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22.12.2004 Feature Article

Selection of a Speaker: Don't Allow the President to Interfere

Selection of a Speaker: Don't Allow the President to Interfere
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The social problems bedeviling Ghana are innumerable. From unsanitary conditions in the central cities to poverty around the country, especially in the rural areas, the national misfortunes cry out for solutions.

In Ghana, there are pockets of poverty with people living in abject poverty, disbelieving that their nation cares for them. Throughout the country, those citizens are crying out for solutions to their problems; they are crying for satisfactory policies to tackle such problems. Spreading democracy and harnessing technology will enable Ghana to conquer the ravages of tyranny and poverty to improve the living conditions of the people. The legislature is responsible for formulating and articulating the will and policy of the nation and to ameliorate felt and anticipated problems.

As part of the governance system, with traditions and institutions that determine how authority is exercised in the country, the legislature, with its legislative mandate must ensure that;

- The society has a clear and sound governance structure in place.

- Government is effective and has the capacity for implementing laws, policies and regulations throughout the country.

- There is an effective control of corruption in society.

- There is absence of violence in society, ensuring political, economic, and social, stability.

- The country is governed by rule of law that is effectively regulated, fully

recognized, and accepted by all stakeholders.

- There is effective representation and accountability at all levels of society.

- Citizens have respect for the institutions of state that govern social and economic relations among them.

This obligates the legislature to enact laws to develop a full range of

democratic institutions to ensure that multi-party elections, representative legislatures, a free press, civilian control of the military, an independent judiciary, minority protection and other basic human rights are guaranteed in society.

The oversight responsibility over other arms of government is entrenched in the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, 1992. To realize this, however, there is need for checks and balances among the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. This is because entrenched executive power in Ghana has rendered other arms of government impotent. Resulting from rituals adapted from the British parliamentary system with a strong party control and a Prime minister and a cabinet chosen from parliament and grafted to a presidential system that is independent of the legislature, the Ghanaian system has developed a hybrid that is still trying to find its feet.

In the nearly half a century of independence, with preponderance of military rule in the country and with only about twenty one years of civilian rule, the executive has tended to arrogate more powers to itself to the detriment of society. As others have come to argue, successive parliaments have become rubber stamps for executive policies and programs, with parliament deciding on party political grounds rather than on strictly national interests. This has resulted in slow loss of independence and assertiveness of the legislature.

The Fourth Republic has rekindled the hope that the legislature will soon begin to assert itself and not give away the little powers it has retained. But any hope for legislative assertiveness appear lost when the majority leader of the house sounds glad and ready to relinquish the little legislative authority to the executive.

In Parliament last Tuesday, the minority expressed the hope that the Speaker would be retained to lead business transaction for the next four years. In an interview on CITI radio, the majority was heard as arrogating the election of the Speaker to the President and equating it with other appointments of the President with prior approval (confirmation) of the legislature. The President has no role in the selection of the speaker. The powers given to the president by the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana (70) (1 & 2) to appoint does not include the Speaker of Parliament:

"The President shall, acting in consultation with the Council of State, appoint -

(a) the commissioner for Huma Rights and Administrative Justice and his Deputies;

(b) The Auditor-General;

(c) The District Assemblies common Fund Administrator;

(d) The Chairman and other members of -

(i) The Public Services Commission;

(ii) The Lands Commission;

(iii) The governing bodies of public corporations

(iv) A national Council for Higher Education however so described; and

(e) The holders of such offices as may be prescribed by this constitution or

by any other law not inconsistent with the Constitution."

Article (95(1) of the constitution is clear on the election of the Speaker; it is the responsibility of the legislature itself. It states: "There shall be a Speaker of Parliament who shall be elected by members of Parliament from among persons who are members of parliament or who qualified to be elected as members of parliament." It is not by accident that the Speaker is mentioned to succeed the Vice President in situations where both the President and the Vice President are unable to perform the functions of the president. The Constitution of the Republic of Ghana (60: stipulates:

(11) Where the President and the vie President are both unable to perform the functions of the President, the Speaker of Parliament shall perform those functions until the President or the Vice President is able to perform those functions or a new President assumes office, as the case may be.

(12) The speaker shall before commencing to perform the function of the President under clause (11) of this article, take and subscribe the oath set out in relation to the office of the President.

(13) Where the Speaker of Parliament assumes the office of the President as a result of death, resignation or removal from office of the President and the Vice-President, there shall be a presidential election within three months after the assumption of office."

In a presidential system as the one operative in Ghana the executive and legislative powers are delineated to distinct institutions. Checks and balances are essential ingredients of the presidential system that obtains in the country and any attempt to separate them disrupts the system.

The internal management of each branch is its responsibility, even though other branches have oversight responsibility to ensure checks and balances of power. Even though the legislative and executive powers are blurred in many areas, clarity is demonstrated in the appointment of the Speaker of Parliament and care must be taken not to extend the overly bloated powers of the executive by eroding the minimal powers retained by the legislature. The majority leader may do well for parliament and the country by ensuring that together members of Parliament select a Speaker with whom both the majority and minority can comfortably work, knowing that selecting a Speaker is "non of the President's business."

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