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Opinions of Friday, 1 February 2013

Columnist: Sidibe, Abdul

Political Parties mischievous power over Ghana Parliament

: The way Forward

It is time to end the laws that allow political parties to exert too much power and authority over Ghanaian parliamentarians. The current law militates against the independence of parliament, an institution that has since become a mere rubber-stamp of an ever- expanding presidency. Now it is under pressure from political parties, organizations that have nothing to do with the core working of government.

In Ghana, any political that is defeated in the polls always uses its MP to unnecessarily frustrate the smooth and efficient working of parliament. NDC used its MP to protest against what it considers persecution of its party members by the Kufour administration when the latter decided to bring charges against the NDC members when it assumed office in 2001. NDC members of parliament boycotted parliamentary proceedings, including a State of the Nation Address by President Kufour.

The NPP is now taking this parliamentary mischief and malpractice even further. After refusing to accept what was described by many independent observers as open, free, fair and credible trouncing of the party at the December 2012 elections. The NPP is using its MPs to frustrate the working of parliament by cementing the gradual folding of the institution into the armpit of political parties, mainly dominated by unelected and irresponsible partisans.

The NPP has already boycotted the swearing in of President Mahama early this month, amid criticism from several quarters. It is now boycotting the seating of Parliament’s Appointment Committee, which is supposed to vet Presidential nominees to the various ministries. Ironically, the explanation for the boycott did not emanate from the NPP caucus in parliament, but from the party chairman, Jake Obetsebi Lamptey.

In a statement issued to the press by chairman Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, the party’s refusal to participate in the Appointment Committee was because the result of the election which made Mahama president is being challenged in court. Hence NPP MPs will not participate in the formation his government.

The statement further added that “NPP will participate vigorously in the everyday business of Parliament. They will be involved in all legislative functions and assist in carrying out Parliament’s oversight responsibility of the Executive and public purse in the normal course of Parliamentary business. NPP MPs will scrutinize and contribute to the making of the Budget, study and help pass bills, and deliberate loan agreements and all financial transactions involving the state.”

In other words Jake is telling Ghanaian taxpayers that they should pay NPP Members of Parliament so he, (Jake Obetsebi Lamptey) not parliament or its members, will pick and choose what MPs will participate in. This illogical posture is shameful if not utterly stupid. It is time parliament take steps to end this stupid behaviour once and for all.

The reason Jake and his ilk can impose their national stupidity on the Parliament of Ghana is because of article 97 section one of the 1992 constitution which provides that a member of parliament shall vacate their seat;

(f) If he leaves the party of which he was a member at the time of his election to Parliament to join another party or seeks to remain in Parliament as an independent member. (g) (h) If he was elected a member of Parliament as an independent candidate and joins a political party.

This provision unnecessarily ties the law-making body to political parties without any exceptions. The provision not only denies the right of a member of parliament to disagree with political parties, but also allows parties to intimidate and harass members of parliament. This situation is slowly and surely creating a toxic partisan environment in Ghana by killing the caucus system that would allow MPs from different parties to compromise and build consensus to govern.

The provision needs to be amended or repealed altogether. It makes no sense and somehow violates the right of members to join parties of their choice or sit in the House as independent members if they so choose. It gives political parties undue powers over Members of Parliament. It disparages political dissent, which is a vital ingredient in any democracy. For instance, a political party can expel a member and cause the member to lose his or her parliamentary seat.

Some will argue that the reason the provision was added to the 1992 constitution was to avoid situation of MPs cross-carpeting, so as not to short change political parties whose vehicle they used to win their seat in parliament. The provision is rather short-changing members of parliament. It is denying independent members of parliament from joining political parties of their choice. Some of whom already belong to such political parties.

Parliament should change this awkward provision by first allowing members to cross-carpet if they want. The concerns of the political parties can be cured by providing that they could recall a member of parliament by obtaining the names and signatures of a third of registered voters in the constituency of the member who cross-carpet, thus triggering a by-election.

This will allow political parties to fill in a candidate of their choice, and also allow the member the opportunity to face the electorate who elected him, and test the popularity of his decision to change parties. This change will allow members of parliament to be independent, and not the puppets of some unelected political party bosses like Jake Obetsebi Lamptey and the NPP executives.

Article 97 is very shortsighted. What if a future generation of Ghanaians decide to vote all independent candidates to their parliament? How useful will this provision be to them?

Moreover, a member of parliament once elected, represents all the people of his constituency and not just his party. The Member of Parliament for Ayawaso East, which happens to be yours truly’s constituency, should represent all the people of the constituency. It does not matter whether they voted for him or his opponents or did not vote at all. The oath of office of MPs in Ghana is to bear true faith and allegiance to the Republic of Ghana and not the NPP or NDC.

Somehow the people of Ghana are more advanced and forward looking than our political leaders. I followed the last election closely, and one thing that fascinated me was not just the orderliness with which people conducted themselves, but that in some constituencies the people voted different parties for parliament and president. Is it because the people who did so didn’t know NPP from NDC? They surely do, but in their judgement and for that particular election they thought a candidate of NDC will serve them well as president and the candidate of the NPP will benefit them as a Member of Parliament.

In conclusion, the current parliament should take steps to amend or repeal any law that militates against the authority of parliament. It is in their interest and the interest of future generations of Members of Parliament and of Ghanaians to do so. I belief in the supremacy of parliament more than any institution in Ghana. The 275 Members of Parliament together should be as powerful if not more powerful than the President. Our Members of Parliament together represent every facet of Ghanaian society and therefore shouldn’t be cheapened by political party leadership.

Abdul Sidibe

agolu16@hotmail.com