A legislature may be ineffective not ‘useless’

Oquaye Parl Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Mike Oquaye

Tue, 9 Jul 2019 Source: Bernard Asubonteng

In a conversation quite recently with a relative living in Baltimore here in United States, we both agreed that millions of Ghanaians are ignorantly “hyper-opinionated” and think they know everything to every problem except that they lack the tenacity to come up with creative ways of solving even the simplest problems such as waste menace confronting the Ghanaian society. My people (Ghanaians) can talk real good, interspersed with the right proverbs and other complex local dialect expressions in public space, but in the end, it’s the “same old, same old” socio-cultural mindsets.

In other words, the same old culture of corruption, lawlessness, indiscipline on our roads, sense of governmental entitlement, demand for more rights without responsibility, wanton destruction of the environment, and me-first-before-Ghana attitude that more often lead many of us to engage in hyper-partisanship and reductionist assessment of issues of national importance.

Critical national issues that ought to be holistically and selflessly debated are often retrofitted with sociopolitical weapons to destroy one’s opponents for pure or subtle parochial interest and fame preservation. Not long ago, the debate was fiercely about the Free SHS, the proposed interfaith national cathedral, US military base in Ghana, and as the true veteran journalist Kweku Baako rightly observed: “even the Job 600” or the Accra-Tema motorway construction during Nkrumah’s regime came under hostile attacks as we are witnessing today.

Apparently, Ghanaians don’t believe that sometimes the government has to take some unpopular decisions for the ultimate benefit of the nation. Interestingly, we want the government to get so many things done with lightning speed as soon as a new administration comes to office; but, many people don’t know or are unwilling to accept that national development not only entail prioritization but also some sacrifices, trade-offs and compromises as well.

It looks like Ghanaians/politicians see every government’s move as zero-sum game. It is hard for any government to please Ghanaians in general, because they act like they know everything wrong with Ghana, yet when the opportune time presents itself for rational discourse, many of them best arguments/contributions are only replete with plain insults and emotional tantrums. The creativity and the self-discipline needed to tackle pressing national issues are usually found wanting except talk, more talk, and insinuations in the media space.

The ongoing debate about the MPs’ desire or suggestion to build a new 450-seating capacity parliament chamber for the country is a classic example of Ghanaians’ impatience, misunderstanding, and partisan approach to thorny issues that many of us do not have firm grips of them. Honestly, with the except of some knowledgeable media people on the print media side, as well as some of those who often appear on the FM radio/TV shows such as my “old pal” Kweku Baako, Omanhene Kwabena Asante, Osei Bonsu, Paul Adom Otchere, Samson Lardy, Edwin Appiah (E-Lab), and few others, the rest need vigorous refresher courses in contemporary journalism.

The truth is, besides public officials/politicians, this present writer doesn’t relish in mentioning names or unleashing direct critique on any journalist in the country unless that media personnel’s name is singled out for praise and commendation as done above. However, there also comes a time whereby some media outlets or people do or say certain things so weird and shallow that one is tempted to question the credibility and credentials of some of the so-called “ace” journalists in this nation. In Ghana many of us like to qualify people’s professional titles with all kinds of adjectives, for reasons that are best known to our socio-cultural history. By the same token, if one insists on unique titles then that individual’s work output must also reflect uniqueness and above mediocrity.

We cannot just describe one as “ace, renowned, experienced” journalist while we sit unconcerned and let some people present mediocre journalism and still expect that none of us challenges some of the false assumptions imbedded in their work. Where in the civilized world would any serious or “ace” journalist conducts a survey/poll via seriously-unreliable Facebook and based on the respondents’ accounts, can draw a scientific or reliable conclusion supporting the narrative that many people in this country believe Ghana’s parliament is “useless”?

Something is only “useless” if one doesn’t know all its uses or what actually that entity is used for. Truly, nothing in this world is “useless” in that every matter—including all human inventions—has a purpose behind its existence. Even dead animal found rotting in an abandoned area isn’t “useless” because it naturally fertilizes the soil. On that basis we can safely state that something, or in our case the nation’s parliament may be ineffective, unproductive, or not living up to the people’s expectations and not useless. Hence, it’s a stretch to describe any legislature as “useless” regardless of how ineffective it may be. Simply put, we must take notice that there is a veritable chasm between useless and ineffective. All legislatures serve a purpose one way or the other no matter what.

Surely, some of us strongly reject the timing and the not-too-smart attempt to prioritize national discussions pertaining to the proposal or putting up a new legislative edifice. This nation has a lot on its dinner plate to contemplate of adding more in terms of constructing new ultra-modern parliament complex at this time. Nevertheless, at some point in time the country should seriously consider streamlining or adding more firepower to its legislative branch even if it may involve the construction of a new lawmaking chamber.

The starting point to get an effective or “useful” parliament in Ghana that can stand “boot for boot” with the executive arm of the government is to have some selfless and committed journalists who will devote a greater part of their time and energy to campaign incessantly till the current “one-person” Fourth Republic Constitution is amended, as the “constitution owner” JJ Rawlings himself suggested recently.

Keep in mind even though there are three coequal branches of government, yet in genuine multiparty democracy the legislature is the main switchboard of the whole system. Parliament/legislature is the “people house” and this awareness immensely informed the founders of the United States to spend more time on the longest section of their constitution (Article 1) that establishes and lists all the powers of US Congress. If the US legislature and its legislators are not “useless,” it’s because the constitutional underpinnings of its lawmaking body is stronger than what Ghana has under this 4th republic constitution. The critics of Ghana’s parliament must consider this reality, too.

Columnist: Bernard Asubonteng