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28.03.2007 General News

Experts call for constitutional reforms

By Gilbert Boyefio

Governance experts have called for a comprehensive constitutional review of all the areas of the Constitution of the Fourth Republic that have been receiving attention for reform.

They argue that such an exercise can lead to an omnibus amendment package that can address some of the fundamental deficiencies identified in the Constitution.

According to the Centre for Democratic Development, 14 years since the return to multi-party democracy, it is time to examine the Constitution and, especially how well it has worked in practice in line with democratic governance.

Some of the areas which the experts think can be incorporated in the constitutional reform project cut across the three arms of government.

The CDD has been a leading advocate in calling for a review of what it sees as the negative effects of key provisions in the Constitution, such as Article 78 Clause 1 - which requires that the majority of the President's ministers be selected from among members of Parliament.

Clause 2 of the same Article, which leaves the President free to appoint any number of ministers deemed necessary for the efficient running of the state, is also seen as too wide and open to excessive political patronage.

The New Patriotic Party has made no policy statement of note about reforming the District Assembly concept since 2001.

Though some of the constitutional provisions under scrutiny are entrenched and, therefore, cumbersome and expensive to amend, the experts argue that more than one issue can be put to the public in a national referendum that deals with an omnibus of constitutional amendments, where required.

Amending an entrenched constitutional provision requires at least seven months. This is a far cry from the First Republic, when the Ghana Constitutional Amendment Bill of 1958 made it possible for the National Assembly to alter the constitution by a simple majority.

Speaking to the debate on the disputed proposal for replacing the position of Vice President with that of a Prime Minister, the Governance and Legal Policy Officer, Centre for Democratic Development, Kojo Asante, argues that, rather than focussing on the incommodious process of amendment, analysts and the public should welcome it as an opportunity for greater things.

He thinks once there are several known deficiencies in the Constitution which work against good and effective governance, the approach to amending them should not be piecemeal.

Indeed, in September 2004, the Executive Director of the Centre for Democratic Development, E Gyimah-Boadi strongly argued that democratic constitutionalism in Ghana was constantly facing threats inherent in a Constitution that fosters "hegemonic presidency.”

Recently, Kwame Osei-Prempeh, Deputy Attorney General and Minister for Justice, added his voice to the strengthening of Parliament through a constitutional amendment.

Mr Asante of the CDD, for example, wants the entire decentralisation concept redefined to address, what some experts see, as its democratic deficits. Prime among these, is the campaign to have Chief Executives of the local authorities elected, instead of the current system of appointment by the President.

Again, there is a debate to allow political parties to freely and openly contest for seats as Assembly Members.

Also, Mr Asante cites Article 108, which places an injunction on the legislature to make laws on the Consolidated Fund or other public funds of Ghana, as a provision fit for reform.

To Mr Asante, the suggestion to boost up the executive presidency with an executive prime minister would be welcomed news only if it would contribute to enhancing checks and balances among the three arms of government.

A renowned legal practitioner and lecturer at the University of Cape Coast, P E Bondzi-Simpson, told The Statesman that there is merit in the debate to review the position of Vice President.

“He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches,” he said to reports in The Statesman that President Kufuor would prefer an executive prime minister, instead.

He said given President Kufuor"s tenure of office, thus far of a term and a half, he is well positioned to make such a recommendation and if, indeed, he does make one, it should be seriously considered.

Dr Bondzi-Simpson also sees the debate on the Vice Presidency as a clarion call and justification for a general constitutional review.

He said there are several provisions of the constitution that require review or outright amendment. He also cited some of the deficiency in the Constitution such as the need to place a ceiling on the number of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, and Supreme Court Judges that are appointed by the President, and District Chief Executives elected directly by eligible voters in the districts, instead of being appointed by the President.

He explained that a general review, as was done in Nigeria, enables the citizens to provide input on the form and content of the Constitution which governs them.

He noted that such a revised document has legitimacy and ownership by the people and it is respected and obeyed by all, rather than a Constitution imposed on the people or one which they have no option but to accept as some commentators argue, was largely the case in 1992 when, under a military regime, this Constitution was voted for in a national referendum.

“After working the fourth Republican Constitution for over 14 years, it is time for Ghanaians to review the entire Constitution and make all the necessary amendment that would be warranted as of date,” he added.

The CDD's Prof Gyimah-Boadi's view is also that the President is granted vast appointing powers with no ceiling on the number of appointments he can make to the Supreme Court and the number of Ministers he can appoint and added that the President has near monopoly control over the public purse.

He argues that the Constitution vests a very wide range of important prerogatives in the presidency. Constitutional changes to moderate these powers could make a significant difference.

Also, Kwasi Prempeh of the CDD has argued that Ghana's longest lasting Constitution as fostered an unprecedented expansion in a wide range of political rights and freedoms enjoyed by Ghanaians.

But, at the same time, he says, the 1992 Constitution (or at least, some of its structural innovations) appears to have “undermined inter-branch accountability, fostered the emergence of executive dominance and in our political system, and largely failed to attenuate the entrenched culture of neo-patrimonialism.”