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Opinions of Sunday, 22 November 2009

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Our Parliamentarians are Letting Us Down

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor


November 19, 2009

As we seek to strengthen our democracy, it is important for us to ensure that the major players do what will motivate the citizens to continue allowing their taxes to be spent on them in the hope that their activities will yield benefits for the country. We have had occasion to take the Executive and Judicial arms of government to task over perceived or real instances of failure to do what is expected of them. The daily bashing of President Mills and our Judiciary is enough evidence of the heat that has been turned on them. While Ghanaians expect the Executive and the Judiciary to “deliver the goods,” it is important for them to turn attention to the Legislature too. There are clear indications that our Parliament has not performed creditably over the years to give Ghanaians their money’s worth. Our Parliament seems to be a mere talk-shop despite the huge expenditure that the country makes to sustain it. Happenings in the House give little cause for praise. I will be blunt to say that if our Parliamentarians want to continue enjoying the benefits of their calling, then, they must ensure that they do what will justify the huge sacrifices that the Ghanaian tax-payer makes on that arm of government. So far, there is little to cheer about. The routine things they do there don’t turn anybody’s crank.

Many instances confirm my fears. In this 5th Parliament of the Fourth Republic, we are beginning to see how unproductive the Parliamentarians are gradually becoming. It seems that the situation will not improve for the better unless something drastic happens to put the MPs on their mettle. A news report today (Reference: JoyFm Online) says it all:

“… Meanwhile in a rare scene in Parliament on Thursday, the First Deputy Speaker who sat in for the Speaker, Joyce Bamford-Addo, chastised the leadership of the Majority for failing to attach seriousness to business in the House. Mr. Doe Adjaho said, lately, the Majority Leader and his colleagues appear not to take business of the House serious. He accused them of neglecting their desks during proceedings.”

Over the 17 years of the 4th Republic, the performance of the Legislative arm of government has been called into question on uncountable occasions, some including:

1. Car Loans—Since the first batch of Parliamentarians took car loans, this ritual has been re-enacted every four years without anybody telling us how much has so far been given out to the beneficiaries, how much has been repaid, or how much is outstanding and who the culprits are. If our Parliament has an oversight responsibility for government spending, do our Parliamentarians not consider it fitting and proper to start digging into financial issues in their own house first?

2. Accommodation: Billions of Cedis have so far been spent housing these Parliamentarians and providing services to prop them up in office. The snag is that no one seems to be responsible enough to streamline matters through getting the Parliamentary Service to have an Estate Development Section to tackle these services in a more responsible manner. Starting with the sale of official residential facilities at the Sakumono Estates to the first crop of Parliamentarians and the housing of some Parliamentarians at hotels, the situation now appears to be mired in an inexplicable free-for-all situation at the expense of the tax-payer.

3. Indecent behaviour—Some Parliamentarians have descended into the gutter and behaved in reprehensible ways that none of them should attempt repeating. Here are some instances: drug dealing (Eric Amoateng); domestic violence (Moses Asaga) and immoral behaviour (Alban Bagbin’s encounters with his wife’s sister); visa racketeering, etc.

4. Profligacy: The purchase of expensive Benz car(s) for Peter Ala Adjetey, which angered Ghanaians but attracted no responsible solution from the Kufuor government.

5. Criminal Greed: The looting of official property by the immediate past Speaker (Begyina Sekyi-Hughes)—which attracted much public anger but appears to be pushed under the rug by Parliament itself. This criminal negligence (or is it complicity?) erodes confidence in the Legislature itself.

6. Irresponsible Behaviour: Unnecessary walk-outs by Minority sides (first, the NPP in opposition and then, the NDC in opposition. Now, this ritual will likely re-play itself following the reversal of Fate in this 4th Parliament when the NPP is back in opposition.).

7. Absenteeism from Parliament without any just cause except to do other things—leading to a lack of quorum for business, which stalls functions in the House.

8. Confrontations with CEOs of the Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies, chiefs, etc. in their traditional areas (constituencies)—which further creates tension in the society.

9. Childishness in politicking, especially name-calling and pettiness in reacting to serious issues such as the Budget Statement, which is presented in Parliament annually by the government of the day. This irresponsible behaviour is counter-productive.

10. Controversy over Kufuor’s End-of-Service Benefits—which showed that our 4th Parliament was a house divided until it came to light that the MPs were listed as beneficiaries too, whereupon they sank all differences and began cooperating fruitfully just to have their share of the bounty. Most of those MPs are still in the House.

11. Legislation—It is not evident what particularly our MPs are doing to justify their being in Parliament if they cannot do what Ghanaians expect to improve standards. The U.S. Congress has been up and doing to give the Obama-led administration enough to work with. Our Parliament is as dormant as the Executive arm is, even though they’ve vetted and confirmed nominees for Ministerial appointments. They could be doing more than we’ve seen so far to give Ghanaians the conviction that the resources being spent on them are beneficial, at least, for the strengthening of our democracy.

The signals are not good. To worsen matters, Parliament has arrogated unto itself the power to browbeat citizens so as to stem criticism of its activities. Take, for instance, the open threats against free speech involving those who dared take Parliament to task over its inadequacies. They were invited to appear before the House to answer questions. The GBC boss (Ampem Darko) and others had unpleasant encounters there just for daring to challenge some elements in Parliament. Such tyrannical tendencies don’t indicate that Parliament is prepared to tolerate criticism. Democracy frowns on such tendencies. Who do they think they are to be above criticism?

As they prepare to begin debating the government’s 2010 Budget Statement, indications are clear that the House will be full of useless fireworks, which will not instill any hope in the people. Considering the immediate vitriolic and misplaced disdainful reaction from the Minority so far, there is no gainsaying the fact that discussions in Parliament will be clouded by pettiness and the useless rhetoric of condemnation. Already, the Majority and Minority sides have taken entrenched positions for or against the budget on partisan political party lines without pausing a second to think about the implications for the country. While the Minority sees nothing good in the budget, the Majority hails it as progressive/positive.

So far, the most level-headed analysis has come from Yaw Osafo-Marfo who, although condemned some aspects of the budget, has been productive enough to identify its positive side too. Such a person has thrown a serious challenge to Parliament to rise above parochial political interests to offer constructive criticisms for the sake of good governance.

As the worsening economic situation continues to dominate public discourse, one expects that institutions that Ghanaians continue to sacrifice their lot to support will perform efficiently instead of abusing that sacrifice. Our Parliament needs to step up its performance and stop being petty just to settle political scores. At the end of the day, the interests of the country should be overarching enough to warrant everybody’s attention. Whether it is the NDC or NPP (or any other political party) that wins the day doesn’t really matter.

One expects Parliament to be concerned about happenings in all sectors of national life, especially in the case of hardworking public and civil servants who are often pushed to the wall to resort to industrial action before the Executive acts on their demands. As of now, members of TEWU are on strike but our MPs haven’t found the issue important enough to take up. But if their salaries are not paid on time, they will howl like hungry desert wolves. Self-seeking is something they will not compromise. What is good for them but not for other Ghanaians?

They need to know that Ghanaians have made all the sacrifices needed to move the country forward but it appears lack of effective leadership at all levels is the country’s bane. Have we not suffered enough already in trying to do what will change our circumstances in life but not succeeded yet? As legitimate representatives of all segments of the Ghanaian citizenry, our MPs are warned to stop letting us down. Our democracy deserves more than they’ve provided so far.