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Opinions of Monday, 27 February 2017

Columnist: Asubonteng, Bernard

The 'twinkle, twinkle, little' juveniles in Ghana’s Parliament

By Bernard Asubonteng

No doubt many of the current MPs, especially on the then opposition NPP side, rode on the coattails of Nana Akufo Addo’s landslide victory in last year’s general elections. The NDC, which was then the ruling majority party, as we all know, sustained serious electoral wounds culminating in the loss of many of its veteran members in parliament.

In other words, the net gain of inexperienced or new MPs for the NPP’s camp is relatively high compared to the NDC’s in the recent parliamentary elections. With this comparatively vast repertoire of long-serving NDC’s MPs, it would be fair to conclude that they’re well-seasoned and, more important, understand and embrace basic parliamentary decorum, especially, during the presidential state of the nation (SONA) address.

The State of the Nation or Union addresses in every country attracts increased worldwide attention and special media coverage; and, the one delivered by President Akufo Addo was no exception. It was not exactly clear what the minority MPs on the NDC’s bench was trying to accomplish regarding their classless, constant interruptions and boos of the president of the republic when delivering the SONA in parliament some days ago.

What was clear to millions of reasonable people watching this year’s SONA was that most of the opposition members of parliament acted exactly like the juvenile characters captured in Jane Taylor’s century-old poem “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Stars.” The previous NDC-led government had created the rosy impression that they were leaving behind Ghanaian economy that is “Up the world so high” that seems “like the diamond in the sky.”

But there was no true “diamond in the sky” except counterfeit ones. So, the NDC legislators did not like the idea that President Akufo Addo was telling the whole world about the true state of the country’s messy economy his administration inherited on January 7, 2017. Hence the strategy by the opposition members of the NDC was to interrupt the president as much as they could to deafen the ears of Ghanaians and worldwide audience from hearing the key subtexts of President Akuffo Addo’s message.

It was embarrassing, watching the SONA for the first time with my American-born wife who happens to be a middle school social studies teacher trying to learn more about Ghana she has come to love and respect. For the most part, it wasn’t classy and sophisticated experience because of the infantile behavior displayed by many of the MPs from the opposition NDC’s side.

It is one thing for MPs to burst into momentary uproar as well as spontaneous laughter/applause that has become part of many parliamentary cultures. However, it is entirely another thing for some grown-up MPs to behave like immaturely uncontrollable, noisy kids left in the room screaming for attention whilst an adult is delivering a life-saving message.

True, some of us have never been MPs before, but quintessential civility or parliamentary etiquettes strongly demand that when someone has the floor to speak, all the other members must comport themselves as “honorable ladies and gentlemen.” Indeed, the preceding code of conduct is the basis for why almost every Member of Parliament in the world is addressed as “honorable member.” It is within human norms for audience to show agreement, and also voice some disagreements or concerns, where necessary, about some aspects of a body of speeches. But equally most significant is allowing whoever the speaker is, particularly, in the floor of parliament finish speaking before coming out with rebuttals and responses.

Cutting off a guest speaker—no less the president of the whole nation—from delivering his/her major speech by making incessant catcalls and other orchestrated jeers in the halls of legislature, portrays the perpetrators as sophomoric bunch of political lawmakers still harboring bitterness emanating from their electoral defeat they wouldn’t let go.

In this case Nana Akuffo Addo was not just any ordinary guest speaker, but the head of state of Ghana required by the constitution to explain to all Ghanaians, including the MPs, the pulse of the nation at certain point in time. Doing this comprehensive assessment effectively and accurately, entails contextualization of how Ghana gets to the point in which it finds itself in at the moment.

If the SONA’s delivery is constitutional expectations, then the president may have no choice but to revisit the socioeconomic history of the previous year prior to taking office on January 7, 2017. Clearly, it was this necessary errand to the recent past years by President Akuffo Addo that unsettled many of the NDC MPs to start behaving as spoiled children running amok because they did not have their way from their “stepdaddy.”

One remarkable practice common to the numerous Ghanaian subcultures is that the people/hosts accord special respect and treat their guests nobly irrespective of the circumstances. The MPs can interrupt each other on the chamber’s floor all day if that is what they want to do, but they should also be cognizant of the notable exceptions.

According to Ghana’s present constitution, the president of the republic isn’t a member of parliament, so he/she becomes a guest in the legislative chamber anytime he is over there. It is about time the obstructionist politics of “whataboutism’’ or equivalence makes way for matured and progressive ways of conducting people’s business in parliament.

Hopefully, going forward all the MPs will learn to recognize that the SONA is not an occasion for Q&A or parliamentary back and forth debates. Rather, the SONA is the time the president as a special guest speaker comes, with large entourage of people from all walks of life including foreigners, to parliament to address the nation on its political, cultural, and socioeconomic orbital pathways. The MPs have constitutional rights to agree or rebut the president’s remarks delivered in parliament, but this must be after the speech is over. That is what parliamentary politeness and maturity is all about. Parliament is not for juveniles, folks!

The writer is United States-based social critic; he can be reached at: b.asubonteng@gmail.com