....to JusticeGhana Group

 Welcome to JusticeGhana

JusticeGhana is a Non-Governmental [and-not-for- profit] Organization (NGO) with a strong belief in Justice, Security and Progress....” More Details

Parliament versus The People: Contempt of Parliament or Contempt of the People?


Prof. H. Kwasi PrempehParliament versus The People: Contempt of Parliament or Contempt of the People?

By By Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh

On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, Professor Alex Dodoo, an associate professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Ghana School of Medicine and chair of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Pharmaco-Vigiliance, appeared before the Privileges Committee of Parliament in response to a summons from the Speaker of the House.

The matter arose in connection with the public controversy that erupted in June over reports that an international pharmaceutical company was about to begin human trials of an Ebola vaccine in the Volta Region. Led by Members of Parliament from the target communities, Parliament rose in opposition to the vaccine trials and demanded their immediate suspension, querying why Ghana, which had no recorded case of Ebola, would be chosen as a site for the vaccine trials.

The trials had earlier been approved by the Food and Drug Authority and the Ministry of Health, presumably in accordance with the existing statutory and regulatory regime governing the conduct of such trials. In the ensuing debate over the trials, Professor Dodoo, speaking during an interview on JOY FM’s Super Morning Show, expressed his disappointment at Parliament’s reaction to the trials and described the legislators’ reported comments on the floor of the House, especially their queries regarding the legal basis for the trials, as “uninformed” and “ignorant”. Calling Professor Dodoo’s statement “a serious indictment on the House,” the Member of Parliament for Ho West, one of the communities selected for the trials, moved the House to summon the professor to appear before the Privileges Committee to answer for his “insult”.

Professor Dodoo’s appearance before the Privileges Committee for alleged “contempt of Parliament” was the third such appearance by a member of the public in roughly a month. Earlier in June, local reggae musician and radio presenter Blakk Rasta (a.k.a. Mr. Abubakar Ahmed) had been summoned to appear before the Privileges Committee to answer for alleged “contempt of Parliament” after he reportedly stated on his Hitz FM show that, “There are about eighty percent of parliamentarians who smoke wee”. Journalist and editor-in-chief of the Daily Searchlight, Kenneth Kuranchie, whose newspaper had carried the comments by Blakk Rasta, also appeared before the Privileges Committee of Parliament in June in response to a related summons from the House.

At their respective appearances, both Professor Dodoo and Blakk Rasta were contrite. Both appeared with counsel, but neither contested the legality of their contempt proceedings. Instead, they each rendered an unqualified apology to the House. On July 24, after additional appearances before the committee by both Professor Dodoo and Blakk Rasta, it was reported that the House, acting in accordance with the report of the Privileges Committee, had voted to “pardon and discharge” Professor Dodoo. However, the committee reportedly rejected Blakk Rasta’s apology as insincere.

Regardless of the outcome of these proceedings, the fact that Parliament chose to respond in this fashion, and the fact that its actions have so far raised no notable protest or challenge from the media, academia, or civil society, are both deeply troubling. The Speaker and Members of Parliament appear certain and united in their belief that their actions in summoning Professor Dodoo and Blakk Rasta to appear before the Privileges Committee to answer allegations of contempt of Parliament are well within the lawful powers of Parliament. The Speaker has asked critics of Parliament’s actions to head to the courts if they so wish.

Because these recent developments raise very troubling constitutional concerns affecting the rights and freedoms of citizens, academics, and the media and have far-reaching implications for the ability of the governed to hold their elected representatives accountable, they must not pass without challenge. In the remainder of this article, I will demonstrate that our Parliament’s expansive conception of its contempt power, as illustrated by the Blakk Rasta and Professor Dodoo cases, is not supported by a careful reading and analysis of the applicable constitutional text or by the ideals and principles of popular sovereignty that underpin the constitutional system of the Fourth Republic.



 1000 Characters left

Antispam Refresh image Case sensitive

JusticeGhana Group *All Rights Reserved © 2007-2013*Privacy Policy