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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is Ghana’s Parliament Becoming Soviet Styled Duma?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge,

The State of the Nation Address by President Mahama to Parliament last Thursday February 20, 2014 was postponed to Tuesday February 25, 2014. Then Saturday February 22, 2014, I read a news item on Ghanaweb captioned, “MPs debate modalities for Tuesday’s State of the Nation Address”. I was shocked by the contents of the report and for the benefit of readers, I quote below the relevant sections that shocked me and which is the basis of this short article. The issue was reported again in Ghanaweb on Monday February 24, 2014 (see, “State of Nation: MPs reject leadership gagging order”).

“Mover of the motion to express gratitude to the president would be given 20 minutes to do so while the seconder will also be allocated the same time. Members of Parliament are voted to come and speak and you are saying that you are giving us five minutes,” complained Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh, MP for Manhyia South Constituency. What makes you think that giving the mover, who is thanking the president 20 minutes and the seconder 20 minutes and Members of Parliament five minutes is appreciative?” he asked. Old Tafo Constituency MP Dr Anthony Akoto Osei asked for a slash in the number of minutes allocated to the mover and seconder of the motion while that for the MPs be increased. The First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ebo Barton Oduro, agreed with the increase in Members’ time but kept the time for the mover and seconder at 20 minutes. As a result, Members will have 10 minutes to comment on the President’s address”.

Prior to this I also read that the use of the word or express “tweaaa” has been banned in parliament (see, “No ‘Tweaa’ in Parliament, Speaker directs”, Ghanaweb, February 19, 2014). I saw this matter being discussed on Arise Television.

Putting the two together made me question if the majority is turning Ghana’s Parliament into a Soviet styled Duma, where parliamentarians sang the praises to the General Secretary of the Communist Party and Soviet Leader, whenever he appeared before them. For those who may be too young to know about the Duma, it was the parliament of the former Soviet Empire or the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR), which was later became the Russian Federation after the disintegration of USSR.

How on earth could the majority allocate twenty good minutes to the mover and seconder of the President’s speech and five (now ten) minutes to the rest of parliament for discussions? What really shocked me were the words “mover of the motion to express gratitude to the president..” Twenty minutes to express gratitude to the President? What for? For performing his Constitutional Duty? Is this not personality cult or worship?

That is not all, the seconder who is merely supporting what the mover has said and then ask MPs to accept the President’s address is also given another twenty minutes. I asked myself whether the majority know the essence of time. And to add salt to injury, the 275 MPs will have 10 minutes to comment on the address. I though MPs were elected to debate bills and work of the Executive presented to parliament ,including budgets, draft regulations constitutional instruments, and addresses by the President. If that is so, why only ten minutes for the rest of MPs? What is the majority running away from? Debate on the true state of the economy or what? Well, I have got a message for them, they can run but they cannot hide. They can fool some people some of the time but not all the people all the time. In my narrow minded view, five minutes for the mover and three minutes for the seconder would have done the work and the rest of the time reserved for MPs to debate the presidential address. What a waste of precious parliamentary time?

The above made the banning of the use of ‘tweaaa’ in parliament very suspicious. Was it banned just to stop the minority from using it during the President’s address? Tweaaa. They can ban it but that would not Ghanaians from knowing that this would be “The Tweaaa State of the Nation Address”.

The behaviour of the majority is dangerous and inimical to parliamentary democracy. This is nothing but a deliberate attempt to stifle parliamentary debate and I agree with the minority that it amounts to a gagging order. This is shameful and should be resisted.

Ghana has passed the days of personality cult and idol worshipping. Parliamentary democracy and accountable governance means the Executive must be subjected to scrutiny by Parliament. How can that be realised if the majority is abusing its position to stop MPs from even debating the address of the President?

TWEAAA!

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK