Lawmakers in Ghana exchanged blows late Monday evening over a proposed electronic payment tax.The government says the new tax would boost revenue for development, but parliament has been split over the idea and fights broke out when supporters tried to force a vote.
Ghanaians in general, and the opposition in particular, have vehemently opposed the proposed 1.75% tax on electronic transactions, popularly known as e-levy, contained in the 2022 budget.
If passed, the law would include taxes on mobile money payments, which is used by 40% of Ghanaians 15 years and older, according to a 2021 data by the central bank.
Up against a deadline, the government wanted the bill passed under a certificate of urgency on the last day of sitting. But a brawl broke out on the floor when the first deputy speaker, Joseph Osei-Owusu, pushed for the vote.
The regular speaker was absent from the session. Opposition MP Mahama Ayariga says the deputy was circumventing normal procedure in an attempt to force the bill through parliament.
“The house is governed by rules. And so when you make it right for persons to undermine those rules what do you expect the MPs to do. They won’t just sit aside and watch the person undermine the rules,” he said.
The acting speaker, Osei-Owusu, says he operated within the standing orders of Ghana’s parliament and had the right to vote for the bill under consideration.
“As long as we can change over then that advantage is restored. In my view and I still hold that view strongly that as long as we can change the seat at any time there should not be that disadvantage,” he said. “Otherwise, no proceedings will go on. Why should I come and preside so that I can’t take any decision, what is the point?”
About 50 lawmakers took part in the brawl.Only one was injured, the minister of youth and sports who got a cut in the face.
The executive director of the African Center for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA), Rasheed Draman, told a local radio station that Ghana should brace for more gridlock in the current parliament.
“I have never seen anything like this. And for me I have said this since the beginning of the year that if we’re not careful this is how the eighth parliament is going to be. It will be characterized by a lot of confusion and a lot of gridlock,” he said.
Parliament has now been adjourned until January 18 to give lawmakers more room to consult on the controversial electronic levy.