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Feature Article of Sunday, 29 December 2013

Columnist: The Mirror

Let's encourage initiation of Private Member's Bill

Ghana’s Fourth Republican Parliament is now 21 years old and it has become a toast of Africa and the rest of the world. The country has now earned an accolade as the bastion of democracy in Africa.

There cannot be any meaningful democracy without Parliament. That is why during the era of military dictatorship in Africa, both the executive and the judiciary were always in place to perform their executive and judicial functions.

Even though Parliament has different functions such as oversight responsibility, investigative function, it is known worldwide that the main function of every Parliament is to make laws.

For the past 21 years, various laws have been enacted to ensure the development of the country. But all those laws have emanated from the Executive.

Ghanaians are watching keenly to see when one of our country’s lawmakers will be bold to present a bill to Parliament to be passed into a law.

That will be a boost to Ghana’s democratic credentials.

That is why I had mixed feelings, as someone who have been following events in the legislature for some years now, when the Ugandan Parliament passed two bills last week to regulate the conduct of the Ugandan society.

On December 20, 2014, the Ugandan Parliament passed a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts to include life imprisonment in some cases.

The anti-homosexuality bill also makes it a crime punishable by imprisonment not to report anybody engaged in gay activities.

Even though the prime minister opposed the vote to pass the bill with an explanation that not enough (Members of Parliament) MPs were present, that could not deter the House from passing the bill.

The international community is, however, waiting to see whether President Yoweri Museveni will accent to the bill and pass it into law.

According to the BBC report, the Private Member's Bill originally proposed the death penalty for some offences such as, if a minor was involved or the perpetrator was HIV-positive, but this has been replaced with life imprisonment.

Another bill, the Anti-Pornography Bill, passed in Uganda about a week ago, bans the wearing of mini skirts and the use of sexually suggestive materials such as some music videos.

During the Second Meeting of Ghana’s Parliament, security officials at the MP’s entrance of the Chamber Block of Parliament prevented a daughter of one of the MPs from entering the House because of the provocative mini skirt that the teenager was wearing.

That is not all. It has become common for females, particularly those with light skin, to troop into the House with their mini skirts.

During the Fifth Parliament, the Member of Parliament for Kintampo North, Mr Stephen Kunsu, made a profound statement on the floor of the House to express concern about the wearing of mini skirts that had become so common in the Ghanaian society.

Well, it is important to note that the bill on the ban of mini skirts in Uganda was not initiated by the government. It was presented to the House by a Member of Parliament.

The MP behind the bill, David Bahati, told the AFP News Agency: "This is victory for Uganda. I am glad that Parliament has voted against evil."

A bill initiated by a Member of Parliament is known as the Private Member’s Bill and we are yet to see one in our Parliament since the past 21 years that Ghana returned to constitutional rule.

I am told that the former President John Agyekum Kufuor initiated a bill during the Second Republic but that did not see the light of day while the Domestic Violence Bill, even though started as a Private Member’s Bill, was adopted by the government.

I do not know the constitutional provision of Uganda that had emboldened MPs to present bills to Parliament. What I am, however, certain is the fact that constitutional provisions make it extremely difficult for MPs to present Private Member’s Bill in Parliament.

Article 108 has been crafted to tie the hands of MPs and until it is amended, it will be extremely difficult for any MP to attempt to introduce a bill to the House.

The article read thus: Parliament shall not, unless the bill is introduced or a 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-

• the imposition of taxation or the alteration of taxation or otherwise than by reduction;

• the imposition of a charge on the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana or the alteration of any such charge otherwise that reduction; or

• the payment, issue or withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or 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

(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 purposes specifically specified in paragraph (a) of this article.

It is my conviction that when the impending amendment of some sections and articles of the Constitution will cater for this provision to make our MPs versatile in the conduct of their duties so that they can learn from the example of the counterpart in Uganda.

Ghana’s democracy has come of age and there is need for us to inject dynamism into the work of our honourable men by amending laws that will make them talkers and hinder them from going the next step to come out with their own laws to seek solutions for what they discuss in the House.

In many cases, MPs discuss statements made on the floor of the House but the only action they are able to take is to refer the matter to the sector minister concerned, but I am of the opinion that the House should by itself make some laws to compel the Executive to act in some situations.

Our Parliament must be empowered by the Constitution to become the bastion of democracy in Africa and beyond.

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