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29.03.2011 General News

Review Constitution To Make English Compulsory In Parliament

By Kofi Yeboah - Daily Graphic
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A suggestion has been made for a review of the 1992 Constitution to make proficiency in English one of the requirements that qualify a person to be elected as Member of Parliament (MP).

This is to ensure that elected MPs contribute effectively to the making of legislation, watching over the executive and discharging other businesses of the House, all of which require proficiency in English.

Some MPs who espoused the idea at at a two-day workshop organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) at Akosombo in the Eastern Region, were, however, confronted with opposing views, some of which even suggested the use of local languages in parliamentary proceedings.

The workshop was designed to build the capacity of MPs on some proposed constitutional amendments as part of the IEA’s constitution review project.

Making a case for proficiency in English as a requirement for membership of the House, the Minority Leader in Parliament, Mr Osei Kyei Mensah-Bosnu, said two fundamental functions of an MP were to make legislation and oversee the Executive.

He said making legislation required deep understanding and articulation of the issues involved, but he observed that quite often, when legislation was being made, the House was empty.

He wondered how an MP could effectively check the Executive if he did not understand issues or lacked proficiency in English, cautioning: “I think we should be careful.”

Supporting the motion, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Emmanuel Bandua, said in addition to making legislation and overseeing the Executive, MPs performed many other functions that required writing letters and making other formal engagements.

He said it was, therefore, appropriate for MPs to be proficient in English in order to discharge such functions effectively.

Some participants further suggested that in addition to proficiency in English, a good understanding of Mathematics, perhaps a pass in the subject at the senior secondary level, should be made a requirement for qualification as an MP.

Opposing the motion, a Principal Lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Affairs (GIMPA), Professor Kwamena Ahwoi, said at the time of framing the constitution, the English proficiency rate of the Ghanaian population was about 50 per cent.

He said with the English proficiency rate still low, making such a constitutional amendment would mean preventing a large number of Ghanaians from becoming MPs.

Professor Ahwoi, who was a facilitator at the workshop, cited a former MP for Ayawaso East who, although was an illiterate, acknowledged his shortcoming and made it an objective to sponsor the education of children in his constituency.

He said although the MP might not have contributed effectively during parliamentary proceedings, he made a huge impact on the development of the constituency he represented.

Professor Ahwoi said even at the United Nations (UN), there were five different official languages spoken and interpreted during proceedings on the floor of the world body.

Supporting the opposition’s debate, a former Chief of Staff in the Rawlings administration, Nana Ato Dadzie, said the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the constitution sought to promote Ghanaian languages and culture.

He, therefore, wondered why Ghanaian languages were not used in Parliament and asked whether their non-usage in Parliament was justifiable.

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