Feature Article of Friday, 11 July 2003
Ghana's Parliament — A Brief History
By Joe Bradford Nyinah
PARLIAMENT (The Legislature) is one of the traditional “three arms of government” and perhaps the most important in the practice of democracy.
This is because it is the institution through which the people are represented in government.
However, parliamentary practice in Ghana is arguably, the most underdeveloped of the three arms — The Executive and Judiciary being the other two.
This is as a result of frequent military interventions in the governance of the country.
Historically, whenever there has been an interruption in government, Parliament is the first casualty.
While the dismissed Head of State is immediately replaced and the judicially constituted, Parliament is dissolved. The function of Parliament is then taken over by the Executive which monopolises legislation.
This unfortunate trend has affected the smooth evolution of the institution and stunted its growth.
This explains why despite its long history of existence, the Legislature is still seen as an infant institution.
The first semblance of a Parliament in Ghana was established in 1950 when the then Gold Coast was given its own Legislative Council to advise the Colonial Governor in enacting legislation in the form of ordinance to enhance peace, order and good governance in the colony.
The council was mainly advisory as the governor which exercised absolute control of Executive and Legislative powers.
In 1916, the Legislative Council was reconstituted to include nine nominated exofficio members, six of whom were Africans in addition to the 11 officials and the governor.
The first Legislative Council election was held under the Guggisborg Constitution in 1925 but the governor still held absolute control of the Legislation.
The evolution began to become more distinct, however , under the Burns Constitution of 1946 which replaced the Guggisborg Constitution. Under this arrangement, the representatives of the people formed the majority in the Legislative Council.
The colonial governor also ceased to be President of the Legislative Council and exofficio member was appointed President.
This system remained in place until 1951 when the Legislature elected its first Speaker under the 1950 Constitution.
From then on, the development of the Legislature gathered pace.
The first large-scale election to the Legislative Assembly was held in 1951 through which 75 legislatures were elected to the assembly. There were three nominated ex-officio members and six special members representing commercial and mining interests.
In 1954, a transitional constitution was put in place which provided for an assembly of a Speaker and 103 members elected on party line on the basis of universal adults suffrage.
When the country attained independence in 1957, the Constitution was refashioned on the model of the Westminster system of Britain.
In June 1960, 10 women were elected by the National Assembly to fill specially created seats meant to expose women to parliamentary life.
The system was however not meant to be a permanent feature as the Act that enabled it did not provide filling a vacancy caused by death, resignation or expulsion of any of the special women members.
In 1964, three years after attaining republican status, Ghana adopted a one-party system of government and the First National Assembly of the Republic was dissolved in 1965.
A general election was held and all the 198 members, all of them from the Convention People’s Party (CPP), were elected unopposed.
The first major disruption to the constitutional order in Ghana occurred in 1966 when the First Republican Government was overthrown by a military coup which installed a military government which ruled until September 1969 when it handed over to another constitutionally-elected government.
With this, Parliament was restored but after only 22 months in office, the Second Republic was also overthrown in a military coup and Parliament was again dissolved.
The military handed over power in 1979 under a Constitution which provided for an Executive President. The 1979 Constitution was also overthrown in 1981 and Parliament again dissolved.
All the four post-independence constitutions have had common features. They had the Speaker’s and Deputy Speaker’s Office, the Clerk’s Office, government and opposition parties in office. The only brief exception was between 1965 and 1966 when Ghana adopted a one-party system.
In all the parliaments regulation of proceedings has been by standing orders and the committee system has also been in place.
Under the First Republic Constitution, the Executive President was not a Member of Parliament but ministers had to be appointed from Parliament and had to sit in the House to pilot bills and other matters that fell within their portfolios.
In the Second Republican Constitution, the Prime Minister and all ministers were Members of Parliament. Under the Third Republican Constitution, however, the Executive President was outside Parliament and his ministers were appointed from outside the House though with its prior approval.
The current Constitution has provided a fusion of the Presidential and parliamentary systems in which the Executive President has some of his ministers appointed from within and outside Parliament.
The Constitution provides for a 200 member House with a four-year mandate. There were three parties in the first Parliament. The National Democratic Congress, the National Convention Party and the EGLE Party. The New Patriotic Party, boycotted the first parliamentary elections of the Fourth Republic.
It however participated in the 1996 election, and the 2000 polls which it won and replaced the NDC as the governing party.
Ghana’s Parliament, as can be seen has not had a smooth growth and this accounts for some of the problems it faces now.
Though it is the direct representative of the people, the ordinary people do not identify with it. There is the perception that governments can run without Parliament. This is the perception that needs to be corrected because there cannot be true democracy without representation.