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Opinions of Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Columnist: Kosi Kedem

Ghana’s Parliament; Is it weak and ineffective in relation to the executive?

The Fourth Republican Parliament was established in 1993. Unfortunately, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the major opposition party, boycotted parliament, claiming that the presidential elections were rigged in favour of the National Democratic congress (NDC).

Right from its inception, therefore, the pro-NPP media and the NPP sought to demean and reduce the importance of parliament by labelling it a rubber stamp parliament.

The label stuck even when NPP joined Parliament in 2001. In fact, the status of parliament was upgraded to that of an elephant stamp during the rule of the NPP.

The debate on the status of parliament has not abated. Despite the tremendous progress made by parliament to date, a section of the public and the media continue to regard, and even ridicule parliament as weak and ineffective in relation to the Executive.

But should parliament be considered ineffective and weak in relation to the Executive, a rubber stamp?

My candid view on the issue is that if parliament is seen as weak and ineffective, it is because it has deliberately opted to be so. It is a matter of choice and parliament has itself squarely to blame.

Constitutionally, parliament is and should be very powerful. The framers of our constitution consciously created parliament and armed it with the necessary constitutional powers to effectively oversee and check the excesses of the Executive arm of Government.

Surprisingly, starry-eyed, innocent critics and politicians would want to, unfairly, blame the 1992 Constitution for the seeming weakness of Parliament. They are totally wrong. I want to set the records straight by debunking the idea that Parliament is inherently weak in the governance equation of Ghana. Considering the powers conferred on it by the Constitution, parliament has no reason or excuse to be weak or ineffective. Let me highlight a few of these powers thus:
1.Article. 93 (2) invests the Legislative powers of Ghana in Parliament

2.Article. 106 (10) allows Parliament to pass Bills into law even when the President declines to give his assent

3.Article. 144 mandates Parliament to approve the appointment of the Chief Justice and the other Supreme Court Justices

4.Articles. 68 (3,4) and 71 (2) empower Parliament to approve the President’s salary; and Article. 69(2) authorises Parliament to facilitate the removal of the President from office, if necessary

5.Under Article. 82 a minister can be censured by Parliament which may lead to resignation or dismissal of the minister

6.Under Article. 78 (1) ministers can only be appointed by prior approval of Parliament.

7.Article. 75 (2) empowers Parliament to ratify international treaties, agreements and conventions entered into by the Executive

8.Under Articles. 174, 175 and 181, Parliament exercises control over the public purse, taxation and loan agreements

9.Parliament by Article. 187 (6, 15) exercises supervisory role over the Auditor-General and his office

10.Police Service and an armed force can only be raised by an act of parliament under Article. 200 (2) and 210 (2)

11.Under Article. 278 (1 c) Parliament can request the President to appoint a commission of inquiry into any matter of public interest

12.Article 298 has given Parliament residual powers that allow Parliament, by an act of Parliament not inconsistent with any provision of the Constitution, to deal with any matter for which provision has not been made in the Constitution

13.Under Article. 289, subject to the constitution and by an act of Parliament, Parliament has power to amend, through due process, any provision of the Constitution.

You can see, therefore, that by and large, there is nothing the President or the Executive can do without the approval or consent of Parliament! I guess Parliament even has the power to call the President and his ministers to order if they violate the Constitution!

What additional powers, short of divine ones, does Parliament need to perform its constitutional roles effectively and efficiently? Or is Parliament not aware of the huge constitutional powers bestowed upon it by the 1992 Constitution? In my estimation, Parliament has been equipped with all the powers it needs to effectively exercise its oversight role over government and check its excesses in order to effect good governance.

The reason for parliament being perceived as weak and ineffective cannot, in any way, be blamed on the 1992 Constitution. It seems to me that parliament itself has decided to voluntarily surrender its powers and authority to the Executive.

Believe it or not, in some jurisdictions (names withheld), Parliaments make Presidents cry in public but in Ghana it is, rightly or wrongly, claimed that Parliament has allowed our presidents to grow into divine presidents, some even say Frankenstein’s monsters, because parliament has not been able to effectively perform its check and balance constitutional role!