Opinions Wed, 27 Oct 2021

An open letter to our honourable MPs

Dear Honourable MPs,

I humbly send you my warmest regards.

To begin with, please kindly let me inform you that I have the greatest respect for parliamentary government. This is because from 1957 to 1960, I was a reporter on parliamentary proceedings for Radio Ghana.

I loved Parliament for its own sake. I'd arrive for the morning sessions on my motor scooter, take down the important Questions and Answers, the “Statements” (if any); and then cover the all-important “Second Reading of Bills”. (This was where the real debating occurred. ) I would leave Parliament House around noon, speed up to Broadcasting House and write a report for the One O'clock News. Depending on the importance of the day's business, my report would take up to a fifth of the bulletin,

Yes – Ghana was operating a full “parliamentary democracy” system of government, and parliamentary proceedings were naturally, at the top of the news agenda. (In fact, in addition to the prominence given to parliamentary news in our news bulletins, we also had a “TODAY IN PARLIAMENT” programme at 6.15 p.m., repeated later in the evening, that lasted a whole 15 minutes!)

Among the most important debates I covered were those on the legislation that enabled the CPP Government to deport Alhaji Ahmadu Baba and Othman Laramie to Nigeria; the Indemnity Bill (passed under a Certificate of Urgency) that saved Police Commissioner E R T Madjitey and his Minister of the Interior, Mr Krobo Edusei, from a charge of contempt of court, for deporting the two “Nigerians” whilst their case challenging the deportation orders issued against them, was still being heard by a Judge called Mr Justice Smith.

My report on what Mr Justice Smith said in court about the Indemnity Act, I have since discovered, was the cause of a major crisis for the Government. It nearly caused the Governor-General of the time, Lord Listowel, to resign! I didn't know this, then, but I realised something strange was afoot when the Director-General of Ghana Broadcasting, Mr James Millar, came to the newsroom personally to ask for a copy of the report! I was as frightened as hell, but he later came back to tell me, with a smile, that Mr Justice Smith had told him that my report was not only accurate but “better” and more “coherent” than he had “put it in court!”

I reported all these debates faithfully, and was confident, in my own mind, that so long as the country was given the facts upon which to form an educated public opinion on them, we would be able to influence the Government to mind how it acted, especially when it felt like bringing in dictatorial measures. But rather than mend its ways, the CPP Government brought in, instead, a Preventive Detention Bill that killed, at a stroke, any pretence that it wanted to respect the democratic principles under which Ghana had been granted independence.

Yes – if it possesses a majority in Parliament, a Government can “do anything in a democracy, except change a man into a woman!” (Today, of course, democratic governments can – ahem! – allow “men to marry men and women to do likewise!”)

Anyway, the first Parliament of independent Ghana was, within a year of independence, reduced to a group of “Yes-men”. For as soon as the “Preventive Detention Act” (PDA) became operative, great debaters like Joe Appiah, Victor Owusu, R R Amponsah and S D Dombo were carted out of the House and put behind bars. Very soon – as Joe Appiah, in particular had warned – even CPP members of the House who publicly disagreed with some of the policies of their own Government (such courageous MPs as Patrick Quaidoo and W A Wiafe, were detained without having the benefit of a trial to determine exactly what they were supposed to have done wrong against their own Government.

Now, I don't want to suggest, in the least, that some people, both in and out of the official opposition, did not entertain subversive ideas or act abominably in other ways. But the point is that in a democracy, courts are set up and maintained at great expense, precisely to sift any charges brought against any suspected individual(s) and determine their guilt or otherwise vis-a-vis the charges brought against them. To dispense with a trial, because the accused might be found “Not Guilty” (as happened in the conspiracy case against Ako Adjei, Adamafio and Coffie Crabbe) is just plainly wrong and undemocratic.

That trial, in fact, demonstrated what a great folly Preventive Detention was, for the accused persons, on “evidence” based on rumours and interpretations of their actions subsequent to a bomb having been thrown at President Kwame Nkrumah at Kulungugu in August 1962, were found “NOT GUILTY” by the three most senior judges of our country. C L R James, a fellow Trinidadian and bosom friend of George Padmore's (he was actually the man who put Nkrumah in touch with Padmore when Nkrumah was going to London from the USA) remarked that it was when the other leaders of Nkrumah's own party did not advise him against sacking judges for pronouncing a verdict they had reached on the Bench, that he realised Nkrumah's Government was more or less – I paraphrase – digging its own grave.

Let us also ask – what can excuse the fact that K A Gbedemah felt the urgent need to run away into exile, after he had openly spoken his mind, in the very Parliament in which he had been, for years, the unacknowledged Deputy Leader of the majority party? Just imagine what an education in real politics the Ghanaian pubic would have gained, had Gbedemah been taken to court and publicly made to answer questions, under cross-examination, on why he was maintaining secret relations with US embassy officials [for example]; or his alleged conversations with Ghanaian labour leaders when he was acting as a member of the Presidential Commission, during the workers' strikes of 1961 (when President Nkrumah was abroad?)

That the CPP was put in a position to destroy itself by the silence of its own MPs against the Party's excesses, shows that closing one's ears when in government and staying aloof from the opinions and concerns of the electorate, is extremely dangerous for any ruling group. Happily, our current National Assembly does not have authoritarian tendencies of the CPP type. But it does harbour an unconcern for the welfare of the people who elected its members, which the MPs' would do well to remedy.

It seems to me that relatively speaking, more attention is paid to matters that concern the elite in our society than what can alleviate the hardships facing the ordinary men and women who voted our MPs into power. In the spirit of “constructive criticism”, I hereby offer some of the measures I would currently press the House to take if I were an MP. I would:

1. Ask for a monthly report (which would be debated by the whole House) about how the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources is waging the campaign against galamsey. Each report would have to contain an authenticated assessment of the quality of the water in our main rivers for the month. Was it not that Ministry that allowed people to be issued with “prospecting licences” which they were turned into mining licenses by galamseyers? How did galamseyers gain access to forest reserves (in the first place)? Why didn't the Ministry submit the “licences” it issued to so-called “small-scale miners” to Parliament for “ratification”, as the Constitution demands in respect of all licences to carry out exploitation of all minerals in Ghana? If the Ministry can break the law, as contained in the Constitution, how can it be entrusted with the task of preventing galamseyers from breaking the law, as on the statute books?

2. How many road accidents had occurred in the previous month and what were the causes? How many operators of defective vehicles had the police arrested and what had been done to them? How many police patrols had occurred on our main roads, with the idea of observing and removing broken-down vehicles on them? Are speed traps in operation at the locations where it had been observed previously that speeding and (especially) unsafe overtaking, had caused fatal accidents? Are there “danger spots” on our main roads which ought to be altered, in order to maintain safety? {For instance, can sections of the road network identified as being particularly dangerous be transformed from, say, two-way into one-way systems?

3. Discuss with the leaders of the House, the issue of allowing MPs more time to bring to the attention of the House (and thereby, the Executive and members of the public) matters that MPs had discovered were affecting adversely, the lives of their constituents. Particular attention would be paid to the availability – and price stability – of food in the constituencies. Parliamentary attention would, in turn, force the District and Municipal authorities to interest themselves in such issues.

4. Ensure that Hansard is made available on the Internet within 24 hours of the House meeting, just as in the past, the paper Hansard was available from the Assembly Press within hours of the House rising for the day? Why is it so difficult to find, on the Net, proceedings that are of interest to members of the public? (I have personally given up looking for the proceedings on the Internet regarding the debate on the Second Reading of the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill 2019 (which was passed into Act 995.) Is the Honourable Speaker making sure that Hansard on the Internet is as good as Hansard on paper, or is he (and, incidentally) Members of the House assuming that because they get their Hansards on time, members of the public are equally getting easy access to Hansard on time? I assure the Speaker and Honourable members that Parliament without Hansard is walking a plank!

I would ask the MP from the constituency of Madam Ama Hemmah, the alleged witch who was burnt alive at Tema in November 2010, to keep asking the Police Service of Ghana, through the Minister of the Interior [who is responsible for the force] and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, who is in charge of prosecuting criminals to present a full progress report on the case that arose fro m the following news item:

QUOTE: “A 72-year-old Ghanaian woman has been burned to death on suspicion of being a witch. Ama Hemmah was allegedly tortured into confessing she was a witch, doused in kerosene and set alight. She suffered horrific burns and died the following day....Hemmah was allegedly attacked by a group of five people, one of whom is an evangelical pastor, Ghana's Daily Graphic reported.

“Three women and two men have been arrested. They are Nancy Nana Ama Akrofie, 46, photographer Samuel Ghunney, 50, Emelia Opoku, 37, Mary Sagoe, 52, and pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55. The suspects say the death was an accident and deny committing any crime. They claimed

they were trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the woman by rubbing anointing oil on her but it accidentally caught fire.

“Augustine Gyening, Assistant Police Commissioner, told the Daily Graphic that Sagoe saw Hemmah sitting in his sister's bedroom on 20 November [2010] and raised an alarm, attracting the attention of people in the neighbourhood.

Gyening added that the suspects claimed that Hemmah was a known witch and subjected her to severe torture, compelling her to confess. He said Ghunney then asked Opoku for a gallon of kerosene and with the help of his accomplices, poured it over the victim and set her ablaze.” UNQUOTE

Is this a case that should die in a country where Parliamentary democracy is in operation? Who would believe that there is a Parliament in Ghana and yet, in ELEVEN YEARS, people who burnt a fellow citizen of Ghana ALIVE, have not been brought to justice?

Again, Honourable MPs, I present my respectful compliments to you!
Columnist: Cameron Duodo