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Opinions of Monday, 30 August 2021

Columnist: Caleb Ahinakwah

A year on, could the enactment of the private members bill be the key to achieving autonomy and productiveness in Ghana’s parliament?

Parliament of Ghana Parliament of Ghana

“Article 108 of the Constitution does not impose an omnibus prohibition on the initiation of all legislations by a Private Member, since every Member of Parliament can introduce legislation which does not have specific financial implications spelt out under the Article,” words of the late Nana Dr. S.K.B Asante.

On Thursday, December 5th, 2019, at a Speaker of Parliament stakeholder conference on the promotion of Private Member Bills (PMBs) at Parliament House, a renowned constitutional expert went on to explain that Members of Parliament should not be under the mistaken impression that the constitution prohibits private Members of Parliament from introducing bills.

A PMB in Parliament signified a shift from the previous framework, which stated that the Executive was solely responsible for initiating and introducing legislation in Parliament.

Article 108 stated that no bill introduced in Parliament should be at any expense to the government and that the Speaker's perception of such a cost was up to him and his whims.

The scenario was further averted by the late former Speaker Peter Ala Adjetey, who said that the PMB could not be considered during his time since any bill containing even the smallest expenditure, such as the cost of a sheet of paper, would be in violation of Article 108's criteria.

Until December 2020, the executive arm introduced all bills passed by the House.

However, it was broken in December 2020, when the first Private Member’s Bill passed into law.

This development means individual Members of Parliament (MPs) who are not ministers of state or non-government officials, as well as private citizens, get to introduce or initiate bills on the floor of the House for consideration.

Benjamin Opoku Aryeh, lead researcher for Parliamentary Network Africa, a parliamentary monitoring organization based in Ghana in an interview with me described the passage of the bill into law as long overdue, he, however, commended former speaker of parliament Professor Mike Ocquaye for enacting the private members' bill during his term as speaker.

BILLS INTRODUCED UNDER THE PRIVATE MEMBERS BILL

Presently three bills introduced under the private members' bills have been made public.

On December 29, 2020, the Seventh Parliament passed the first Private Member's Bill.

Parliament passed into law the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2020.
The Bill amends the Road Traffic Act, 2004 (Act 683) to lay out sanctions against drivers and cyclists whose actions and inactions result in injury or death to unborn children in the womb of pregnant mothers.

In March 2021, Six Members of Parliament (MPs) hinted at jointly sponsoring a bi-partisan Private Members Bill for the House to pass legislation to proscribe and criminalize the advocacy and practice of homosexuality in the country.

According to the six lawmakers, the bill, if passed, would strengthen Ghana's legal jurisprudence and existing legislation on unnatural carnal knowledge to reflect the current state of affairs.

In August the bill which will criminalize the activities of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI), as well as individuals and organizations that advocate or promote the activity in the country, was laid in Parliament.

Known as the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021, the 36-page Private Member’s Bill is to provide for proper human sexual rights and Ghanaian family values, proscribe LGBTQ+ and related activities, propaganda of, advocacy for or promotion of LGBTTQQIAAP+ and related activities.

The bill this time around was initiated by eight Members of Parliament (MPs), seven of whom are from the National Democratic Congress (NDC), with one being a New Patriotic Party (NPP) legislator.

In June 2021, Madina MP Francis Xavier Sosu introduced another Private Members' bill to parliament, this time to repeal Ghana's death penalty. Mr. Sosu requested that the legislature change sections 46, 49, 49A, 180, 194, and 317A of the Criminal and Other Offenses Act, 1960. (ACT 29). Mr. Sosu argued that the right to life is a basic human right that cannot be taken away just because someone committed a crime, such as murder.

The Private Member's Bill has immense potential. But from a parliamentary monitoring organization's perspective, how enormous are these prospects?

BENEFITS AHEAD

For starters, Benjamin Aryeh, lead researcher with Parliamentary network Africa makes me understand that the bill contributes to the development of democratic culture by allowing individuals, civil society organizations (CSOs), and other private organizations to actively participate in the legislative process.

“For instance, if you are able to identify issues in relations to affirmative action, you feel that in our governance women are least represented, you can identify any member of parliament who supports gender activism or affirmative action to facilitate its promotion.”

Mr. Aryeh clarified that aside from MPs who can initiate this bill, citizens cannot themselves walk into parliament and present their concerns.

However, Mr. Aryeh explains that constituents are in a much better position to assess their MPs' performance based on their main mandates.

Moreover, it also strengthens Parliamentary consensus by requiring a sponsoring MP to persuade other MPs to support a bill they have introduced. A clear instance being the “controversial” LGBTQI bill.

In a broader perspective, Mr. Aryeh believes it boosts MPs' and staff's ability to pass good legislation.

The passage of a Private Member's Bill by Parliament is critical to obtaining the autonomy and efficacy that Ghanaians desire.

Clearly, the ratification of the private members' bill holds numerous advantages.

Could its passage be the key to obtaining the independence and efficacy in parliament that Ghanaians desire?