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Opinions of Thursday, 1 March 2007

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

When Law Makers Go Away Without Leave

The just ended boycott by the minority group of parliamentary proceedings can be described as one of the most unfortunate chapters in our parliamentary democracy in this country. This is the second time the minority group had to take this recourse. In the previous case, it was in protest against the passage of the Representative of People’s Amendment Bill (ROPAB). The latest boycott was is in solidarity with their jailed colleague member of parliament for wilfully causing financial loss to the state.

Let’s ask, was the minority’s boycott really justified? With a conviction based on a law duly passed by parliament of which Hon Dan Abodapki was a member I do not see much of an issue here. So should it be the judge who merely interpreted the law or those who passed the law who should be blamed?

Honourable members of parliament by their oath swear to uphold the rule of law. So why should some MPs publicly fault the decision of a court. Was it not the same court that freed some NDC functionaries? If it is part of a grand plan against the opposition, will the likes of Sherry Ayittey, Kwesi Ahowi not be in jail.

I think the action of the NDC MPs has serious repercussions for the future. They have set a bad a precedent for the future. I wonder whether MPs who resort to boycotts will have the moral courage in future to convince striking health workers or striking teachers to rescind their decision.

There are so many alternative ways they could have reacted to the jailing of Dan Abodapki. But to decide to boycott parliament indefinitely is a defeatist approach even if they have since returned to parliament. They could have embarked on a sit-down strike, sit-in or even decided not to contribute to debates at all.

The issue of parliamentary boycotts is not a new thing in Ghana. Of course the NPP boycotted the 1997 government budget statement when the issue of vetting retained ministers came up. Subsequently they went to parliament to debate the budget statement. The debate on the State of the Nation has gone on for a while without the minority group’s participation. And in what appears a contradiction to Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution, the minority had also delivered a ‘State of the Nation’ Address.

What is unfolding has the potential of marring the labour and industrial relations in the country. The labour front over the past year has been hit with a series of strikes all over the country, with the dark cloud of an imminent strike by health workers hanging over the nation. In the past, we have seen Parliament attempt to intervene in labour disputes. Now it was the people who make the law and sometimes act as the ‘overseers’ who got caught up in the tragic dimensions of strike action.

Strikes by minority MPs appear to have been overused and do not seem to be as effective a tool any longer which is why such strikes tend to go on and on. Recent examples include the ROPAB strike and also at the time of the National Health Insurance Act and then also during the passing of the National Reconciliation Act. By the rules, when an MP is absent from parliament for fifteen continuous sittings, the speaker should declare his or her seat vacant. So what would the Speaker of the House have done if this went on for more than two weeks? Would he have had to declare all the seats of the minority vacant for by- elections for being Away Without Leave (A.W.O.L) or do we say this was absence with permission? Assuming the seats were declared vacant, can one estimate how much this would have cost to organise? And would the members from the minority have contested again in the event by-elections had been organised for their seats?

The title Honourable which prefixes MPs names’ is not just there for linguistic convenience or semantic appropriateness. Rather it is reserved for men and women of high moral turpitude and decorum. Members of Parliament should lead by example not just boycotting parliamentary sittings indefinitely but rather attending parliamentary sittings on time and becoming more accountable to the people whom they represent. Allegiance should not be to the party but the state. Like Reinhold Neibuhr said ‘groups are more immoral than individual’. Leadership by example is what the old adage says. If there is something wrong with the law, one does not expect the judge who sits before the mahogany table in the court to amend it. It takes the parliament to make laws including amendments. If there is a deficiency in the law on ‘willfully causing financial loss to the state’ it is better for the architects of law (which happens to the people who are now demonstrating against the law) to table an amendment to the law.

Vindictively enough, the minority group have also threatened to use the law to jail NPP functionaries when they also come to power. So where lies the minority’s worry after all?

Should the salaries of the striking MPs be paid in full at the end of the month? What does that 2003 Labour Act says? Shouldn’t what the Ghana Education Service did to the National Association of Graduate Teachers be done to the MPs who went on strike? Let us be driven by the highest mandate of democracy: the rule of law.

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through: Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi. Tel Tel: 027-740-2467

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.