Ursula Owusu and the smelly KelniGVG deal: snubs accountability to our elected representatives too?

Ursula = Cyber Law Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister for Communications

Thu, 6 Aug 2020 Source: Ekow Arthur-Aidoo

Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, the Minister for Communications, was nowhere to be found in Parliament on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, when it was time for her to provide answers to some questions on the $89 million KelniGVG deal.

Her ministry signed a controversial contract meant for a separate entity to monitor revenue mobilization from the mobile telecommunication companies, a job which critics have said the National Communications Authority can do.

Samuel Nartey George, MP for Ningo Prampram had posed some questions to the Minister for Communications on the incremental revenue accrued by the state since KelniGVG was engaged.

But when the moment of truth arrived, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, the Majority Leader told the Speaker gave the representatives of the people the clearest message that the representatives of the people had no control over government appointees:

“I have been trying to locate the Minister. Unfortunately, I have not been able to touch base with her," the Majority Leader said. “She could come, and when she comes, we may vary the Order of Business and allow the Minister to come and respond to the questions.”

Such cock and bull stories are so reminiscent of earlier Parliaments, meaning we are not growing as a nation.

Muntaka Mubarak, Minority Chief Whip, protested that the minister’s non-appearance is untenable, adding “even the answers have not been provided.”

“I don’t want to impugn the wrong motive to say it is deliberate and the minister is avoiding to answer these questions. We have a responsibility as a House to get ministers to be accountable," the Minority Chief Whip continued. “Mr Speaker, this is the third time… Mr Speaker, I hope you give the right directives so that the minister will come and answer these questions [......] without further delay.”

Prof Aaron Mike Oquaye, the Rt. Hon. Speaker, stated that the communication minister had earlier in a letter dated August 3, 2020, requested to be absent from the proceedings of the House.

The Speaker agreed that despite her absence from the House, questions posed on the controversial KelniGVG deal still remained unanswered which was irregular.

He then directed that the minister has a 48-hour ultimatum to show up on the floor of Parliament to respond to questions relating to the KelniGVG contract.

“To cut a long story short, I direct that the minister must answer all the relevant questions and make herself available on Friday,” he said.

MPs Questions are an important way of ensuring public accountability in every serious democracy.

These questions are usually responded to by the Chief Director of each ministry on behalf of the ministry in question. They have then submitted to Parliament ahead of the scheduled day for responses as dictated by the Order Paper.

The Order Paper is prepared by the office of the Majority Leader who doubles as the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs.

In fact, since it is not personal, any minister present is often selected to read the already - submitted written answers on behalf of the minister.

What Ursula Owusu-Ekuful is running away from is the follow-up questions which have not been scripted. Her answers coming from her head if and when she does appear - not scripted by any chief director - will take all of us closer to the truth.

How come we have a minister for Parliamentary Affairs when there is separation of powers?

Parliamentarians and the executive have long bemoaned the lack of information and collaboration, so the idea of having the majority leader sit in cabinet sounded appealing.

JH Owusu-Acheampong was majority leader cum minister for parliamentary affairs during the Rawlings administration.

JH Mensah played the same role during the Kufuor administration, followed by his successes through the many reshuffles. The practice was continued during the Mills-Mahama administration.

And now here we are.

Did we go or did we come?

"Think about it," apologies Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko.

The author is a journalist, communications and media analyst and a writer. The views expressed are solely his and does not represent the organisation he works for.

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Columnist: Ekow Arthur-Aidoo