve or disapprove the importation of a list of products.
The Minority MPs, who had vowed to resist the laying, let alone the approval of the Bill, were their vociferous selves in resisting the Bill, and Ursula had questioned the Speaker why he would not direct the Minority to hold their fire because the Bill had not yet been laid, just as the Speaker had told the Trade and Industry Minister, K.T. Hammond.
From her point of view, there was nothing before the House that justified such an opposition by the Minority members and had expected the Speaker to direct them accordingly.
“I have no idea on what we are debating in this house today. There is nothing before the house so as you [Speaker of Parliament] indicated to the Minister [of Trade, KT Hammond] that we are not yet there, I was of the opinion that you would tell my colleagues on the other side that there’s nothing before us…”
The Speaker who apparently did not take kindly to the ‘protest’, then cut in; “Hon. Minister, were you here from the very beginning?”
Ursula then begins to explain herself: “My understanding is that…”
Speaker: “Were you here from the very beginning?”
Ursula: “No, I have been here since morning. I have been here since morning.”
Speaker: “You’ve been here since morning?”
Ursula: “I have been here since the very beginning, today. I was here when the prayers were being said.”
Speaker: “So why do you say no? If you were here, why do you say no?”
Ursula: “I have been here all morning. I had no idea what you meant by ‘the very beginning’, but I have been here, I was here before you entered the Chamber, I was here for prayers, I have been here throughout. My understanding is that…”
Speaker: “Minister, do you really listen to yourself when you are talking?”
Ursula then turns to a colleague and asks in Twi, “Ↄse dƐn”, to wit, ‘What did he say?’, and after a momentary interaction with the colleague, then shot back; “Yes I do. I weigh my words very carefully before I speak.”
Speaker: “If you were here, if you were here from the very beginning that we started, and I asked you, were you here from the very beginning, you said no, then you continue, and now you are telling me you were here even before I entered.”
Ursula: “Yes Mr. Speaker I’ve been here before you entered.”
Speaker: “So, it meant that you were not listening to yourself.”
Ursula: “I had no idea what you meant by ‘very beginning’. I haven’t been here this week, this is my first time I’m appearing in the House this week. I’ve been here since the beginning of proceedings today, and I do listen to myself very carefully and weigh my words carefully before I speak.”
Speaker: “I don’t think so.”
Ursula: “Ah you don’t think so, you are entitled to your opinion, but I….”
Speaker: “Honourable Minister, Honourable Minister, Honourable Minister, this is not the Ministry of Communications, this is Parliament.”
Ursula: “I am very much aware of that, Sir.”
Speaker: “Resume your seat.”
Ursula promptly resumed her seat, ending the not-very-common exchange in the House as both sides looked on.
The Bill will return to the House on Thursday when the Trade Minister has been told he may tray and lay again.
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