Has the chamber really been dropped?

Proposed Parliament Proposed parliamentary chamber

Wed, 10 Jul 2019 Source: Richard Amarh

Ghana's Parliament has formally decided not to proceed with the proposed $200 million New Chamber construction.

This happened after the revelation of the plan to construct a new chamber was met with wide public opposition. The hashtag #Dropthatchamber trended in Ghana within days after Ghanaians learnt of the plan by the Parliamentary Service Bard.

The members of the public were of the view, and rightly so, that $200m could be used to solve the many challenges in our nation, from health, through education and roads. So on Monday 8th July 2019 when it became clear that parliament has officially dropped that chamber, many were and have been excited about the victory. But is it really an everlasting victory?

Well, I am not optimistic that the suspension of this project is a permanent one. It is a matter which will come back to us again sooner or later. In the words of Bob Marley "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day".

My fear is that, when the issue of the new chamber comes up again in the future, the Government would have learnt from the Communication blunders it committed with this, and they would win the public on this matter and waste our scanty resources to build a new parliamentary chamber.

I believe the only way we can put a finality to the issue of not building a new chamber in the near future is to place an upper ceiling on the number of Members of Parliament that Ghana can have. The current legal arrangements allow us to have one million MPs if the Leading political parties so wish. I will attempt to explain the legal position in the next few paragraphs below.

First of all, Article 93(1) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana says "There shall be a Parliament of Ghana which shall consist of not less than one hundred and forty elected members."

This means that we know for sure that we cannot have less than 140 members of parliament at any point in time. We have however left the upper ceiling open. This makes it legal for any President to create new constituencies. A phenomenon which is very similar to gerrymandering in government.

The records show that within a time space of 11 years, Ghana has added about 75 more MPs to its number of MPs. This is almost a 40% increment within this short period of time. It has not only been done by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) but has also been done by the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Of course many will disagree with me and say I am wrong because it was the Electoral Commission which created those new constituencies. But those who understand how the law and power works will agree with me that it has always been through the manipulation of the Executive that we have created these new constituencies thus increasing the number of Members of Parliament that we have.

This is how it works. The Parliament of Ghana is known to be one that is largely controlled by the ruling president at all times due to several legal procedures in our 1992 constitution. So, the government will simply ask parliament to create new Districts as has been done in the last 16 years by President Kuffuor, President Atta Mills and President Akufo Addo. Parliament will simply rely on Article 241 of the constitution and created new districts. This is what Article 241 says.

(1) For the purposes of local government, Ghana shall be deemed to have been divided into the districts in existence immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution.

(2) Parliament may by law make provision for the redrawing of the boundaries of districts or for reconstituting the districts.

As soon as parliament makes new laws to increase the number of districts, the Electoral Commission has no option than to also increase the number of constituencies in the country. That is also because, in the Local Government Act of Ghana 1993, (ACT 462), there is a clause that makes it necessary for new constituencies to be created as soon as new districts have been created. This is what the Clause 6(7) of the Local Government Act says. A person shall not be a member of more than one Assembly at any point in time. This means that if the boundary of the new district is created from an existing constituency, then a new constituency must be created so that there would not be two districts in a constituency which would mean that members of that constituency may become members of two district assemblies.

In the year 2007, President Kufour created 25 new districts which increased the number of districts in Ghana from 141 to 166. This by necessary implication increased the number of MPs from 200 to 230.

In 2012, President Mahama increased the number of districts from 166 to 216. This by necessary implication increased out MPs from 230 to 275.

In November 2017, the current government led by Nana Akufo Addo created 38 more districts in putting the total number of districts now at 254 from a previous 216. The necessary legal implication is that we need to have at least 320 more constituencies. I have estimated 320 because when we had 216 districts, we had 275 constituencies. That means, the current parliamentary chamber is already unable to accommodate the new parliament which will be constituted in 2021. The current Parliament has a seating capacity of 270. This means some 5 MPs do not have a proper seat in parliament which is why the speaker complains he is unable to see some MPs. I hope by this time, you agree with me that we have not dropped that chamber yet. Perhaps, we would be able to effectively drop that chamber if we force parliament to revise the laws that allows them to increase constituencies any time they feel the need. I believe Ghana should not have more than 200 legislators.

I hereby call on all prudent Ghanaians to start a campaign to ask the government to put an upper limit on the number of MPs we can have at 200.

Thank you.

Columnist: Richard Amarh