Opinions Sun, 26 Jul 2020

The 4th republic: When the executive and the legislature shall be controlled by two political parties

For the 4th Republic of Ghana, perhaps with the exception of the Second Parliament, almost all other Parliaments have been accused of not asserting their independence enough by standing up to the Executive. This need for Parliamentary independence and assertiveness has been reechoed by notable Parliamentarians such as Hon. Alban Kingsford Sumani Bagbin and Hon. Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, the current 2nd Deputy Speaker and Majority Leader respectively. Indeed, some have even gone a step further in describing Parliament as a rubber stamp where the Minority always has its say and the Majority has its way when it comes to decisions in the house, although some decisions in the house are based on consensus building across the aisle. But how can we make our Parliament more independent and assertive as true independence of the house will translate into quality laws, quality of representation and better oversight of policy implementation by the Executive arm of government?

For answers, we must as a country agree on the type of Parliament we want. Countries do determine the type of legislatures they want or aspire to. “Many of the world’s representative bodies only represent – that is, their governmental functions only consist of affirming and legitimizing the national leadership’s decisions. The only national representative that actually possesses powers of governance is the U. S. Congress which never accedes to the President’s budget proposals without making changes. Both the British House of Commons and the Japanese Diet always accept the budget exactly as proposed by the government” ( Lowi, Ginsberg, Shepsle & Ansolabehere, 2010:166). Like our Constitution, we in Ghana can agree to go the way of hybrid thereby giving some latitudes to our Parliament to make far-reaching inputs to Executive budget appropriations, bills and motions where members deem it fit without the overbearing influence of party control and whipping in line.

As we ponder over this, I have in mind a utopian Ghana and Parliament. I am no Prophet or a soothsayer. I have no timelines as to when this can happen in Ghana. It is a kind of utopia that will be interesting to experience. It is a utopia that we must avert our minds to even if the probability of its occurrence is such minuscule. That utopia is to have the Executive and the Legislative arms of government controlled by two different political parties. Have we seriously thought of this scenario playing out one day in this Republic? This utopia does have a lot of ramifications on our governance system. For starters, this utopia will see Parliament controlled and led by an Opposition Speaker and Majority Leader who will also be in charge of Parliamentary business. The Leader and the Speaker will decide to a large extent which government business, bill, agreement and motion get featured on the Order Paper for a given day. It will produce a Business Committee with majority from the opposition party. This will create a scenario of having Minister for Parliamentary Affairs who will not be a Leader of the house.

That utopia will produce majority of the Standing Committees that have majority of their members being non-members of the ruling party. Such committees with opposition party chairs will decide the extent of amendments to bills and appropriations from the Executive. They will decide on what constitutes certificate of urgency and whether or not to grant tax waivers to individuals or companies as shall be proposed by the Executive. That Parliament led by opposition parliamentarians will decide on when constitutional instruments especially those that will be sent by the Electoral Commission get laid in the house and when they get mature. It will impact on the EC’s budget, programme and timing of events. And perhaps, it will encourage compromises being made by the EC and Parliament and promote a more friendly relationship between the two bodies.

Further, this utopia should lead us rethink the provision in our constitution that makes the Speaker of Parliament the automatic Acting President whenever both the President and her/ his vice are out of the jurisdiction. It should lead us to provide a delimitation to the extent of his/her functions if we are still going to hold on to the practice whose relevance some have questioned against the backdrop of the internet and social media which can make our Presidents deliver their instructions ubiquitously. It will also test Parliament’s constitutional mandate of controlling government appropriations and expenditure since the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee will be a member of the ruling party.

More seriously, it will be a test case of our belief in the principles of rule of law and a test of the character of the Executive arm of government. For example, will the President rule mainly by issuing Executive Instruments or find a way of bypassing Parliament?

For those who have not averted their minds to this utopia, I remind us that this will have a far-reaching influence on how fast new governments are composed, which Ministers get approved by the Parliament’s Appointment Committee. It will be an interesting payback time for some nominees who may be a pain in the neck of the opposition party or who might have insulted or cast a slur on some opposition figures during the campaign. But it will also make chiefs, Imams and the prelate influential lobbyists on the side of some of these nominees. This will be so serious as to determine which Supreme Court nominee gets to sit on the apex court regardless of their knowledge, experience and expertise.

Meanwhile, it will make the Executive arm more accountable to the Legislature as the Legislature will have the opportunity of requesting of the Executive to make full disclosures of its intents on appropriations and agreements. It will also impact on the quality of bills passed and agreements entered into considering that there will be more scrutiny and thoroughness on the part of the Legislature. For Ministers of State who are fond of giving excuses whenever motions pertaining to their ministries are filed, they will have to change their attitude.

For us the public, we must brace ourselves to live with two parallel governments – one at the Jubilee House and the other at the Opposition Party’s Headquarters. It will have far-reaching effect on government’s appropriation bill which may get rejected or approved with significant changes and amendments. Such situations will have dire consequences on public service delivery and running of government business. But in this utopia, I am jealous of the enviable status of the Committee Chairperson of the Finance Committee. He/She will pull strings and there will be all eyes on her/him.

But it will also be a test of the integrity of Opposition Parliamentarians. Will they respect their whips and the party headquarters or they will break ranks with their party in Parliament? But for whatever they do, they must not lose sight of the next election.

So, for those who clamour for a true separation of powers, real independence of the Legislature, and bipartisanship in our governance system, this utopia is worth our pondering over. But let’s remember that among other things, it will create unnecessary delays, conflicts, polarization and party jingoism. Followers of the American Congress which sometimes see an opposing party control either of the houses will fully appreciate the true ramifications of this utopia in Ghana. That is why thoughts of this utopia should let us think of the relevant constitutional changes that can provide us with insurance against the negative consequences of this scenario. And as it is said, when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers, we the public will have to brace ourselves for the huge consequences of this utopia one day.
Columnist: Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse