The Parliament of Ghana on Wednesday witnessed a heated debate over which institution was legally mandated to issue visas in the country.
The strong argument started between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah Tetteh, some Members on the Minority side and the Majority Chief Whip, Muntaka Mohammed, when the House was debating on the Immigration Service Bill 2015.
‘Mr Speaker, it is the consular services of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs that issues entry visas outside of this country for arrival into Ghana. And indeed we have the Research Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that exists as a Department on its own and has representations in each of our mission and consular which have the specific responsibility of vetting applicants for visas and issuing visas’, the Minister said.
Ms Tetteh also told the House that however, ‘the Immigration Service does exercise a right to issue visas on arrival in specific circumstances on arrival into Ghana, adding those specific circumstances are well known to the Immigration Service but one of the reasons might be where for instance there is no mission of Ghana in that country and therefore it is difficult for some people to make application for a visa at Ghana’s mission’.
The Foreign Affairs Minister further added that ‘generally speaking the structure as currently exists, the issuance of visas for entry into Ghana, outside of Ghana are the prerogative and the responsibility of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs through the Research Department’.
However, a Member on the Minority side drew the Minister’s attention to the Immigration Act Regulations (LI 1691) that gives authority to the Immigration Service to issue visas hence disagreed with the Minister, by stating that ‘it is the responsibility of the Director of the Immigration Service to issue visas’.
The Majority Chief Whip also said that it was important the House resolved the confusion because it could happen that for convenience’s sake, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has been issuing visas, but if there were a law backing the Ministry’s issuance of visas, ‘then the House needs to correct it so that Members of the House do not contradict themselves, but if what the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is doing (visa issuance) is not supported by law, then Members need to insist on what the law is asking them to do’.
He added that ‘the Immigration Act seems to suggest that if what the Foreign Affairs Ministry is doing is not supported by an Act of Parliament, then unfortunately the Ministry maybe doing the wrong thing, but if it is supported by an Act of Parliament then the House needs to as a matter of urgency solve these differences because you cannot ask two separate agencies to do the same thing (work)’.
‘Mr Speaker, on that note may I please request that this provision be stood down. I will bring the legal basis for the request. In fact there is a conflict between the legal provisions and that is part of the problem that we have, but I don’t have it here with me at the moment and I can’t immediately reference off hand but I would like to request that the matter be stood down. I will come back with the legal basis so that we can resolve it and we do not continue to perpetuate this confusion’ the Minister informed the House.
The second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joe Ghartey who presided over the sitting, suggested that ‘when this matter is stood down it should be discussed at the Leadership and the Committee level’.
The Speaker accordingly referred the matter to the Committee for Defence and Interior for further deliberation and clarification.