You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2020 11 06Article 1102585

Opinions of Friday, 6 November 2020

Columnist: Kofi Ata

Is Ghana’s Parliament fit for purpose?

Martin Amidu, Speacial Prosecutor Martin Amidu, Speacial Prosecutor

When I read the Office of Special Prosecutor’s corruption and anti-corruption analysis and assessment of the Agyapa Royalties Agreements, I was shocked how Parliament failed in its duty to hold the executive arm of government accountable. This article is a contribution to the debate on the Agyaba Minerals Royalties Deal that has generated a lot of controversy since its approval by parliament on August 14, 2020.

A reading of the Special Prosecutor’s report paints a picture of the legislative arm of government being in bed with the executive instead of being a check on the executive. The analysis and assessment on the role played by parliament are contained in Section 6.1 from page 33 onwards. The reading makes a chilling indictment on the failures of those elected to hold the executive accountable. In fact, according to the report, the honourables resorted to deception to secure approval of the Agyapa Deal in less that twenty-four hours.

For easy reference, I quote some relevance sections of the OSP’s report. “The submission of the Memorandum by the Minister to Parliament without seeking fresh cabinet executive approval manifested impunity …..”. That is, the Finance Minister received executive approval by the president for the transactional documents. However, by the time they were presented to parliament, the documents had been amended but did not receive executive cabinet approval before submitting the documents to parliament for parliamentary approval. Sadly, parliament also failed to establish whether the documents had received executive cabinet approval as required under parliamentary rules.

Again, from parliamentary records examined by the Special Prosecutor (SP), there was no date when the Finance Minister laid before Parliament the documents, neither was any indication of the date when the documents were referred to the Committee on Finance of Parliament for consideration. Another flaw, according to the SP, was that “even though the minister’s memorandum included the Indemnity Agreements as one of the Transaction Documents being submitted to Parliament on August 13, 2020, it was not”. Moreover, the Committee on Finance’s report to Parliament recommending the approval of the documents to parliament did not state when it met.

From that above, it was palpably clear that these omissions by both the Finance Minister and the Committee on Finance meant they relied on deception to secure approval of the documents as concluded by the SP in his report as follows: “ the Committee on Finance report appears to be a rehash of the Minister’s memorandum to Parliament without critical examination and analysis of the Transaction Documents as fit for the independent purpose and approval by the House. The Committee on Finance appears to have just rubber stamped the Minister for Finance’s Memorandum to Parliament for the approval of the Transaction Documents without any study of the documents to determine whether or not the commitment of Ghana’s patrimony in the manner agreed by the Government with other transaction partners was consistent with the national interest”.

The abysmal failures of the Committee on Finance regarding the approval processes beggar belief and there is only one conclusion that could be drawn. That, parliament was in collusion with the Finance Minister to hide the dangers the Agyapa Agreements posed to Ghana’s sovereign rights over her gold mineral royalties, the illegal and the unconstitutional deal. Why, we may never know, except to say that they put party and self-interests above nation. Ghanaian parliamentarians only care about themselves first, party second and nation last. In short, these acts and omissions amounted to nothing but patent dereliction of parliamentary duty, betrayal of Ghana, a de-service to the executive and a hang-out-to-dry of the finance minister.

A critical examination of the Fourth Republican Parliament shows that, it lacks independent decision making. The majority party, which often is also the ruling party always and wholeheartedly supports whatever bills and agreements are brough before parliament by the Executive for approval, whilst the minority, which is also the party in opposition often opposes for the sake of their selfish and party interests. Whenever the majority and the minority are in unison, then it’s about their personal welfare and interest such as the payment of salaries and allowances, security, ex-gratia, and others. In such cases, not a single against voice from the floor would be raised from either side of the aisle.

One deficiency of the parliamentary system in Ghana is the appointment of the Speaker of the House by the executive instead of being elected from amongst the members of the house. Once appointed by the president, the Speaker acts for and on behalf of the Executive instead of securing and protecting the independence of the legislative arm of government. This is because the Speaker believes that his or her loyalty is to the appointing authority but not the elected members of the house. Unless this is changed so that the Speaker is elected from within the house, the Fourth Republican parliament will continue to be an appendix of the executive and simply rubber stamp whatever is presented to parliament by the executive rather than act independently and hold the executive to proper and effective scrutiny without being an impediment to the executive carrying out its manifesto programmes. This arrangement also undermines the sovereignty of parliament and the separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature.

Some would also say Ghana’s parliament is weak and ineffective in holding the executive accountable because majority of cabinet ministers are from the house. That is not true because in the UK, all ministers both cabinet and non-cabinet are from the both houses of parliament (the Lower and Upper Houses), yet it is one of the most independent and effective parliaments among the developed democracies in the area of holding the executive accountable. Occasionally, if ministers fundamentally disagree with government policy particularly, when the policy is against the interest of their constituents or the state, they resign their ministerial position in order to speak independent of executive in the house.

Ghana’s parliament also lacks independent minded MPs who will put national and constituency interests above those of party. MPs who will vote with their conscience, put the future of generations to come above everything instead of pandering to the executive and party, what I called the John McCain type of legislators, who are not afraid to do the right thing for the future of their nation, rather than kwotow to executive fiat.

Another problem causing the ineffectiveness of parliament to hold the executive accountable is the way parliamentarians are selected every four years, through what appears to be competitive on face value but in reality, a corruption system of party parliamentary primaries. There are two problems with the primary system. First, for the party in government, the executive and national party leadership must give approval for a potential parliamentary candidate to contest the party primaries. Consequently, MPs who did not support or even criticised the executive will be deselected by the executive and party by withdrawing their support at the primaries. For fear of not losing the support of the executive and the national party leadership at the next primaries, all MPs sing the tunes of the executive and national party leadership, though they represent their constituencies. The same is true of the opposition party and this weakens local party autonomy and effectiveness.

Again, the quadrennial primaries are not only expensive but also inherently fraudulent as candidates are compelled to bribe the local party executives and delegates who elect the parliamentary candidates. Candidates have no option but dish out cash and goodies to party leadership and the delegates to be successful at the primaries without consideration to ability, experience, knowledge and skills to be effective and successful MP. The selection of parliamentary candidates bears no reference to the performance of the incumbent MP but endorsement by the executive, national and local party leadership and finally the candidates’ willingness to and quantum of bribe offered, resulting in candidates hijacking delegates and camp them on the day of the primaries to deny access to competitors.