Alban Sumanu Kingsford Bagbin THE MAJORITY Leader, Alban Sumanu Kingsford Bagbin, has stated that his critical stance on the controversial ex-gratia for former President John Agyekum Kufuor was unfounded because he was misled.
According to Bagbin, he was misled into making statements that were critical to the Chinery-Hesse Committee report that recommended gratuity packages for the Executive, Legislature and other state officials stipulated in Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution.
President Atta Mills suspended the payments of the controversial ex-gratia to former appointees including President Kufuor as contained in the Chinery-Hesse report, until a committee had looked into it.
The Majority Leader, also the Member of Parliament (MP) for Nadowli West in the Upper West Region, conceded that had he not been misled, he would not have made disparaging remarks against the committee's report.
“I've come to believe that many people like me were misled into raising unnecessary red flags about the committee's report,” he stated.
Hon Bagbin made these startling disclosures yesterday when the leadership of Parliament interacted with the press in Kumasi on the functions and responsibilities of Parliament.
The programme, themed, “Ghana's Parliament; How Relevant So Far to Its Democracy”, was organised under the auspices of the Public Affairs Directorate of Parliament and the Ashanti Regional Chapter of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA).
Throwing more light on the report, the Majority Leader said upon careful study of the committee's report, he was convinced that the committee did a yeoman's job which ought to have been commended by all and sundry.
Hon Bagbin said his in-depth studies of the report had indicated that its content was not only reasonable but went through the laid-down procedure in Parliament including the Standing Orders.
Mrs. Mary Chinery-Hesse, Senior Advisor to former President Kufuor, was appointed to head a committee of experts to recommend gratuity packages for the Executive, Legislature and all state officials as contained in Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution.
The public, particularly members of the ruling government, gave a sound bashing to both ex-President Kufuor and Mrs. Chinery-Hesse for recommending what they called, unprecedented mouth-watering gratuity packages for the state officials spelt out in Article 71, especially the Executive.
This public condemnation led to a demonstration against the committee's report by the Committee for Joint Action (CJA), an NDC pressure group.
Bagbin said most parliamentarians, including himself, made unwarranted remarks about the committee's report because when it went through the parliamentary procedure, they were engaged in other equally important national assignments which included the planning of the January 7 Presidential inauguration, among others.
Stressing that it was high-time people differentiated between ex-gratia or end-of-service benefits from gratuity, the Majority Leader observed that parliamentarians, after four years of service to the nation, deserved the package recommended by the Chinery-Hesse committee.
“If people really come to appreciate the magnitude of work parliamentarians perform, I don't think such hullabaloo about their gratuity would ever crop up,” he emphasised.
Still praising the Chinery-Hesse Committee report, Hon Bagbin noted that it was unacceptable for MPs to buy their own vehicles in rendering service to the nation, whilst the state bought vehicles for their colleagues who were members of the Executive.
“For the reason that MPs are required to buy their own vehicles and also pay for the running of their office, they end up becoming paupers after serving the nation,” he intimated.
Expressing disgust about the postponement of the payment of the gratuity package due MPs because a committee had been set up by President Mills to review the Chinery-Hesse report, Hon Bagbin stated, “By law, we ought to receive the package but unfortunately, we've not received it yet”.
He said questions and concerns raised by people as to the legality of the President's action to review a report of a committee set up by an outgoing president and approved by Parliament, were legitimate.
The Majority Leader disclosed that as part of efforts to ensure that the public became conversant with parliamentary duties in-the-no-distant future, parliamentary proceedings would be broadcast live on television and radio.
He announced that thanks to a 6-million euro grant from the Belgian government, Parliament would soon have its own television and radio stations to broadcast proceedings of the House to people across the country.
Hon Bagbin indicated that equipment for the television and radio station were intact and that they were undergoing test transmissions currently to ensure that they could work to perfection when the project finally takes off.
As a means of further bringing the work of the Legislature closer to the people, the Majority Leader noted that the press interaction would be made regular and that it would be extended to other parts of the country.
The Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, who was also in attendance at the maiden press interaction which brought together more than 80 media practitioners, advocated a complete separation of powers where Parliament could operate fully as a separate arm of government.
He said the existing practice where the Executive appeared to wield power over the Legislature was not helpful and that it did not augur well for the entrenchment of democratic principles in the country.
The Minority Leader, who is as well the MP for Suame in the Ashanti Region, also advocated for a review of the 1992 Constitution which made it mandatory for the President to appoint half of his ministers from Parliament.
From Morgan Owusu, Kumasi