You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2022 01 17Article 1446718

Opinions of Monday, 17 January 2022

Columnist: Emmanuel Abbey-Quaye

The current state of parliament: Symptomatic of Ghana’s sliding democracy

Parliamentary sittings have been characterized by chaos since the presentation of the 2022 budget Parliamentary sittings have been characterized by chaos since the presentation of the 2022 budget

On November 26, 2021, Ghanaian politics took another interesting turn in the aftermath of the Finance Minister’s presentation of the government’s Budget and Economic Statement of 2022 to Parliament nine days prior.

The drama began when Members of Parliament from the minority National Democratic Congress (NDC) voted to reject the Budget after the majority New Patriotic Party (NPP) members had staged a walkout from the chambers of the Parliament House.

On November 30, however, the NPP MPs returned to the House and by a representation of 138 members, voted to overturn the Minority’s earlier vote of rejection and to approve the Budget after the Minority side had also failed to show up in the chambers of Parliament.

Confusion over the budget’s rejection and approval soon erupted into chaos among the MPs on the following day during the parliamentary proceedings on December 1, 2021.

Radio reports and TV footage showed some MPs of the Minority NDC party attempting to attack Hon. Joseph Osei-Wusu, MP for Bekwai and First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, with one of them violently trying to pull the Speaker’s seat.

Shortly afterward, the Minority alleged that somebody had impersonated Hon. Adwoa Sarfo of the NPP during the Majority’s budget approval vote. This allegation has since not been proven.

After the December 1, 2021 infamy in Parliament when Ghanaians thought that the latter’s day of shame and embarrassment was over, we were served with yet another but even worse form of embarrassment and shame on December 20, 2021, during which processes for voting on the now controversial Electronic Transactions Levy (E-Levy) were marred by shoving, heckling, shouting and fisticuffs between the two groups of MPs in our Parliament.

This fight occurred shortly after Hon. Joseph Osei-Wusu, the First Deputy Speaker who was presiding at the time, had decided to leave the Speaker’s seat for the Second Deputy Speaker.

Unsurprisingly, following both the December 1 and 20 bedlams in Parliament, many individuals and groups have rightly condemned those chaotic incidents in Parliament as embarrassing, shameful and disgraceful while at the same time urging our MPs on both sides of Ghana’s political divide to learn to settle their differences in a more mature and amicable way through the use of dialogue and consensus-building over issues of national interest in spite of their political differences.

While I support these calls as appropriate and posit that they are worth heeding, I at the same time believe that the drama and chaos that have occurred recently in Parliament over the debates on the 2022 Budget are just a symptom of the bigger political malaise we have in Ghana currently.

There is no doubting the fact that since 1992 when our country returned once again to democratic governance, we have witnessed many political differences, most especially among the two leading parties in Ghana, namely, the NPP and the NDC.

Yet, I posit that within the first few years of our democratic dispensation, such political differences were handled in a more responsible and mature way devoid of the personal attacks and verbal insults which we are witnessing in the more recent times. I opine that our beautiful democratic practice started declining from the period before and after the December 7, 2008, elections when there was a certain sudden turn to verbal attacks on personalities and an increasing penchant for insults between and among the leadership and followership of Ghana’s two leading parties.

Since then, we have witnessed a certain elevation of the politics of insults and of untruths in our country coupled with a monumental failure on the part of the leadership of these two leading parties to discipline their members for engaging in such unhealthy conduct.

The chaos which we are beginning to witness on a much more regular basis in the current Parliament is a certain gradual progression of the politics of insults to the “politics of the fist.” We need no prophet to tell us that this situation ought to be remedied speedily before its negative impact begins to infect the supporters of the two parties and thus become too late or difficult to handle in the future.

Experimenting a hung Parliament in Ghana: Today’s challenging task

On December 7, 2021, when the eligible Ghanaian electorate went to the polls to vote for a President and 275 Members of Parliament, little did they know that for the first time in Ghana’s electoral history in the Fourth Republic, our Legislature will end up being a hung Parliament, with 137 MPs on both the ruling NPP side and the opposition NDC side.

This novel and unusual situation coupled with one Independent MP who identifies with the governing NPP and the election of a Speaker from the opposition NDC party to cap it all had meant that right from the word go, our current Parliament was destined for an interesting but uncertain future. While many citizens welcomed this new development as an important litmus test for gauging how far Ghana’s democratic journey has come and prayed that this new situation would signal a good omen for the country’s continuous democratic development, others had hoped that with almost equal numbers represented in Parliament on both sides of the political divide, national issues would be debated more dispassionately and meaningfully with decisions taken on merit and not just on mere numbers. Unfortunately, these hopes and prayers of Ghanaians took a big jolt in the events that unfolded on the dawn of the inauguration of the current Parliament.

On January 7, 2021, when the new crop of MPs began the process of electing the Speaker for him to inaugurate them into Parliament, that parliamentary session was rocked right from the onset by misunderstanding, confusion, chaotic heckling, destruction of electoral materials by some NDC MPs, ballot snatching by Hon. Carlos Ahenkorah, a marathon race led by Hon. Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak and incidents of shoving and a few slaps.

Even though the chaos and confusion were eventually overcome somehow with the involvement of the military in the chamber of the Parliament House leading to a resolution among the leadership on who becomes the next Speaker and his two Deputies, that crude and unfortunate introduction to the life of the current Parliament left a sour and bitter taste in the mouths of all well-meaning Ghanaians and many non-Ghanaians who had come to respect our democratic credentials built over the years. After this shameful incident, the prayer of most Ghanaians was that such similar unfortunate incidents would not be repeated in the future.

It is important to note here that in the weeks and months following that infamous January 7, 2021, dawn incident in Parliament, the bitterness, uneasiness, tension and acrimonious relationship that have come to exist between the current MPs of the two leading parties have not abated nor been resolved adequately.

These tensions have since that time been palpable in several encounters between the two groups. For example, Ghanaians witnessed the eruption of some of these tensions during the vetting and approval of Ministers and Deputy Ministers during which time there were allegations of bribery and corruption against the opposition NDC MPs for approving nominees which their party had asked them not to.

The sudden and unexpected resignation of Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa from the Appointments Committee added further fuel to these allegations. Recently also, in the aftermath of the debates on the tidal waves which have displaced some residents of the coastal town of Keta and its environs, there arose not a small controversy and confusion over a photo shown by Hon. Alexander Afenyo-Markin of the NPP and purporting to be scenes of the affected Keta coastal area in support of his claims that sand winning was the cause of the tidal waves affecting Keta and surrounding communities.

Outside the Parliamentary chamber, the confusion and disagreement over the veracity and authenticity of the said photo led nearly to the exchange of blows between NPP’s Hon. Dr. Stephen Amoah and some NDC MPs, a situation which was doused quickly through the timely intervention of some colleague MPs from both the NPP and the NDC. Even though Hon. Alexander Afenyo-Markin later apologized for relying on the wrong photo to make his argument, the harm had already been done.

With the above and other similar incidents involving the current Parliament, I consider the chaotic incidents witnessed on January 7, December 1 and December 20, 2021 as signs of the gradual but progressive breakdown of the relationship between the two groups of MPs we have in Ghana today.

I also opine that the hung Parliament which we are experimenting currently and the confusion and chaos we are witnessing almost on a regular basis ought to serve as a wake-up call for all of us who are citizens of Ghana to continue to demand from those who are representing us in Parliament the need to respect themselves and respect us by behaving properly and maturely and act in ways devoid of negative, embarrassing dramas.

At the same time, Ghanaians must be bold enough in demanding that the leadership of Parliament takes adequate measures to control their membership, advising them to refrain from future anti-parliamentary conduct in order to save us all from further shame and embarrassment.

We must ensure that the leadership of Parliament does not hesitate in applying the appropriate procedures and sanctions put in place within the parliamentary architecture to discipline Members of Parliament who go contrary to the laid down statutes in the Code of Conduct. Doing this will bring conformity to proper behavior and conduct among our MPs both within and outside of Parliament.

Continuous apologies without the application of appropriate sanctions will not amount to anything, only the application of appropriate sanctions will.
But why and how have we come thus far?

It is my considered opinion that Ghana’s democratic governance in general and parliamentary practice, in particular, have been declining over the last few years. This is because, after almost thirty years of continuous democratic governance, our democracy has simply not matured as it should.

On the contrary, several indicators seem to point to the fact that our democracy is retrogressing. The following factors among others account for Ghana’s rapidly declining democracy.

One, from the first elections held in December 1992 to usher in the Fourth Republic until the most recent elections held on December 7, 2020, all ruling parties have had the added advantage of boasting of greater numbers in Parliament as well.

That situation had often meant that the ruling government could conveniently push their policies and agenda through for Parliamentary approval without necessarily waiting for or needing the support of the opposition party (ies) in Parliament. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the numerical architecture of the current Parliament is different with almost equal numbers represented on the two sides of Ghana’s political divide.

Consequently, how to conduct parliamentary affairs in this hung Parliament devoid of negative drama is so far proving to be a challenge at which we are currently failing badly.

Two, the large numbers of MPs for ruling Governments in all previous Parliaments save the current one has more often than not also led to the situation where in the past, the views and or suggestions of opposition MPs were or could easily and readily be ignored even though such views and or suggestions could be of immense importance to some of our national policies.

All this while, the rule of thumb in Parliament has been that “the opposition can have their say and the ruling party, their way.” Again, the situation of the current Parliament is different, but the adjustments needed to navigate through it is proving to be much more difficult to do than first assumed.

Three, Ghana’s politics in general and parliamentary practice, in particular, have broadly spoken, not matured over the years, for example, in the area of encouraging consensus-building and promoting bipartisanship owing to excessive political partisanship, a “winner-takes-it-all” mentality and an insatiable lust and quest for political power.

The quest for majoritarianism has led to the situation where voices of dissent and particularly of decency within the two leading political parties in Ghana have conveniently been silenced and or pushed to the background, thus making it very difficult and almost impossible for such voices of reason, decency and moderation to come out and be heard loud and clear.

What pertains today in our body politics is that those who are often praised and celebrated are those who always tow party lines regardless of whether the party’s line is wrong or not while those who dare to differ from their party’s official positions are heavily demonized and condemned as displaying anti-party behavior.

In such an atmosphere, it is unsurprising that moderate voices with bipartisan ideologies have decided to behave like spectators rather than citizens leading to the current democratic dysfunction we have in Ghana.

These factors above coupled with the general toxic and “acidic” atmosphere within which politics has been conducted in Ghana for some time now have all contributed to the situation where most of our politicians have become corrupt, arrogant, superficial and parochial in both their understanding and general approach to politics and issues of national importance. While the practice of democracy everywhere in the world is supposed to unearth talents to produce leaders who are capable of moral and economic responsibility both in their personal and public lives, in Ghana, however, our country’s rapidly declining democratic culture has rather led to the mass production of adults who have internalized a sense of entitlement that is wholly disconnected from a sense of responsibility.

Most of our politicians have come to assume that they can spend more than they earn and incur debts at will while hoping that they can secure political power to come and use, or better still misuse, the country’s resources to cater for themselves, their families and egotistic lavish lifestyles.

More so, the current democratic dysfunction in Ghana has resulted largely in the absence of profiles of morality and truth-telling in our body politic leading to the situation where entry into politics and public service, in general, has essentially become a projection of people’s personal ego and self-esteem.

Ghanaian politics today is characterized oftentimes by the crude exchange of epithets that displaces intellectual engagement on serious issues of national importance.

The complexities of governance have mostly been reduced to soundbites and empty sloganeering on radio shows and social media platforms while short-term political risk aversion has quickly given way to grave long-term consequences.

Solidarity with the poor has largely been abandoned in the name of immediate personal selfish gratification while the national interest and the common good have both been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and replaced by what one can get out of the State and not what one can give to the State.

In summary, Ghana’s democratic dysfunction today can be felt everywhere in the country on the roads, in our schools, churches, hospitals, State institutions, etc. Based on this, I argue that the three-fold chaos witnessed in Ghana’s Parliament on January 7, December 1 and December 20, 2021, are but symptoms of the broad political malaise that has bedeviled our country’s democratic practice for some time now.

In particular, the last two incidents in Parliament represent shameful episodes of an inglorious first year of Ghana’s current sharply divided Parliament which is in urgent need of political redemption. They are symptomatic of an aggregation of the political malfunction and dysfunction in Ghana’s democratic practice today which should serve as a worry to all of us to strive towards finding appropriate remedies for it now before it is too late in the day to do so.

Which Way Forward?

To answer the above question of “Which way forward?”, my position is that the time has come for all of us Ghanaians to return to the morality of authentic democratic practice and culture as well as to the commitment to reason and truth-telling in our debates on all issues of grave national importance.

In particular, our politicians must be encouraged to develop the courage, to tell the truth at all times, to face the hard facts and to show the willingness to concede when others have something better to share. I equally believe that the time has come for our politicians to distinguish between prudent compromise and the abandonment of principles in upholding the common good. These may demand some personal sacrifice and yet, without a firm commitment to these and other noble principles, Ghana’s politics and democratic practice risks degenerating into further ignominy, chaos and confusion.

With specific reference to our current Parliament, I think that our current MPs should gather the courage to look themselves in the face and judge if their recent (mis)conduct and (mis) behaviors merit the title, “Honourable,” which is bestowed on them. While this self-introspection is ongoing, I think it will also be good for the current leadership of Parliament to organize a retreat for all the MPs to remind them about the Code of Conduct for Parliament and the need for them to comply with the provisions of the Code to avoid the application of the appropriate sanctions to them when they fail to comply.

Important national institutions such as the Council of State and the National Peace Council as well as our respected Religious Bodies such as the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference should also continue to impress upon our politicians and our Parliamentarians in particular that they owe a sacred duty to Mother Ghana and her citizens always to put Ghana first in all their conduct by doing the right things to advance the cause of the nation.

The members of these bodies should not be afraid of the occasional criticisms they will receive from our politicians but should stand firm in continuously playing their civic, moral and prophetic roles for the good of the country. Our democracy and national and global image as a beacon of hope for democratic practice for other countries especially those on the African continent is gravely at risk from the continuous misdemeanor of our elected representatives and therefore, the above-listed bodies, as well as all well-meaning Ghanaians, should not rest until our MPs begin to show more maturity in doing the right things expected of them as our elected representatives.

While the conduct of many of our current politicians is making it difficult for Ghanaians, but especially those who aspire to enter politics to have good role models and guides to follow in our politics today, it is urgent that our country’s politicians, in particular, our MPs begin to change the narrative to give us a cause for hope and encouragement for a brighter future.

Conclusion

Today in Ghana, we need a cohort of politicians who will help us to see that our democratic dispensation is not just a charade for personal aggrandizement but an important vehicle capable of leading and empowering us towards attaining the common good and integral development of Ghana.

We need a certain caliber of politicians who will embrace and live certain moral truths to make our democracy work for all citizens. This caliber of politicians will not happen overnight but ought to be formed in the habits of the heart and mind and in the noble virtues that will enable them to guide the machinery of free politics of which the outcome will be human flourishing, solidarity, civility, the promotion of the common good and integral development for all Ghanaians, irrespective of where they are and where they come from.
While I consider the past 2021 political season as a season to forget in respect of how our MPs have conducted themselves so far, I can only hope and pray that things will change quickly for the better in this year and the years ahead.

Yet, as we look forward to our politicians changing the narrative in the coming years, all of us Ghanaians must also play our respective roles in helping to grow our democracy for the progress of our nation.

We must all contribute our quotas in helping to reverse the trend of democratic dysfunction that our country is currently grappling with by doing the right things with the right people always at the right time. There is still hope.
May God continue to bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation greater and stronger.