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The parliamentary vetting of ministerial nominees, the approval thereafter and matters arising

Ministers Swearing In 2020 Ministers of 8th Parliament of Ghana

Tue, 30 Mar 2021 Source: Damire Issah

In the very recent past, one of the most dominant political discussions that featured prominently in the Ghanaian media platforms was the regrettable brouhaha that erupted out of the vetting and approval of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo's first batch of ministerial nominees by the appointment committee of Parliament (the committee hereafter).

Under normal circumstances, I would have been reticent over this issue for it to pass insouciantly as others have done but I realized that it has the propensity of foisting Parliament's gulosity on bribery and corruption hence, my devotion and commitment to writing this article so that the 'Ghanaianess' in me could be realized fully.

That being the case, it so happened that the minority caucus (N.D.C) raised some concerns in respect of three of the nominees and refused their approval thereafter. The issue was also heightened inflammably by the premature and denting statement issued by Sammy Gyamfi (NDC national communications officer) on his Facebook page against the minority caucus and the speaker of Parliament for their inability to shoot down the approval when it was brought to the plenary. It is no longer revealing that both have had cause to respond aptly.

They indeed saw Sammy Gyamfi's effusion as one that was raucously and truculently pertinacious and sophomoric (emphasis mine) but they naturally caused it because what they attempted doing was not worth embarking upon and I will soon establish that which I know you will have the opportunity to read in their full flavour for your respectful discerning. Nonetheless, this is not and cannot be news because the battle for hegemony in the NDC is tellingly clear.

However, very few were those who sided with Sammy Gyamfi's headlong statement because left onto them alone, they would have wished that the inimitable drama that befell Ghana's parliament on the dawn of January 7, 2021 should have been repeated to keep them in a rambunctious mood after that ineffable election defeat. As the case may be, the proponents of this thinking have suddenly forgotten or ought to have known that the moment persons find themselves in the August House as MPs, it is deemed that they are persons who have been raised to have strong sense of noblesse oblige and any behaviour other than that would be very inordinate in nature.

In fact the election of the speaker and subsequent swearing in of our honourable MPs that was cataclysmal in form should not be counternized by any patriotic Ghanaian in his infinitesimal rightful thinking capacity.

May I now be given the latitude to deal with the main subject matter of the article; scilicet, the approval of the ministerial nominees. Not claiming to be self-proficient in law, I would try as much as possible to be very succinct in my opinion alongside the verisimilitudinous contention of the law.

The minority indeed rejected the following ministers designate; Hon. Mavis Hawa Koomson (Fisheries & Aquaculture), Hon. Kojo Oppong Nkrumah (Information) and Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto (Food & Agriculture). The many reasons they raised for the rejection of these nominees included but not limited to the incompetence of some nominees, their untruthfulness to the committee, lying before their oaths, their arrogance, unsatisfactory responses to questions, etc.

Before we get into digesting the penned down reasons for which they rejected them, may we look at the triaxiality involved in the appointment and approval process i.e. the Appointing Authority (president/presidency), the Nominee and the Approving body (Parliament).

The power to appoint a minister of state is vested solely in the bosom of the president per article 78(1), 79(1&2) and 256 of the 1992 constitution of Ghana. So let us see who becomes president before he has such enviable powers to do the appointment. The qualification for who can contest and become the president of Ghana is in article 62 of the constitution and for want of my analysis, let me reproduce the relevant portion of article 62 here for easy reference.

Article 62: "A person shall not be qualified for election as the President of Ghana unless -

(a) He is a citizen of Ghana by birth;

(b) He has attained the age of forty years; and

(c) He is a person who is otherwise qualified to be elected a Member of Parliament, except that..."

Considering the above, it goes without saying that one does not need to be a PhD holder, a lawyer, a lecturer, a nurse, a teacher, a soldier, an accountant, etc. before he can aspire to become president. Suffice to say that subject to article 63(3), we can have an 'illiterate' (word used advisedly) say; Kombat John as president of Ghana, with no career in academia being the Appointing Authority.

Similarly, we can also look at the aspect of the nominee. Rarely privileged individuals obtain their nominations from the presidency as ministers by virtue of article 78, 79 and 256 (in the case of regional ministers). Article 78(1) states as follows;

Article 78(1): "Ministers of State shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of Parliament from among members of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected as members of Parliament, except that the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament."

It means the president appoints those in his view have the capacity/capability to do the work he wants to give them and persons of whom he can work with but are qualified to be elected as members of Parliament. We will look at who is qualified to be elected a Member of Parliament in the ensuing paragraph.

Now let us dedicate this portion to look at the approving authority. Article 78 (supra) says the president's nominees shall obtain prior approval of parliament. The functions of Parliament are performed by distinguished individuals who have obtained their membership by dint of meeting the dictates of article 94 of the constitution which states among others that you should be a free Ghanaian of sound mind, a registered voter of 21 years and above, etc.

Also under this criteria, one does not need to be a doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, Police etc. before he can contest to become an MP. It can therefore be deduced that we can have 'JHS/primary leavers’, farmers, illiterates, (words used in light manner) occupying parliament. We may as well have a Parliament where the party in government has 265 MPs whiles the opposition has 10 of the 275 MPs and vice versa.

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The law says majority of the ministers must come from parliament and so it means that most of the ministers will come from these 265 JHS/primary leavers who are also MPs. What is further shocking is that they will be vetted by these same JHS leavers and the president who is the Appointing authority can also be of the same kind. So who is going to determine competence?

At a symposium organised by CDD- Ghana on the topic, "Appointment and 'vetting' of ministerial nominees: constitutional and other challenges", in 2005 (p.13), Dr. P.E. Bondzi-Simpson remarked that "The qualifications and eligibility criteria to be an MP are very simple. In the main, a candidate must ....should not be a public servant or chief. Given the above criteria, it has been observed that 'any shoe-shine boy can be a Minister!' I should add that under the scheme of things, any shoe-shine boy can be an MP."

My case therefore is that the insistence by the minority that a nominee performed unsatisfactorily or is not competent based on the responses to questions makes the world no longer look like a globe. That someone was unable to define the term fish farming, means she did not show much knowledge in the sector and so not competent enough to hold that portfolio. Was she going to pass the vetting process and proceed to do her PhD in the university or was she going to lecture in the University of Parliament?

Parliament should overlook those trivialities and approve the nominee and when at the field working, s/he does not exhibit that competence they desire, then they can invoke the provisions of article 82 of the constitution by way of passing a vote of censure on that particular minister which is also in conformity with order 104 & 107 of the standing orders of Parliament.

Let us not lose focus but be reminded that a government runs the affairs of the state by implementing the policies and programmes it sold to Ghanaians in its party manifesto upon which the elections were won. If the president cannot determine competence in his government, it would be absurd to leave that in the hands of parliament (opposition mps being 165) who do not share in the ideology and vision of the government and were not also involved in the writing of the manifesto to decide who is very suitable to implement those policies.

If it is reduced to alien conditions such as suitability, personal scores & dislikes, competence etc. and not what is prescribed in the constitution, then we are going to have opposition MPs determining at their own convenience and disposal who to be a minister and who should not looking at the polarized nature of our Parliament.

The opposition can intentionally sabotage the government of the day for want of political power. Leaving suitability and competence for Parliament to determine means reducing it to he who has the numbers. It will just be a matter of invoking a 3-line whip and the MPs will vote according to the parochial interest of the party they owe allegiance to leading to the neglect of the public good. In fact Hon.

Haruna Iddrisu (current minority leader) in the same CDD-Ghana programme at page 7 admonished the public in the following words; "May I then caution parties… which the whip is resorted to. A reckless use of the whip could be detrimental to the public good." He went further to say "The expectation is that members of Parliament must freely and willingly indicate their disapproval of a particular nominee but this is not the case. This, as I have pointed out earlier, may be because of the excessive, should I say, often reckless use of the Whip."

Parliament should not be swayed by the accusation of it been a rubber stamp by a section of the society and to that extent, forcefully overstretch its muscle in order to suit the interest of those people to the detriment of the majority of Ghanaians. The committee should endeavour to be doing objective vetting process driven by absolute facts and candour and not subjective vetting process characterized by emotionally-laden and ignominious sheer partisan propaganda and mischief.

If the above is not checked, it means that the committee has indirectly taken away as is presumed by the constitution, the inalienable privileges of the appointing authority (president) who knows whom to appoint, to where, to do what, at where, at when and how. The framers of the constitution did not intend 'prior approval' to mean academic credentials or who has the numbers. The main objective of the committee/Parliament is to meticulously investigate, verify and authenticate their CVs/documents and the conditionalities set out in the constitution but if it is about competence, the president can sack the minister and appoint another (article 297. a.) if he so finds out that the minister is not working in the manner he wants and therefore not competent.

In my humble opinion, insofar as a nominee is an MP and also meets the requirements of a minister as set out in the constitution, Parliament is to ask the nominee questions pertaining to his portfolio and profile, listen to the responses, take assurances from him and proffer pieces of advice for him to work on his weaknesses (if any) afterwards but not to bring other alien conditions to disqualify the nominee for if the president (40+ year old shoe shine boy) cannot determine competence neither can Parliament (21+ shoe shine boys & girls).

It can further be deduced that we may have the analogy of JHS/primary pupils vetting to approve their Headmaster. Reducing the objective of the approval process to competence and suitability is a proposition that suffer grossly from lack of focus and particularity.

In conclusion, whoever the president nominates should be deemed to have such competency as is required of him/her provided s/he meets the constitutional threshold and that the committee with the help of the entire public and responsible state institutions via petitions and memos should properly investigate to find out whether the nominee would have otherwise qualified to become an MP if s/he were to contest.

It is the very reason why when such approved ministers are to be reshuffled by the president in equal portfolio, they no longer require that parliamentary prior approval.

To clothe the committee such undefined powers thus, determining the suitability and competencies of ministers which is not recognizable by the constitution can cause enmity amongst the committee and the nominees and also soar dishonesty and depravity if you have a Parliament that has a ballooned appetite for corruption.

References

i. The constitution of Ghana (1992)

ii. The standing orders of Parliament. Revised, 1st November (2000)

iii. CDD- Ghana briefing paper, volume 7 no.1 (2005)

Columnist: Damire Issah
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