Feature Article of Wednesday, 11 January 2017
Columnist: Nii Okai Tetteh
By Nii Okai Tetteh
After the issues regarding the plagiarism has been debated and pushed out of public discourse, a couple of issues that will continue to find its way back into the Ghanaian public sphere are the policy and legislation reforms President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Prof Michael Aaron Oquaye, Speaker of Parliament disclosed in their respective inaugural speeches.
The reforms announced by the Speaker of Parliament and His Excellency had been raised several times by civil society organizations at various forums with the hope that successive governments will pick them up and work on implementing them.
The four main reforms announced by the two state gentlemen bothered on areas of improving separation of powers, improvement in legislation process, full decentralization of power, as well as passage and implementation of Affirmative Action Bill. Full Separation of Powers Various political science lecturers and analysts have noted that some provisions in the 1992 Constitutions weakens the Parliament as it plays its role as the third arm of government.
A research by the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana in 2015 identified a number of provisions in the constitutions that make parliament a “junior brother of the Executive”, to borrow President Akufo-Addo’s words. Article 78 (1) of the 1992 Constitution is one of the said provisions.
It says, “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.” This specific article came under scrutiny at the Constitutional Review Committee.
It is widely believed that the provisions makes Parliament weak because most MPs, especially those from the party that runs the Executive, want to please the President with the aim of getting a ministerial appointment. This then makes them sacrifice their independent policing role in favor of pleasing the getting a ministerial portfolio. In his speech, President Akufo-Addo said, “It is time to make sure that we have a true separation of powers between the various arms of government.
Our Parliament, the legislative arm of government, must grow into its proper role as an effective machinery for accountability and oversight of the Executive, and not be its junior partner.” “The Ghanaian Parliament, the Ghanaian Member of Parliament, must stand out as institutions that represent all that we hold dear and citizens can take pride in,” he added.
Coincidentally, the Speaker of Parliament, Prof Oquaye is also reported to have said in previous media discussions years before he became Speaker of parliament that “MPs rather seem to want to catch the eye of the President and not the eye of the speaker”. Improvement in Legislation Process Other constitutional provision that makes the Parliament a junior brother of the Executive is due to some form of misguided interpretation of Article 108 of the 1992 Constitution.
Provisions under Article 108 are as follows: Parliament shall not, unless the bill is introduced or the motion is introduced by, or on behalf of, the President – (a) proceed upon a bill including an amendment to a bill, that, in the opinion of the person presiding, makes provision for any of the following – (i) the imposition of taxation or the alteration of taxation otherwise than by reduction; or (ii) the imposition of a charge on the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana or the alteration of any such charge otherwise than by reduction; or (iii) the payment, issue or withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana of any moneys not charged on the Consolidated Fund or any increase in the amount of that payment, issue or withdrawal; or (iv) the composition or remission of any debt due to the Government of Ghana; or (b) proceed upon a motion, including an amendment to a motion, the effect of which, in the opinion of the person presiding, would be to make provision for any of the purpose specified in paragraph (a) of this article.
Due to interpretations given to this Article, MPs cannot initiate their own bills. That is because there is no bill that can be tabled on the floor of parliament that will not oblige government to spend on the bill during the process of drafting it. Once cost will be incurred when drafting bills, then as per the interpretations of Article 108, that particular bill must come from the Executive.
Therefore, it can be said that if the Executive does not send bills to parliament in four years, then Parliament will not pass a single bill in its term. “The controversy relating to private members bills should be resolved. It is tragic that currently, it appears to us that Members of Parliament cannot initiate legislation independent of the Executive.
Article 108 of the Constitution provides that once a bill has financial implications, it can only be introduced by the Executive,” Prof Oquaye said in his Speaker of Parliament inaugural speech. He added that “The narrow view has been taken that every bill has financial implications including the paper on which it is printed and the Clerks who work on it who are paid by government.
Hence only governments (Executive) can initiate legislation. This should change.” Justice Emile Short, is also reported to have held the view that Parliament was “handicapped in its fundamental role of initiating legislation because of the interpretation placed on Article 108 of the 1992 Constitution.” Full Decentralization of Power It was one of the key campaign promises in 2016.
The two major parties had their own interpretations on the extent of decentralization of power we need in the country. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) that ultimately won the election believed full decentralization will be achieved if Ghanaians elect Metropolitan Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) with the central government playing no role in the election.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC), suggested that though Ghanaians must vote to choose their MMDCEs, the election must be among people chosen by the central government, this suggested some level of interference by the central government in the elections of MMDCEs. This, to some, contradicted the idea of MMDCEs elections that in principle is suppose to give the Ghanaian voter full authority to determine who runs their local assembly, at their own free will and not micromanaged by a sitting President.
In his speech, President Akufo-Addo said, “We have worked with our national constitution for 24 years and we now know the areas that require change. I believe a consensus is emerging that we must decentralize more. We must devolve more power with corresponding resources to the base of our political system and to our people, in the regions and communities. We must trust the individual and collective wisdom and good sense of our people.”
Passage & Implementation of Affirmative Action Bill The number of women in partisan politics in Ghana, though encouraging is very poor as compared to similar developing countries in Africa, as it was made known by Prof Oquaye during his speech. Women in parliament have seen some increase from 29 in the previous parliament to 37 in the newly inaugurated parliament, and despite the increase, Prof Oqauye is not proud of it.
“A very disturbing aspect of Ghana’s Parliamentary democracy is the abysmal low representation of women in Parliament”, he said. When judging the role of women in decision making, one must not focus on the number of women parliamentarians alone, but the number of women ministers (including those in the cabinet), the number of women in the Council of State, the number of women who have been appointed to head institutions and state owned enterprises, the number of women MMDCEs and the number of women assembly members.
Prof Oquaye said, “An Affirmative Action law could be the only way of using the law as an instrument of social engineering and mischief correction to ensure equality.” The former Minister of Gender Children and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur led her ministry to sponsor the drafting of Affirmative Action Bill, unfortunately, the 6th Parliament of the 4th Republic failed to pass the bill.
The Affirmative Action Bill Nana Oye Lithur worked on sought a 40 percent representation and participation of women in governance, public positions of power and decision-making. In an interview, last year, Nana Oye Lithur was reported to have said the Affirmative Action Bill aimed at remedying discrimination on the basis of sex or gender by redressing social, economic and educational gender imbalances.
“The purpose of the Affirmative Action Bill is to promote the full and active participation of women in public life by providing a more equitable system of representation in electoral politics and governance structures,” she is quoted to have said. It is, however, encouraging to note that the new government is committed to ensuring that the affirmative action bill is passed by parliament and this much needed reform in governance and policy making is implemented.
Giving women, who form the majority of our population based on gender demographic, more seats at governance and decision-making table is very welcoming Once, again to borrow the words of President Akufo-Addo, “The change we have voted for will have to start with each of us as individuals.
We can start with little changes in our own individual attitudes and practices. The change can and should start now and with us as individuals. As we expect an Affirmative Action law to ensure that more women are in governance, then women must also be given more respectable roles from the home to the boardroom.