Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu has called for critical reform of the country’s parliamentary committees, which he says has undergirded the country’s fledgling democracy.He said the committee system like all human endeavour needed to be occasionally evaluated and renewed where necessary.
“I consider an appraisal of our committee system at this point in our history opportune”.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu made the call at a dialogue organized by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (MoPA) with the Expanded Leadership of Parliament in Accra.
The meeting, which was on the theme: “The Committee System in Ghana’s Parliament: An assessment” was attended by the Majority and Minority Leadership as well as Chairmen and Ranking Members of the committees of parliament.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said the parliamentary committees provided the sharpest tool for the oversight of the Executive.
He said the sheer volume of business in Parliament makes it impossible to transact every business in the plenary, hence, the committee system, which tracks the work of ministries, departments, agencies, and bodies as well as conduct special investigations and inquiries into particular salient aspects of their policy and administration.
He said the committee system offered parliament a good remedy to the deficiencies in the democratic process as well as provide ways to meet public demands for the legislature to be less adversarial and more constructive in developing solutions for societal problems.
He, however, stated that if members quibble and take partisan and entrench positions at committees, that would represent a disservice to democracy and would inflict a severe wound on parliament’s strength.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu explained that a key feature of the committee system was that they served as arenas where legislators become specialists in a particular area.
He said specialization matters because “legislators become knowledgeable and develop expertise useful for drafting, deliberations, and consensus-building around bills. It also provides a continuity that helps in the oversight responsibilities of the committee.”
He, however, noted that the necessary condition for specialization was the length of committee members, adding that, the longer the tenure of a committee member in parliament and on a committee the greater the specialization in the area.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu indicated that Parliament as an institution was also confronted with issues of high turnover, large committee members, lack of quality human resources in respect of both the Members of Parliament and the staff as well as insufficiency of fiscal resources.
Alhaji Inusah Fuseni, Ranking Member on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs said the committee system had been greatly affected by the way the country had chosen to implement its democracy.
Alhaji Fuseni called on the political parties to set qualification criteria for persons who would want to contest as MPs, adding that even in advance democracies the system of selecting people to contest for elections is controlled.
Dr Evans Aggrey-Darkoh, Chief Director, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs said the Ministry’s objective for organizing the dialogue with the Expanded Leadership of Parliament was to undertake diagnostic analysis of the committee system of parliament and identify innovative ways of enhancing their capacity to deliver on their core mandate and contribute to the development of Ghana’s parliament.
He said the interaction also seeks to examine the institutional framework and its effect on the committees of parliament as well as discuss the nature of the relationship between the committees and the legislature.
It was also aimed to evaluate the performance of the committees of parliament, identify and discuss the institutional and operational challenges as well as interrogate the relationships between political parties and their parliamentarians on various committees.
Dr Aggrey-Darkoh noted that the committee system was indispensable to modern legislatures because all the complex organizations operate through delegation of authority.
He said it was the committee rooms where the content of public policy was shaped, various civil society organizations heard and legislation fashioned out.
The committee system he explained provided an increased ability for parliament to scrutinize government policy and expenditure, tap into the expertise of individuals and groups and facilitate increase level of collegiality between members from different political parties.
“An empowered and well-functioning committee system builds a resilient foundation for evidence-based legislation, acts as a bi-partisan bridge-builder, and gives members a more stake in ensuring the success of bills.”
Dr Aggrey-Darkoh said the introduction of the Private Members Bill would pave way for private members to initiate bills with the hope that even if they do not end at the legislation stage, they would have succeeded in putting a particular issue on the public agenda for future consideration.