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Being in Parliament: The earlier the better, not the longer the better

Fri, 7 Aug 2020 Source: Martinson Yeboah

A person elected as the people’s representative to the parliament of Ghana comes as an audacious responsibility and undying fidelity of service to the nation.

Perhaps, not soo many people have that mind-sketch of the responsibilities of a parliamentarian and the work of parliament itself.

Many know it that the basic function of parliament is law making and representation. However, the jurisdiction of parliament’s functions extend as far as having oversight of the executive arm of government, financial control (of all public funds) and deliberation (debate on matters before it).

These functions of parliament are an entire curriculum 'headache' than the mere choice of electing people, albeit as the foremost.

The Profession and the Professionals

The structure and functions of parliament demands an appreciable level of intentional-learning and the fortitude to doing things out of the normal or undertake roles that transcends ones profession. The profession requires sound reasoning to deliver social justice in legislation; vigilance and alacrity in financial control; oratory prowess and the use of parliamentary rudiments in deliberations.

Most often lawyers and accountants get the upper hand on the processes leading to law making and financial accountability. This is because most matters of parliament are central to these professions and professionals. It is not the place to say that other professions are unimportant to parliament; in fact, parliament will be at its best in considerations and deliberations when minds of different fields proffer their stance on matters of national interest.

Parliamentary rudiments

Law making, oversight, financial control, deliberations and representation are just the end-of-process of the functions of parliament. Behind these processes are a myriad of rudiments and processes a member of parliament (MP) must know or undergo before he can be resourced adequately to perform all expected functions.

This include filing Questions or Statements or Motions or Ceremonial Speeches and debate on policies or bills before reaching a law or resolution of parliament.

To be able to do this, an MP must master the skillful use of the Standing Orders – the rules and regulations laid down to ensure smooth parliamentary processes. The Standing Orders offer a major step-ahead of the overall duties of parliamentarians.

Additionally, not only is constituency duties and private work craving for equal action, but also, there is the need to do an in-depth researched presentations in order to speak to matters of local, national and international interest. It is said “Parliament is a house of records.” That means the comments and statements of a member of parliament are captured in the Hansards for future references and citations.

The additional periodic work of parliament is the Speaker’s committees. The committees come in various forms and groupings. They are the standing committees, select committees, Ad-hoc committees and the committee of the Whole. These committees’ work serves the foundational work of parliament.

Members of the committees meet at regular periods and ad-hoc times to deliberate on essential matters and report to the Speaker of Parliament and the House on its findings and conclusions, for further considerations and decisions of the House of Parliament, in general.

The earlier the better, not the longer the better

Clearly, the cumbersome work of parliament and the expectations of people thereof call for a deliberate policy of resorting to career parliamentarians or appeals to the political parties – on whose ride MPs get to parliament – consider retaining seats for well-deserving MPs or allow first-term MPs to stay awhile longer in order to produce the many periods of trainings and development into useful parliamentary work or even reduce attrition rate of parliamentarians.

Parliamentarians and parliamentary agencies believe that the longer the MP stays in parliament, the better he becomes in the discharge of the parliamentary duties and expectations. While this is true by all measure of traditions, performances and quality of work of parliamentarians and parliament, it is shallow to overestimate that in the current dispensation of the practice of parliamentary democracy. Why not the earlier the better?

In Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Australia, India among other countries, they have legitimized the role and relevance of youth parliaments and institutions of learning parliamentary affairs even before one decides to offer himself for election to parliament. This cannot be said about the manner people are elected to the parliament of Ghana.

However, conventionally, the youth parliament associations in the various tertiary institutions receive some skeletal support of competitions and invitations. These tertiary parliament associations over the years only resort to debates and public speaking. It never begins or ends with committee groups, action plans, ‘law making’ or resolutions that have changed or advocated on behalf of needy affairs.

National Youth Authority, as part of its national policy reviews, has also initiated a decentralized youth parliament system beginning from second cycle institutions to district to regional to national parliament. It has already registered low participation and the fears of political partisanship being greeted upon arrival.

Concern

The concern, actually, is why not solve a dilapidating parliament – that has become a reserve of the rich and privileged – with a deliberate policy plan or legislation or institution (of a University kind) dedicated to the training and development of young minds, career parliamentarians and parliamentary affairs - where thousands will be trained to understand the rudiments and functions of parliament and to contribute resourcefully in all matters of social, economic and political to national development.

This will be a pivotal anchor to our participatory democracy and enhance political inclusion in the governance of the nation. In essence, it will reduce the bias quest to reserve seats for MPs or in-training MPs – who will later be at the ballot sheets of their constituency electorates.

The writer is a youth parliamentarian and the country coordinator for Global Youth Parliament Ghana. Martinson.my@gmail.com

Columnist: Martinson Yeboah