Ghana's incompetent parliament

Mon, 28 Apr 2014 Source: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Irmo, SC

26th April, 2014

Parliament has failed Ghanaians.

That does not mean it is completely full of mediocrities. It is not. However, despite a few good MP’s, Parliament is clearly a failed institution.

Ghana has a population of about 24 million and 275 legislators or one legislator for every 87,000 citizens.

In contrast, America’s 300 million people have 535 legislators or one law-maker for every 560,000 citizens!!

Furthermore, an American legislator gets paid less than an average physician while a Ghanaian legislator gets paid far, far better than an average physician.

Realistically, we get little value out of these investments.

Here is the proof.

First, Parliament does not supervise the Executive arm of government.

Second, it has surrendered its constitutional functions to others.

Third, it is inattentive to detail in its work.

Fourth, it is corrupt.

Fifth, it puts its interest above the public interest.

Article 103 of the 1992 constitution clearly outlines the awesome responsibilities and powers of Parliament. The constitution states under 103:3 that “Committees of Parliament shall be charged with such functions, including the investigation and inquiry into the activities and administration of Ministries and Departments as Parliament may determine and such investigations and inquiry may extend to proposals for legislation.” In other words, Parliament has executive oversight. Despite this, numerous audits of our government gather dust while the malefactors go unpunished. In 2011, the Auditor General, Richard Quartey, stated “the cataloguing of financial irregularities in my report on MDA’s and other agencies has become an annual ritual that seems to have no effect because affected MDA’s are not seen to be taking any effective action to address the basic problems of lack of monitoring and supervision and non-adherence to legislation put in place to provide effective management of public resources.” Clearly, it is the job of Parliament to ensure that the President effectively supervises the executive branch and they are derelict. Indeed, the main reason why we have a JUDGMENT DEBT COMMISSION is due to Parliamentary ineptitude. That is why individuals, within and outside government can loot millions of our money and be free and respected while people go to prison for decades for stealing cassava and fowls!!

On the surrender of constitutional functions, look no further than the Constitutional Review Commission. President Mills relied on his power to establish a Commission of inquiry on matters of public interest to establish the CRC. However, as Professor Asare of University of Florida and Dr. H. Kwasi Prempeh of Seton Hall brilliantly opined in their paper titled “AMENDING THE CONSTITUTION OF GHANA: IS THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENT TRESSPASSING?” “We disagree. We believe that a reliance on article 278(1) (a), as authority for presidential initiative and unilateralism in setting the agenda for a review of the constitution of Ghana, is misplaced. We argue in this article that a comprehensive review of the constitution, such as is contemplated in this case, is an act sui generis, not just any matter of public interest that is to be governed by the generic provisions relating ad hoc commissions of inquiry.” They are right. The amendment provisions of the constitution, as outlined in Chapter 25, does not give the President, the right or responsibility to initiate the amending process. Indeed, the work of the CRC is, quite properly the work of Parliament.

As to Parliament’s inattention, recall the Election petition. CI 74 was laid before Parliament to give effect to the rules for election disputes set out by the “Rules of Court Committee” with input from the Supreme Court. However, the house failed to do its due diligence before allowing the CI to mature. The result was that right in the middle of the Election petition, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously, following a challenge by Bernard Mornah, that parts of the CI passed by Parliament were unconstitutional. This ruling, in effect gutted the very rules under which the petition was occurring. Under the circumstances, it was fortuitous that Nana Akufo-Addo and other petitioners chose not to seek a review of the Supreme Court ruling. We might have been subjected to many more months of tension and uncertainty.

As to the corruption of Parliament, the evidence is overwhelming. Speaking at a Seminar for NGO’s in Koforidua in March of this year, former majority leader Alban Bagbin, accused MP’s of taking bribes. He said “The reality is that MP’s are Ghanaians and there is evidence that some MP’s take bribes and come to the floor and try to articulate the views of their sponsors.” Mr. Bagbin’s allegation is not the first against Parliament. Years ago, former MP P.C. Appiah Ofori had alleged that MP’s were bribed to support the vodaphone deal in 2008. Mr. Bagbin’s claims have been supported by former MP Jabanyite and others. Following the publication of Mr. Bagbin’s claims, Parliament expressed some crocodile outrage and pledged to investigate the claims. Then things went back to business as usual. Suffice it to say that when fish comes from the bottom of the river to announce that the crocodile is dead, he should not be doubted. The fact is that, “tafrakye”, Ghanaians are being screwed multiple times by our Parliament.

We pay them to guard the public purse. The executive pays them to approve corrupt deals—private companies pay them to propagate bogus opinions and we are poorer for it.

On my final point, here is the evidence. In December of 2013, the leadership of Parliament requested the National Security Co-coordinator, the Interior Minister and the Parliamentary Service Board to provide armed police escort for all 275 Members of Parliament in the shortest possible time or risk a Parliamentary summon. According myjoyonline, “The MPs insist, the attacks have been too many and the time to provide security for the MP’s is now.” Wow!! While the MP’s certainly deserve security, they might do well to consider that their own problem with security is part of a broader security problem. People have been shot in their homes. Travelers arriving at our airports have been tailed home and robbed. Vehicles on the highway have been stopped and robbed. Should our lawmakers not ensure the security of their constituents first before worrying about themselves? Let me illustrate this point with Plutarch’s tale of Alexander the Great. Alexander was leading his army home through the desert after his victory against Porus in India. They were hungry and their throats burned from want of water. One day, they met a group of travelers who had a little water. One of them, seeing the king almost choking from thirst, filled a helmet with water and offered it to the king. Alexander took the drink into his hands, and then looked around at the faces of his thirsty soldiers, who needed water as much as he did. “Take it away” he said “for if I drink alone, the rest will be out of heart and you have not enough for all.” Then he handed it back as his soldiers broke into cheers and demanded to be led forward!!!!

How can we improve Parliament?

First, cap the number of MP’s. If we do not, one of these days we shall have a thousand MP’s – doing nothing. We do not need more MP’s—we just need better ones.

Second, we need non- partisan Parliamentarians who want to be lawmakers and not career politicians, who are proud and jealous guardians of the institution of Parliament and the national interest. Such a Parliament must be willing to do its work and thus make all the alphabet soup commissions unnecessary.

Third, we must vigorously investigate allegations of corruption against Parliament. To this end, I have initiated contact with Attorney’s in Accra regarding my standing to file a formal complaint with CHRAJ for the investigation of Mr. Bagbin’s allegations in the public interest.

Fourth, we the people must be willing to vote our interest. If we keep voting and our Parliament keeps getting worse, we are to blame. It is time to make some changes by throwing the bums out—beginning in 2016.

Finally, our media must help expose the many MP’s who are not pulling their weight. Steve Mallory’s “AFRICAWATCH” is boldly leading the way here and such efforts must be celebrated and emulated.

Let us move forward together.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina