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Opinions of Sunday, 3 March 2013

Columnist: Dowokpor, William

Ghana’s Parliament: A House of Fraud or Governance?

By William Dowokpor

I have followed the arguments and counter arguments; and tried hard to appreciate the justifications, why minority members of parliament (MPs) duly elected and sworn into office, would heed to a directive by their party leaders to boycott parliamentary proceedings, at a time in our democracy, when the imperative for good governance is so strong and when the essence of representation in parliament, is to give voice to the people in the electoral areas called constituencies, through legislation and holding the executive accountable to the people.

Equally perplexing, are comments by some majority MPs to the effect that minority boycotts would not affect the nation’s governance and business in the legislature; a position which leaves me wondering whether these majority MPs understand why we are where we are, as a nation and what it will take for us to make progress.

After seven weeks of enduring this absolutely unnecessary boycotts, and the disappointing contents of the discourse surrounding it, by both majority and minority MPs and their party propagandists, it is time to raise the issues of accountability to the people and to demand an immediate end to the stalemate that has led to wastage of already scarce resources for work not done. Should the minority continue with the boycotts and yet, access their wages and allowances charged on the public purse, they and those who authorize payment of such monies would be willfully causing financial loss to the state and the people of Ghana. Not only that, they would deny themselves the moral authority to exercise financial oversight responsibilities over other state actors whose actions and inactions fall short of accounting properly for their stewardship. Big Party vs. Constituency Interests Allowing big party interests to override constituency and national interests, the way it has manifested in the minority boycotts, strikes the heart of our constitutional democracy. When individuals present themselves to the people in a constituency for election to become their representatives in parliament; albeit on the ticket of political parties, their fundamental allegiance, reside with those constituents who give them the mandate to become MPs. They are enjoined legally and morally to represent the interest of the constituents at all times. To that end, I fail to find the constituency interests in this boycott.

Big Party vs. National Interests

After voluntarily swearing a member of Parliament’s Oath to “…. bear true faith and allegiance to the republic of Ghana as by law established; that I will uphold, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana; and that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge the duties of a member of Parliament. (So help me God).” It is unconscionable to renege on the very duties they have sworn to discharge. To boycott the duty of ensuring that the President’s nominees are competent enough to head ministries in the interest of the Republic of Ghana for instance, contravenes the oaths so taken by the boycotting MPs. In like manner, to refuse to participate in the debate of the President’s state of the nation address; a debate that exposes the weaknesses in the President’s appreciation of the challenges facing the country and offering alternative policy options for addressing those challenges in the public interest, fail the national and public interest tests.

Legitimate vs. Illegitimate President

The Presidency is a creature of the 1992 constitution. The constitution prescribes how an individual gets to become President and how he or she is removed should she or he get there illegally. It is instructive to note that the constitution recognizes the possibility of one occupying the Presidency illegitimately. And the same constitution for the sake of orderliness; rule of law and constitutionalism, recognizes that person (temporarily) as President with full presidential powers until the Supreme Court decides the illegitimacy or otherwise of the person. And this is where the boycotting minority fail to justify their solidarity action and sorely miss the point. Until that determination is made, it does not lie within the mouth or powers of any office holder, enjoined by the constitution to perform a duty, to say, they will legitimize the illegitimate by performing that legitimate duty. The boycotting MPs should imagine what constitutional anarchy will ensue, should the Chief Justice for instance, refuse to administer the Presidential Oath to the candidate so declared by the Electoral Commissioner as the constitution dictates, because she has evidence of rigging in the elections. Legitimacy or otherwise of a candidate declared President by the Electoral Commissioner lies exclusively in the bosom of the Supreme Court Judges properly constituted, to determine. That, in my view, is constitutionalism in operation. If constitutionalism operates in Ghana, as evidenced in the Supreme Court sittings to consider the petition to annul or uphold the declaration of the Electoral Commissioner, where is the justification for the boycotting MPs to say, they will be legitimizing the illegitimate should they perform their legitimate duties as MPs?

Voices of Good Governance

The boycotting MPs must stop for a moment and listen to calls from discerning Ghanaians interested in the good governance of this country, for an end to the boycotts. They must focus on the messages and not the messengers. The message is clear. Their boycotts will not serve national, public or constituency interests. Their actions and inactions in this case, are only promoting the big party interest of the NPP and that is a deficit in our democracy. On the other hand, majority MPs and their party General Secretary in particular, must appreciate the fact that, a one sided parliament, hardly promotes good accountable governance. They must control their excitement and channel their utterances towards having the minority end the boycotts.

As you may recall, a few days to the delivery of the President’s state of the nation address, Minority Leader, Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu assured Ghanaians his side would attend and participate in the debate of the address. When the time came they walked out without any explanation. There is news making the rounds, attributed to Dr. Akoto Osei, a boycotting MP and a former Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance, that minority members will attend and participate in the debate of the President’s budget to be presented on March 5, 2013. It is not clear by what or whose authority Dr. Osei Akoto issued the assurance, when the NPP as a party has not withdrawn the directive for their MPs to boycott parliamentary proceedings. Will public interest override party interest? Or will the minority members defy party orders in the national interest? The question, whether Ghana’s Parliament is a house of governance or fraud? lead to more questions - Is it true that Majority MPs for Ketu North James Avedzi and Ayawaso North Dr. Mustapha Ahmed; are insisting the minority cannot be part of the budget debate since the Minister of Finance was nominated by President Mahama and approved without the involvement of the minority due to their boycott of the vetting? Is it true, the charge by Deputy Majority Chief Whip, Sampson Ahi, that, the minority MPs have made a “U” turn to participate in the budget debate because it is lucrative and financially rewarding? Is Ghana’s parliament a house of governance or a house of fraud?

# # # William Dowokpor is a member of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) and a Senior Partner at Advocacy Communications.