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Opinions Sun, 29 Jan 2017

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Letter to Ghanaians: No parliamentary vetting committee

GHANA IS A COUNTRY WITH BUDGET CONSTRAINTS AND AS CITIZENS, WE MUST HOLD OURSELVES ACCOUNTABLE FOR POLITICAL OSTENTATION. IF THE NORMINEES QUALIFY TO MAKE LAWS WHY CAN’T THEY QUALIFY TO IMPLEMENT LAWS?

Fellow Compatriots,

Democracy is the import of Western World and ministerial vetting is a component of that political concept exported to Ghana. The deep political cleavage between the two leading political parties: The ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and The National Democratic Congress (NDC) has infiltrated bigotry, acrimony, vilification, baseless allegations and innuendo into the politics of Ghana. Ministerial vetting, therefore, does not only present an opportune time to heal the hangovers of electoral defeat but also bring a cornucopia of euphoria for those on “let us pull them down” rampage. Definitely, the developments in legislature during ministerial vetting do not auger well for nation-building.

The purpose of this letter is to reflect on the relevance of the parliamentary appointment committee under Ghana’s Fourth Republic.

Ghana’s political culture is diametrically different from that of our Western counterparts. Therefore, the imperative need to deconstruct our politics from its western frameworks must not be jettisoned. The facts that the United States Congress and the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament vet their ministers through legislative committees do not mean that Ghanaians must copy in a wholesale from them. Suffice it to say it is a political plagiarism and it ought to be avoided.

USA and UK both practice bicameral legislature. In USA, for example, Congress is divided into two. The Upper House known as the Senate and The Lower House Known as House of Representative. It is The Senators who form the appointment committee to grill the would-be Secretaries of Departments. Ghana practices a single chamber legislature better known as unicameral legislature. Senators are elected for a period of six years while members of parliament (MPs) in Ghana are elected for four years. This presents ipso facto that one term Senator has two years learning and training advantage over one term MP in Ghana. Senators are experienced politicians. Is it not weird to have first time MPs who are yet to learn parliamentary procedures to be members of the appointment committee?

Presidents normally appoint individuals who share their visions on nation-building. The appointees including the head of parliament are more often than not members of a given ruling party. Both the current Speaker of Parliament and the first deputy speaker are members of NPP. The first deputy speaker chairs the appointment committee. The Vice Chairperson of the committee is also a known member of the ruling party. These are the major conundrums: Who empanels some MPs to constitute the vetting committee? What is the criteria? How do we juxtapose conflict of interest with some ministerial nominees doubling as members of the appointment committee? What line can these members draw between political party loyalty and national loyalty?

The laws of Ghana are either born from the constitution or are made by parliament. Ghana laws frown upon conflict of interest. “Conflict of interest refers to a strife between two or more entities (Parsa, Aramesh & Larijani, 2014). It also refers to the process of sustaining social trust and differences between breaches of ethical duty and temptation to breach duty (Brody, 2011).

Conflict of interest depends on trust because of its social role (Brody, 2011).

To put into perspectives, it is the discord between personal interest and professional or official duty” (Source: Nana Yaw Osei, Parliamentary Appointment Committee and Conflict Of Interest, ghanaweb.com Sunday, January 15, 2017). I am not trying to impugn the work of our noble MPs, I only observe conflict of interest.

Conflict of interest is not uncommon in our national discourse. Many Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of public institutions are also members of the board that determines their salaries and other benefits. Job applicants have the right to negotiate for salaries but cannot determine their own salaries.

Conflict of interest must be curbed in Ghana. Ministerial vetting is a sort of interview either structured or unstructured depending on the angle. The rules of interview must therefore be applied.

Every interview almost invariably aimed at two things, namely: integrity and content. Integrity/honesty test is used to predict whether the nominee will engage in dishonest job related behaviors such as corruption, nepotism and sabotage (Levy, 2013). It could be either overt honesty test; measurement of attitude towards theft, corruption and nepotism (Levy, 2013). The personality type integrity test; an attempt to measure personality traits perceived to predict inefficiency and ineffectiveness relative to job performance (Levy, 2013). Such attitudes include emotional instability, psychological issues, dishonesty and irresponsibility (Levy, 2013). Content aspect of interview focus on the applicants’ knowledge and ability on the applicable subject matter.

Members of the appointment committee pay needless attention to the integrity of the nominees leaving the content aspect. I concede that personality traits have correlations on job performance. However, a standardized personality assessment inventory must be adopted to put rest to accusations and counter-accusations in parliament. I cannot really fathom how the nominee’s childhood name at the kindergarten and primary schools or his/her association to the alumni of University Hall of Residents could play a role at the ministry she/he is going to head.

At the United States Capitol East Front on March 4, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln told Americans: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it." Indeed, in the hands of Ghanaians is the politics of ostentation, albeit budgets constraints. No group of individuals had sworn oath in heaven to sacrifice the development of Ghana on unholy altars of their own egocentric convenience. My good Friend in Sydney, Australia, Tahiru and I want to know if integrity test is relevant for appointees who are MPs. If an individual qualifies to make law why can’t he/she qualifies to implement laws? This means that certain questions are not relevant during the vetting of the nominees.

From the foregoing analysis, it is imperative to create a bipartisan independent appointment commission to look into the vetting, emoluments and the conditions of service of would-be public office holders. Certain parts of the world even have presidential debate commission. Ghana can be pacesetters by creating a commission consisting of Industrial/Organization psychologists, industrial sociologists, human resource experts, labor attorneys, relevant interest groups and applicable technocrats to vet the would-be ministers. This commission can work together with the Public Services Commission to determine the emoluments and the retirement package of the article 71 office holders. This will prevent the conflict of interest of every president setting up his own commission to determine emoluments of the aforesaid office holders. Such commission must be tasked to come out with a standardized vetting criteria.

It is also clear that parliamentary vetting is not only a mere window dressing, but equally waste of precious time and resources. Where there is competition, there is nothing like fair play. The parliamentary vetting is normally used to heal the wounds of electoral defeat of minority parties. In 2013, NPP members boycotted the vetting on the grounds of electoral petition, but interestingly did not boycott their swearing in. This boycott, almost invariably made the 2013 ministerial vetting pervasively rubber stumped. There will be no appropriate vetting if MPs of the same ruling party constitute the appointment committee as in 2013. Ministerial nominees have no locus standi to be part of the parliamentary appointment committee. New MPs need some training before empaneling them as members of the appointment Committee of parliament. MPs must be excluded from honesty test during vetting since they passed that same test before becoming legislators.

The momentous issue of conflict of interest in our national politics justifies the need to create an independent appointment commission. The commission will be a hiring agency on behalf of Ghanaians. It can also set guidelines for new governments regarding the number of ministers needed in the country. It is my fervent wish that the above analysis will goad you to factor the establishment of a neutral appointment commission into our political scale of preference. God Bless Our Homeland Ghana, And Make Us Cherish Fearless Honesty.

Your Fellow Compatriot

Nana Yaw Osei (Padigo), USA

N_yawosei@hotmail.com

Reference

Brody, H. (2011). Clarifying conflict of interest. American Journal of Bioethics, 11(1), 23-28. Doi:10.1080/15265161.2010.534530

Levy, P. E (2013). Industrial/Organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (4th ed). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Parsa, M., Aramesh, K., & Larijani, B. (2014). A comparison between conflict of interest in Western and Islamic literatures in the realm of medicine. Journal of Medical Ethics &History of Medicine, 7(70, 1-7

Columnist: Osei Nana Yaw

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