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Opinion | Jan 26, 2009

The Chinery Hesse Committee Report Palaver - A Case of Negligence or Recklessness?

History was made on Wednesday January 7th 2008 when Justice Joyce Bamford- Addo was sworn in as the first female Speaker of Parliament in Ghana. Her endorsement and that of Messrs Doe Adjao and Mike Ocquaye as the first and second Deputy Speakers of Parliament, demonstrated glimpses of the consensus building required of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and minority New Patriotic Party (NPP) in their legislative protocols.

This is against the backdrop that before the inauguration of the last parliament, a descent convention whereby the majority party selects the speaker and the second speaker positions, whilst the largest minority takes the 2nd Deputy Speaker slot was scuppered. This was due to the intransigence of the then majority NPP and minority NDC. In the end, the NPP used its numerical advantage to deny the NDC the 2nd Deputy Speaker position. It went to Mr Freddie Blay of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), even though the CPP was not the largest minority party in parliament. A situation that left the NDC fuming with anger. This prompted some of its supporters to threaten retaliation whenever the tide is reversed.

But that 'slim' hope – that our parliamentary democracy has come of 'age' – is dwindling fast. 'Thanks' to the coming into light of the Chinery Hesse Committee Report regarding the end of service largesse for former Presidents. My dear reader, let's just take a look at a summary of the report.

Former Presidents should be provided with 6 fuelled and chauffer-driven vehicles to be replaced every four years, offices and residences in and out of the nation's capital, three professional and personal assistants, non-taxable ex-gratia awards plus pension benefits, entertainment at the expense of the state and $1million for a foundation.

The people's representatives – MP's, believe it or not passed this report. It must however be stated that there have been some allegations of procedural impropriety in the way the report was passed. To say the response to the 'grand package' has been fierce and stinging is an understatement. And can you blame Ghanaians for being angry in the face of such blatant insensitivity? I don't, because it is difficult to imagine a greater insensitivity than this fiasco. It's a travesty.

Forget about the remote parts of the country where it is an open secret that basic amenities are a mirage to our hard working rural folks. Just a 15 minutes stroll from the seat of government, Osu could bring one face to face with a situation that quite frankly, is embarrassing. Lack of basic amenities that has led to overcrowding, lack of good drainage system you name it - I can go one and on the list is endless. Are these and many more confronting the country not more pressing than trying to squeeze the scanty resources we have to make provision for people who have already got what is more than enough?

Some will argue that democracy is expensive – therefore, if we have collectively and rightly so decided that we want to go down that route, we should be prepared to face up to some of the responsibilities that goes with it. To them making 'decent' provision such as the one contained in the report, is a drop in the ocean. A persuasive argument but what happened to the saying, 'cut your coat according to your cloth'? We can not and should not go about splashing such opulence when majority of our people do not have access to a basic gift of God – clean drinking water. Many hard working families go to bed thinking about where the next morning's breakfast is going to come from. Many are dieing needlessly because of the lack of basic medical facilities amongst many others. In the face of all these unpleasant difficulties, I can not figure out why our leaders will even have the effrontery to contemplate such a package.

I think any one who played a part in formulating such a 'celebrity package' - no matter how remote his/her contribution should bow his/her head in shame. It is politically, legally and morally indefensible. As for the MP's who passed it, they have so easily succeeded in inflicting a serious damage to the image of an institution that all well- meaning Ghanaians are praying day and night to be the jewel of Africa. Either they colluded with the Executive for their own selfish interest or they were simply reckless. Whatever happened, allowing it to be passed is humiliating to the many hard working Ghanaians.

Let's hope this new Parliament would work around the clock to redeem the dwindling image of the legislature that has taken some deserved battering from across the political divide and from people of all walks of life. This will require eschewing those tendencies where the majority are unwilling to reject unpopular Bills that the government seeks to pass and the minority opposing everything for the sake of opposition. It is about time the ultimate consideration for the honourable men and women in passing any Bill that comes before them is hinged on the welfare of those who gave them the opportunity to be the selected few to serve in such an honourable position- their constituents.

There will no doubt be occasions when the usual 'politicking' would rear its head- I would have no qualms with that and I believe so will many others. For without that, the 'shine' will be taken out of Parliamentary Democracy. A case of trying to get an 'automobile' to work without an engine!

I stand for correction, but I am not aware of any instance in our recent parliamentary history when any member of the majority actually voted against any government Bill. Equally, there has never been a time when the minority has had cause to disregard the whip. Meanwhile in the quiet, some of the MP's bemoan one Bill or the other that comes before them but the courage to stand up and be counted just evaporates into thin air. Popping 'champagne', dancing 'Adowa', 'Kpalongo', 'Takai' or 'Borborbor' in celebration of our political maturity should not just be limited to conducting a successful election. We need to lift the bar a little. The maturity must be reflected in the way all our political actors especially the three arms of government; Executive, Legislature and Judiciary go about the constitutional obligations that they have willingly accepted to perform. In other words, we need to see a clear and qualitative departure from the way things used to be done. The status quo can simply not take us any where.

Lots have been said and written about the fact that if our legislature is to function efficiently and effectively some constitutional amendments are required to give meaning to the separation of power principle as espoused by the 1992 constitution. I share those sentiments. But the gospel fact is that, the impact of such an amendment will be very negligible, if the current situation in which our MP's operate is not reviewed.

In a situation where our MP's apart from their salaries, have no budget to execute their parliamentary duties, we should not be surprised that such 'shoddy' work could emanate from them. For in established democracies, MP's are provided with some level of support to run their own offices. But in our case, apart from the leadership of the House - no MP has an individual office, in Parliament. A Ghanaian MP has to be his/her own Secretary, Administrator, Researcher and no paid staff to attend to some of the many invitations on his/her behalf. So whilst we have the right to lambaste our MP's for the role they played in this disgraceful ex - gratia palaver, let's also understand the constraints they are saddled with. It is only fair and just that we apportion some blame to the Executive for indirectly making the legislature ineffective. The Executive has an obligation to provide the necessary tools to the legislature to enable it to execute its work with due diligence. I am not proposing the type of luxurious provisions some of the advance democracies like America and Britain provide to their peoples representatives – far from that. A modest provision should be ok for ours and then perhaps the legislature could start being innovative about devising other ways and means of generating the necessary support it requires.

What about Parliament making a request to the National Service Secretariat to be provided with personnel for individual MP's. Unemployed graduates could also be brought on board on a voluntary basis to offer support. The support could be in the area of research, attending some functions on behalf of MP's, keeping their diary and even helping to summarise some of the voluminous Bills for them. The personnel and volunteers will also be gaining valuable experience, which is eventually good for the country because we will more or less be building a strong support base for our legislature and any other sector that will require their assistance in the future. But irrespective of the bottlenecks our MP's face, they still have a duty of care to let their overriding concern in all their endeavours be the well- being of the people of Ghana- a duty that will have no room for rubber stamping such a luxurious package for former Presidents and their family. We can not afford that and thank goodness the leadership of the House have hinted that they will review it- it is long over due.

Our eyes and ears will be watching and listening.
By: Zakaria Tanko Musah
Contact: [email protected]

Zakaria Tanko Musah
Zakaria Tanko Musah, © 2009

This author has authored 4 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: ZakariaTankoMusah

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