The New Face of Parliament

Sat, 27 Oct 2007 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The on-going public hearings at the Parliament of Ghana’s Public Accounts Committee of how state institutions have been spending Ghanaian tax payers’ money in the past fiscal year give the legislative body a fresh and new face in view of the that there have been some wrongly held view that Parliament is easily manipulable by the Executive arm of government and self-serving institutions. By tackling the public perception that corruption is growing and accountability low, Parliament is gradually neutralizing the public feelings that it does not reflect genuinely the concerns of Ghanaians.

Actually it is not true that 230-member Parliament isn’t doing well, it is trying, as its website - www.parliament.gh – and its public activities show, in the face of numerous challenges such as lack of research assistants, shortage of staff, effective communication gears, offices for fuller legislative work, and many an excessive demand from the constituents of Members of Parliament. Despite these challenges, the Parliament of Ghana has performed some superb legislative works such as the passing of the controversial Domestic Violence Bill that seeks to protect women against violence by their partners or husbands. For sometime, Ghanaians have seen their Parliament criminalize the dreaded cultural practice of female genital mutilation, banned “trokosi,” a cultural practice in some parts of the Volta, where teenage girls are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by their parents, decentralization of the Ghanaian system, and the passing of the anti-corruption legislation Whistle-Blowers Act in 2006.

Partisanship or not, rubber-stamp or not, while certain work of Parliament doesn’t excite the public, because of heads do not roll, others do, such as the on-going Public Accounts Committee grilling of senior public officials about how they have been spending public money in a bid to encourage transparency and accountability in the nascent democratic system. The idea is to enhance governance by putting a searchlight on corruption (a key destroyer of democracies), promote a culture of maintenance, and fertilize accountability in a country that was formerly a playground of military juntas, autocrats and one-party apparatchiks where accountability and transparency were virtually non-existence and rule by impunity the norm - all this under the cloud of culture of silence (or fear). Of the 50-year corporate existence of Ghana, according to www.ghanaweb.com, there have been 21 years of military juntas, 6 years of one-party regimes, and 16 years of the on-going multiparty democratic system. And what has generally defined these swinging systems is the degree of accountability and transparency.

The relevance of the on-going democratic dispensation to Parliament’s probity and transparency work is that in the 21 years of its military regimes and 6 years of its one-party governments, Ghana didn’t heard about any report from its Auditor General. Even during President Jerry Rawlings almost 20 years in power, which spans both his military juntas and elected governments, with its high sounding accountability, probity and transparency campaigns, some of which came in the form of executions of senior military officers for corrupt practices, the Auditor General’s report that details the degree of accountability and transparency of Ghanaian public institutions was either never made public or presented to Parliament for debate and scrutiny. This makes today’s public cross-examination of head of public institutions by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee “not an indictment of government but an attempt at promoting transparency in governance and checking corruption,” as Presidential Spokesman Mr. Andrews Awuni has indicated. This is despite the fact that the ruling National Patriotic Party has 128 Members of Parliament and the main opposition National Democratic Party has 94.

Scrutinizing of heads of public departments and agencies isn’t enough; Parliament has to broaden its anti-corruption networks by encouraging state and private anti-corruption ventures like Serious Fraud Office, Ghana Integrity Initiative, and Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition. The Ghana Audit Service, a key light of transparency and driver of its democracy, is riddled with challenges such as staff performance and logistics, and Parliament can use its immense democratic weight for support from the private sector and the international community to resolve this problem. For while cultural, ethical, religious, moral and scientific approaches have to be mixed and juggled constantly to address corruption, the Parliament of Ghana, a symbol of Ghana’s democracy and developmental reasoning, should be reminded frequently where the country’s democracy had come from and where the country’s progress is going.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi