30 Years of Parliamentary Democracy: Issues to address

Feature Article 30 Years of Parliamentary Democracy: Issues to address

The Parliament of Ghana has made significant progress in many areas of its focus, including enacting laws to address critical issues of development, its deliberative functions, commitment to human rights protection and inclusivity: 30 years of uninterrupted democracy in Africa is a great achievement. But there are still critical issues that affect the maturity and growth of the Parliament of Ghana.

The Parliament of Ghana has some essential issues to address to consolidate the gains made in practicing a balanced democracy and ensure a stable and prosperous future for its citizens. The Legislative House must assess its performance over the three decades and take appropriate steps to address the following issues, as discussed:

Absenteeism: A report by the Parliamentary monitoring group Odekro revealed that as many as 33 Members of Parliament absented themselves for more than 15 sitting days in the second session of Parliament in 2022 (Myjoyonline report, 2022). Chronic absenteeism of Members of Parliament is seriously affecting the work of Parliament. The core mandate of the house – passing Bills and scrutinizing statutory instruments and deciding on whether to annul them or not, is non-essential to these members who truant from Parliament. The issue of absenteeism is critical to the success of the Parliament of Ghana because every Member of Parliament serves on a committee or two. It is affecting the works of the various committees and the general performance of the House. It signifies the lack of commitment of the MPs to undertake their basic responsibilities.

The Speaker of Parliament and his Deputies, as well as the leaders of both the Majority and Minority groups must reach a consensus on procedures that can check this act. Absenteeism is seriously affecting the development of the Parliament of Ghana and its ability to pass Bills.

Financial Control (Power of the Purse): The purpose of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament is to enhance the financial control powers of the Legislative House: the Parliament of Ghana has the power and duty to monitor the expenditure of public funds to ensure that the monies it has authorised are used for the purposes for which they are intended by taking appropriate action on the Auditor-General’s reports (as indicated on the website of the Parliament of Ghana). The Parliament of Ghana only performs a part of its financial control function by approving government deals without monitoring the expenditures it approves. The Parliament of Ghana fails to track the expenditures of government to ascertain whether funds authorised for spending actually achieve their intended purposes.

The Parliament of Ghana is complicit in the perennial reports of misappropriation and misapplication of funds at the MDAs. The Parliament of Ghana, in the past, should have collaborated with the Auditor-General’s department by enacting appropriate legislations that practically checks the misappropriation and misapplication of state funds: it has a fundamental function of ensuring the government utilises funds to achieve its intended purposes.

The Finance Committee of Parliament, and Parliament as a whole, is not financially sophisticated to use the available financial control powers. The Finance Committee, for instance, is not able to detect weaknesses in government financial deals at the preliminary stages, creating opportunities for the abusive use of state financial resources.

Financial analysts and many economists in the country continue to criticize the excessive borrowing appetite of the current government. The Parliament of Ghana and its Finance Committee are too relaxed in using the available powers to control the expenditures of government. The house is not able to scrutinise government expenditures to block some discretionary spending that cannot add value to economic growth and development.

The Parliament of Ghana and its Finance Committee have been implicitly creating opportunities for the government to take on more debts without determining whether the country meets its purpose for borrowing excessively. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament should not just examine audited accounts and make recommendations, it should take practical steps with the Auditor-General to recover funds misused or misapplied. The opportunity for any government to embark on excessive borrowing is created by the Parliament of Ghana and the Finance Committee of Parliament.

Consensus Building: The Parliament of Ghana, like many other Parliaments in Africa, has shown its level of immaturity to build consensus on some critical national issues: the MPs are patriotic to their parties than they are to the state and the government of the day. The management of emotions is a difficult task for Members of Parliament in many countries; which is why there are reports of Parliamentary brawls in many Legislative Houses including the Parliament of Ghana. If the Parliament of Ghana develops firmly established grounds for working together, there will be little room for the MPs to clash on petty issues like voting to elect the Speaker of the House or passing a Bill which is part of their responsibilities.

Parliamentary brawls are common in Africa; making Parliaments in Africa hostile governance institutions. Countries such as Taiwan, South Africa, Kosovo, Nepal, Ukraine, Japan, India Turkey had equally witnessed brawls in their Legislative Houses. These Parliaments lose their integrity and the required partnership that engender their maturity to create a cohesive environment for passing critical Bills and scrutinise governments.

The Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament, Rt Hon. Alban S. K. Bagbin, had highlighted the need for more inclusivity and participation of both sides of the political divide in the development process of the country. He further stressed that basic important national policies must get the buy in of the representatives of the people, and that buy in will in effect enrich the policies of the country.

The fulfillment of inclusivity and participation through consensus building of any Parliament indicates the extent of maturity of the Members of the House as well as the House itself. Consensus building must forcefully be sought in Ghana to consolidate the maturity of its Parliamentary democracy.

Abuse of Parliament through the use of majority: The Parliament of Ghana has a function of exercising oversight of the Executive. It is supposed to keep an eagle eye on the performance of the Executive to ensure that the implementation of approved public policies aligns well with development projects or agenda as well as expenditure authorised by the Parliament of Ghana.

This function is exercised by the Legislative House through a scrutinization of Bills and policy measures of the government. The Parliament of Ghana equally uses its committees, questions to Ministers, motions including the censorship of Ministers and other tools to check the conduct of the Executive.

Yet, the Executive has unbridled opportunity to manipulate the Legislature, through the use of majority powers. Members of Parliament are dangerously exposed to conflicts of interest in the performance of their duties. They are naturally supposed to keep a watch over the Executive whose performance affect the fortunes of their party in future elections, especially those from the majority party. There cannot be political willingness from the Members of Parliament whose party is in power or forms the government.

Parliamentary censure motions are not equally effective in Ghana because the President is given the discretion to sack a minster by revoking his/her appointment or keep him. Article 82 (1) states “Parliament may, by a resolution supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the Members of Parliament, pass a vote of censure on a Minister of State” – it applies to Deputy Ministers too (see Article 82 (6)). However, Article 82 (5) states “Where a vote of censure is passed against a Minister under this article, the President may, unless the Minister resigns his office, revoke his appointment as a Minister.”

There are inherent weaknesses with Parliamentary censure in Ghana. The preference of the President prevails no matter how demanding it is to sack a Minister or a Deputy Minister. There is the need to use the Private Member’s Bill to rewrite the procedure to censure a Minister or a Deputy.

The Parliament of Ghana has many success stories to recount since its inception. However, the maturity level of the House can be enhanced greatly if suitable steps are taken to address the issues discussed, and others the House itself feels must be addressed.

Emmanuel Kwabena Wucharey
Economics Tutor, Advocate and Religion Enthusiast.