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Parliament of Ghana; Quo vadis? – Prof. Mike Oquaye


Photo ReportingParliament of Ghana; Quo vadis? – Prof. Mike Oquaye

On Monday 14th July 2014, the Majority in Parliament voted against a Motion requesting Parliament to investigate events surrounding Ghana’s football fiasco in Brazil. We witnessed a further sinking of the image of the Parliament of Ghana. The cause does not lie in the Stars! Who really is to blame? The answer is clear – ALL OF US. The malady rests deeply seated in our Constitution. It is the HYBRID Constitution which allows appointments of Ministers from Parliament.

This provision essentially fuses the Executive and the Legislature in a pitiful osmosis whereby the Executive (the stronger body) eats up Parliament (the weaker body). There can NEVER be a meaningful Parliamentary oversight over the Executive in this Republic under the present Constitutional arrangement. We engage in wishful thinking of “gargantuan” proportion if we think otherwise.

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Hon. Mahama Ayariga argued that once the President had set up a Committee of Enquiry into the same matter, Parliament was estopped. What law guided him in this submission, only he knows! Indeed the Executive has exhibited absolute bad faith in the matter. It is tragic how pre-conceived political prejudices can cloud every good judgment. Indeed the Speaker himself showed he was appalled.

On Monday 9 July, Hon. Ayariga told Parliament that an administrative enquiry had been set up by government and it would report in 30 days. At this time, the Motion for Parliament to investigate the matter was filed by Hon. Isaac Asiamah. Then stealthily, the President set up a Commission to investigate the same matter while Parliament was considering it. The Minister then came to argue that if the President had set up a Committee to investigate, then Parliament cannot proceed.

If this jingoistic politics continues, Parliament can NEVER do its oversight work. You are supposed to OVERSEE another’s work. But anytime you take steps to enquire into his activities, he also sets up some Committee and then your own members rally round the other person and shout: “we are estopped!” This is a pity.

Article 103 of the Constitution gives the Parliament of Ghana full powers to “appoint Standing Committees and other Committees as may be necessary for the effective discharge of its functions”. A Committee appointed by Parliament “shall have the powers, rights and privileges of the High Court”. Let everyone who cares to know be told that this inquisitorial or investigative power of Parliament extends from Archaeology to Zoology and encompasses any matter of interest or concern to Ghanaians and includes any act or omission of even the President. When MPs meet, the whole Ghana has met.

The football saga in Brazil is a matter of grave concern to all Ghanaians. Parliament is the assembly of ALL Ghanaians. Yet the Majority in Parliament says it will not and cannot enquire into it. Indeed, Ghana is a sad place to live at a time like this.

Our hybrid Constitution must be changed. It weakens the Legislature vis-à-vis the Executive. In the first place, the oversight role of Parliament is undermined. MPs who are also Ministers cannot ask colleague Ministers questions on the floor of the House as expected. Notably, the Minister/MPs lead, control, direct and influence the other MPs on the majority side. Furthermore, ministers owe collective responsibility for all government decisions and cannot, therefore, criticise the government on the floor of the House. An MP, once elected, owes his/her constituents deliberative and representational duties by standing in their stead in the House. Prior commitment to the executive authority of the State undermines this basic duty.

Second, it has become the norm that majority side MPs look forward to the President for ministerial appointments. The “successful” and “leading” MPs are perceived as those who catch the eye of the President and are made ministers and not those who perform excellently as Legislators and constantly catch the eye of the Speaker. Indeed, once appointed, a Minister moves to the front benches and he/she moves back when he/she loses his/her ministerial position. Even in the sitting arrangement, Executive dominance is pervasive. No wonder there is very little ambition for Legislators to develop and achieve great heights as known in the US system.

In the US, through the Committee and other Senatorial Hearings, inquisitorial processes of the highest order are held with autonomy, authority and assertiveness. This constitutes the bedrock of the oversight role of the US Legislature. Parliament should be a House of Inquisition. But you can never have this under our hybrid arrangement.

Lindberg, a famous political scientist, wrote of Ghana after careful research:

“The MPs rarely use the investigative power of parliamentary committees to probe into the implementation of enacted bills or into matters of malfeasance. MPs seem not to consider the full options available to them and tend to use primarily the option of filing questions to ministers in exercising oversight responsibilities. Questions typically concern constituency matters such as when a particular road will be completed, or what the minister has done to ensure this or that village will get a new school building, rather than national policy. While important matters of local development are useful, these question and answer sessions fail to fulfill the mandate of the legislature to require transparency and accountability from the executive on implementation of major policy programs”. This is a serious indictment on Ghana.

Our vote of censure provision in the 1992 Constitution is another joke. Article 82 provides that by a two-third majority of its members, Parliament can pass a vote of censure on a Minister of State. But Article 82 Clause 5 provides: “where a vote of censure is passed against a Minister under this Article, the President may, unless the Minister resigns his office, revoke his appointment as Minister”. If the President does not revoke, Parliament labours in vain. In the light of this, Parliament is a toothless bull dog and the Executive reigns supreme. Are we serious?

We should employ constitutional engineering to ensure that our members of Parliament are free to vote as in the US. We will refer to Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia in this connection: “Members of the U.S. Congress are generally elected from one of two parties, but its members are free to vote according to their own conscience or that of their constituents”. When shall we get there?

We should amend the Constitution to specifically provide against Members of the Legislature taking up any positions on Boards or other public position offered by the Executive. This practice creates a conflict of interest situation, undermines the oversight role of MPs over the Executive and provides the tempting carrots for which Parliament plays into the strangulating arms of the Executive.

Finally, it is recommended that Parliament’s tenure be changed to five years and a two-year gap provided between Parliament and the Executive. The latter’s tenure should remain four years.

We should change our ways before we totally destroy our nation. Ghana has strangulated accountability. “Create, loot and share” will continue to haunt us. The Executive plunders with impunity and the Legislature gleefully turns the blind eye.

Source: Prof. Mike Oquaye



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