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Opinions of Thursday, 28 June 2018

Columnist: Caroline Boateng

The Speaker’s silence and the reforms citizens need

Speaker of Parliament, Mike Oquaye Speaker of Parliament, Mike Oquaye

Odekro says the Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana is silent on Article 78(1) of the 1992 Constitution.

That article permits the President to appoint, with the prior approval of the House, ministers of state from among members.

The result of that has been absenteeism without permission from Parliament that Odekro has analysed to be 14 times more likely among parliamentarians doubling as ministers of state.

However, it seems our enthusiastic Speaker, who is also a great champion of parliamentary reforms, appears to have no urge in dealing with the root cause of this persistent absenteeism.

Odekro, by the way, is an institution that has set itself the goal of simplifying Parliament and their processes for citizens.

So, by analysing parliamentary publications produced by units, such as the Hansard Department of Parliament, order papers, votes and proceedings, as well as committee reports, it simplifies the information into reports for the public consumption.

The most recent report on the First Session of the Seventh Parliament, 2017 was launched about two weeks ago in Accra.

That is the report in which the Speaker’s silence on Article 78(1) is questioned.

A quarter of Members of Parliament (MPs), which is 71 out of the 275, are ministers of state.

Their absence from the House, therefore, means a significant chunk of the human resources are missing in legislative processes and the dearth of their contribution of ideas and knowledge in debates.

Before becoming the Speaker of the Seventh Parliament, Prof. Oquaye outlined a nine-point vision statement to transform Parliament.

Odekro documents that that agenda includes the passage of the Affirmative Action Law, the revision of the Standing Orders of Parliament, the introduction of the Private Members Bill and the improvement of the work of the Committees of Parliament for better probes into governance.

Speaker Oquaye was also set on commissioning a study on boycotts and walkouts in Parliament and their impact on the development of democracy, modernising Parliament’s library and record-keeping processes, commencing a Parliament/citizen encounter, improving the salaries and work conditions of MPs and getting a new chamber, good library and books with mimeographs.

Odekro is of the view that the Speaker is making some progress with his nine-point agenda.

What is worrying, however, is his silence in clearly stating his position on Article 78 (1), which is at the heart of the challenges of absenteeism.

Odekro documents some of the Speaker’s lamentations over the absence of parliamentarians.

For instance, on Thursday, December 21, 2017, he is quoted in the report thus, “Honourable members, we must be careful about the reputation of this honourable House. We come to work; we don’t get the numbers. If that is the attitude you want to adopt, let us tell Ghanaians.”

The report states that sitting had to be suspended for the second time in three days following that comment.

It goes on to state that earlier on October 31, the Speaker walked into an almost empty chamber.

In spite of the Speaker’s complaints and the acknowledgement by some MPs, who have served for several years in the House, there seems to be no will for reforms in relation to that.

The genesis of Article 78 (1) was the defeat of President Hilla Limann’s (1979 and 1981) budget, which was rejected by parliamentarians who were at loggerheads with the executive.

But Odekro is of the view that the provision is outdated and inimical to our development and the evidence is there for all to see with the constant empty Chamber of the House seen on TV screens daily.

The Constitutional Review Commission report touched on this provision too and the recommendation should be looked at again.

Odekro also proposes strengthening the independence of Parliament by doing away with the article.

It states in its report that there is no loyalty to Parliament if members, particularly those of the governing party, have one eye there and the other on the executive to catch the President’s attention for appointments.

This is part of the parliamentary reforms citizens need. Our representatives should be punctual and present in the House.