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15.11.2013 Editorial

Can Parliament Really Stop Government From Overspending?

By Ghanaian Chronicle
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Asking the Parliament of the Fourth Republic to stop government from overspending, as the Minority Leader did at the 2013 Liberty Lecture on Tuesday, is akin to crying for the moon. For no matter how many tonnes of blood one sheds, the moon would not care a hoot.

Speaking on the theme 'The Deficit in Parliamentary Oversight in the Fight against Corruption,' Osei-Kyei-Mensah Bonsu reeled off a list of government over-expenditure since 2009, and urged the Finance Committee of Parliament 'to be up and doing' and prevent such excesses.

In 2009, the government overspent its budget by GH¢300 million, in 2010 by GH¢800 million, in 2011 by GH¢1.3 billion, and in 2012 by 2.8 billion, the MP for Suame enumerated.

Said Minority Leader Bonsu: 'Over-spending means government expenditure exceeds the statutory allocation captured in the Appropriation Act. It means government is not obeying the law. Does Parliament merely sit and applaud? Parliament must act to stop government from this gross non-conformity with the law. Otherwise, making laws becomes a waste of time.

'It should be the duty of the Finance Committee to detect and question why the government overspends its expenditure, and puts in place measures to forestall its recurrence.

The Chronicle knows that curbing cash-itchy executive fingers is the role of all regularly constituted Parliaments in democracies worldwide. In the United States, that power has, in the name of ideological purity, been used twice to almost shut down the government in recent years.

But, is our Parliament of the Fourth Republic so 'regularly' constituted? Maybe for other aspects of public life, but not in curbing the government's predilection for overspending.

The Chronicle is of the opinion that the 1992 Constitution, which empowers Parliament to control public expenditure, took it away with the next breadth by prescribing that a majority of ministers should be appointed from Parliament.

This stipulation puts the MPs of the ruling party, who are often in the majority and occupy most seats on Committees of Parliament, under a double whip regime. In addition to the regular party whip, which ensures they toe the party line, the majority MPs have the whip of the lure of ministerial appointments to also kowtow to.

It is thus, most unlikely that the majority MPs would readily join the minority MPs to refuse the government's request for a supplementary budget. This is the bane of the Parliament of the Fourth Republic in fighting executive financial recklessness.

In the light of the above, The Chronicle would urge recourse to the use of civil society groups, especially those in bed with, or sympathetic to the opposition, to harass the government with well- publicised suits, challenging government's financial irresponsibility.

With the gift of hindsight, the decision of the framers of the 1992 Constitution to merger aspects of the presidential and parliamentary systems to reduce friction between various arms of government may not have been properly thought out.

Let us quickly amend, if the provision for the appointment of most ministers from Parliament is not entrenched.

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