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General News of Sunday, 2 December 2007

Source: Public Agenda

Ghana Is Operating a Crippled Parliament

The Parliament of Ghana, supposed to be the heartbeat of the country's infant democracy, has been described as a crippled legislature without real powers to superintend the executive.

Prof. Yaw Saffu, a Professor of Political Science and an International Consultant in Democratic Governance who made the observation, noted that Ghana's hybrid political system of government in which some Members of Parliament (MPs) are also members of the executive has resulted in a "hobbled Parliament" which cannot exercise effective oversight responsibility over the executive.

He submits that this novel structure together with the Transitional Provisions constitutes some of the "leaven" of the 1992 Constitution that is begging for amendment.

Prof. Saffu was delivering a paper, Liberalism in Ghana since Independence, at the CDD-FNF 4th Annual Liberal Lecture in Accra, which drew participants from academia, the media and civil society.

"MPs are expected to exercise oversight responsibility over the executive. The Constitution also provides that majority of Cabinet Members must be appointed from Parliament. But because of the intense desire to be appointed a Minister, many MPs tend to be less critical of the policies of the executive in order to be considered by the President for Ministerial position. We now have a Parliament which is bereft of its powers, indeed it is a hobbled Parliament," he expatiated in an interview with Public Agenda.

According to him liberalism connotes liberty, equality and individualism and the greatest value in liberalism is freedom. He said rights predate the State although citizens depend on the State for the protection of rights.

"Many constitutions, generally, guarantee rights and civil liberties, which are in turn given expression in, free and fair elections; and Democracy is untenable without rights and civil liberties," he stresses.

He said although the 1992 Constitution espouses liberal democracy it suffers from defects such as the Transitional Provisions. "The Transitional Provisions are a blemish on the Constitution. It has no place in a liberal democracy," he contends.

In an interview with Public Agenda, Hon. John Tia and Idrrisu Haruna, Minority Chief Whip and Minority Spokesperson on Communications respectively, shared the concern of Prof. Saffu blaming the Constitution for the flaw. "It is the weakness of the Constitution and until Article 78 is amended we cannot make progress," submitted Hon. Tia.

Article 78(1) provides that Ministers of State shall be appointed by the President with 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.

Besides, Hon Tia pointed out it is near impossible for an MP to initiate a Private Member's Bill because any bill which has financial implications on the Consolidated Fund is barred by the Constitution except it emanates from the executive.

He made a clear distinction between the British Parliament and Ghana's Parliament that although both have Ministers of State, in Britain, unlike Ghana, "it is Parliament that controls the purse; and it can also institute investigations into anything". Also in America, like Britain, it is Congress that controls the purse."

The MP for Asikuma/ Odoben/Brakwa, Hon. Paul Collins Appiah-Ofori, also agrees with Prof Saffu. According to him, many MPs aspiring to be ministers will keep mute over "bad" things and this affects the national interest adversely.

"The path beater does not know whether the path is straight or crooked, it takes an onlooker to point that out. If he listens and corrects it, he takes the credit and not the onlooker. So whoever is in a position of responsibility and considers those who point out mistakes to him or her, as an enemy does not want to succeed. "

An NPP MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also attributed the problem to the hybrid nature of the Constitution. "Ghana's Parliament is still a child at birth; it is a fusion of the British, American and French systems of government."

"It is regrettable that the Committee Chairmen are usually whipped to toe the line of the executive. If you will recall when there was debate over some monies for the Ghana @ 50 Celebrations only two MPs from the majority side opposed it: Hon. P.C. Appiah-Ofori and Hon. Eugene Atta Agyepong, " he further explains.

The Lead Discussant for the lecture, Mr. Kwesi Jonah of the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG), recalled that since the collapse of the Berlin Wall liberalism has become the dominant political philosophy. He again observed that anytime Ghanaians had the opportunity to fashion a constitution for themselves, they have always opted for liberalism.

He however regretted that liberalism has invariably been undermined by illiteracy, poverty, ethnicity and "moneycracy".