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30.06.2014 Feature Article

Our Parliamentarians are whining for nothing

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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken a bold step to divest Ghana's Members of Parliament of 'state protocol privileges whilst in the United Kingdom' and the MPs are incensed. They are extremely angry and have threatened to show the Executive where power lies. I laugh these MPs to scorn and will urge them to be circumspect in their haughtiness. They have a lot to lose if they act irresolutely. One question, though. Why the UK, particularly?

The Ministry's action against them is appropriate and I urge that it be extended to other countries apart from the United Kingdom. In effect, our MPs don't deserve any protocol privileges because there is no need for such privileges for them. They should ask themselves what they have done to deserve such privileges and stop whining for nothing. If they knew the extent of public anger at their incompetence and cunning ways of exploiting the system for personal benefits, they won't stick their necks out to be cut for them.

The directive from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it clear that except the leadership of Parliament, all others in Parliament won't anymore be given such largesse at the tax-payers' expense. The parameters have now been set: henceforth, state protocol privileges would be extended to the President and his wife, Vice President and his wife, Ministers and the leadership of Parliament only. (See: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=314736)

Previously all MPs had enjoyed state protocol whenever they travelled to the UK for official duties. Times have changed and new directives to streamline affairs should be welcomed and not repudiated. What exactly do these so-called 'official duties' of these MPs in the UK bring to enhance our democracy? Or to improve the lot of the ordinary tax-payer?

The MPs may wonder why such privileges should continue to be enjoyed by the Executive (the President, Ministers of State, and any other official so designated as a beneficiary). I don't see anything wrong with this redefinition of beneficiaries and narrowing of the circumference in critical times like these; but I see a lot wrong with the anger wrought in the MPs. So also I do disagree with them on their threat to 'show the Executive arm of government the real 'power' of the Legislature'.

I will first raise pertinent aspects of the matter before placing the MPs where I think they belong. It is reported that the directive particularly infuriated the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Emmanuel Bandua, who said that the Executive has taken Parliament for granted for far too long and that Parliament must also flex its muscles. He said sometimes, MPs who are also Ministers look down upon their fellow MPs who are not ministers (That is not my lookout because only the MPs know what relationship exists among them, whether playing the dual role as Ministers of State or left alone as mere MPs on the floor of Parliament).

No one doubts the fact (as stated by an aggrieved Bandua, the NDC MP for Biakoye in the Volta Region) that 'By the principle of separation power, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are equally important and none is above the other in the discharge of their functions.' At least, that is what democracy entails; but the same democracy enjoins the Legislature to be up-and-doing. Is Ghana's Parliament honest enough to say it is such? Why hasn't it passed the Right to Information Law, particularly, which is direly needed by Ghanaians so they can probe into the activities of the three arms of government?

I have a lot to condemn about Mr. Bandua's vituperation. His explanation that 'if the Executive has decided not to accord members of the Legislature any respect and recognition, then members of the executive must be prepared to come and discuss their own bills and pass them into laws when they present them to Parliament' is the worst insult that an MP can throw at Ghanaians. If the Executive has to discuss its own bills and pass them into laws, will there be any need for the Legislature at all? Or is the work of the Legislature contingent on the quantum of privileges that the Executive makes available to its members? Childishness at its highest level.

Folks, I urge you to disregard the beef of the NPP MP for Old Tafo, Dr Anthony Akoto Osei, that Parliament must address the ill-treatment and that the letter withdrawing the privileges was not even signed by the Minister but a Director at the Ministry, which is a grave affront to Parliament. Where was this NPP man when the Kufuor government stripped a former President (Jerry John Rawlings) of all protocol privileges and later turned round to mastermind the destructive mudslinging campaign against him and using their lackeys in the media to ridicule him when he was spotted carrying his own travelling bag and going through customs formalities at the Heathrow Airport in London?

Dragging the Minister of Foreign Affairs before Parliament of its Sanhedrin (the Privileges Committee) won't solve change anything because there is no problem for him to solve. The matter is simple: The country cannot continue bearing the cost of all that the 275 MPs think they are entitled to when in the UK.

The truth is that stripping the MPs of such privileges is no instance of disdain. It is a clear attempt to streamline affairs and ensure that needless expenditures and encumbrances are stemmed. What is wrong about this measure? I don't see anything wrong about it.

Our MPs have not performed well to persuade the ordinary tax-payer that they are worth supporting. The MPs have taken the tax-payers for granted and done things to erode confidence in themselves. Have they paid back all the car loans given them over the years? How about many others that are not disclosed?

The government seems to be on a collision course with the Legislature but it needn't fear anything for as long as its actions will alert the MPs to reality. In the same vein, though, the government itself must ensure that it performs well to justify the retention of privileges to its functionaries. As for the President and his Vice and their spouses, only an insane person will recommend that privileges for them be curtailed.

The issues that have brought our Legislature on this collision course with the government go beyond this withdrawal of protocol privileges, and a lot has to be done to probe into them. We know how much the tax-payer bears in sacrificing to sustain this democracy; but if the tax-payers don't enjoy the benefits, they will sooner than later bare their teeth. The government must know it for a fact that its own inability to solve problems has already set the stage for public anger to be displayed at the least opportunity. Now that Parliament seems to be readying itself for a confrontation, fear looms that our democracy will be threatened.

The distrust and mistrust between the Legislature and the Executive seem to be growing. The Executive has made promises to improve the lot of the MPs but not done so. The MPs Common Fund is one touchy area. So also is the pledge to provide decent office accommodation and staff for the MPs. So far, nothing exists to confirm that the government is really working to support the MPs. Salaries and allowances arte paid, even though the MPs remain the Oliver Twists of our time. On that score, unless the government plays its cards well, it may end up angering MPs, including its own NDC elements, who appear to be spearheading the current show of discontent at measures now being introduced to the detriment of the Legislature. The MPs are complaining that they don't have offices and the government continues to massage their feelings with promises upon promises.

The delay in the completion of the 'Job 600 Complex', to serve as offices for MPs is a clear instance. The MPs are unhappy that even though a loan of $25 million has already been approved by the House for its completion, nothing is being done to serve their needs. The MPs need offices and will fight to have them. Clearly, everything points to a bad-blood relationship between the government and the Legislature, which the new directive denying the MPs the protocol privileges will reinforce.

Other problems exist. The fuel shortage is one. We have heard about the majority of MPs not being in Parliament because they were out searching for petrol. Business could not be done for that matter as only 60 out of the 275 members showed up for business Thursday. Minority spokesperson on Finance, Dr. Anthony Akoto Osei, and Minority Leader Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu aired their views on the issue.

It is clear that the situation in the Ghanaian Legislature is not the bestall happening at a time that the Speaker of Benin's Parliament, Professor Maturi Koffi Nago, has called for regional integration among parliamentarians of member states in the ECOWAS sub-region. As if these Parliamentarians are contributing anything constructive to the development of their own countries to warrant their being recognized and called upon to get together for the good of the entire sub-region. Who feels the impact of any MP anywhere in West Africa?

His claim that the Parliament of Ghana is 'an efficient factor for regional co-operation and integration' is more misplaced and ridiculous than the recommendation that it might be thought to be. Ghana's Parliament is the weakest link the chain of democracy. It hasn't done anything to improve governance and is known for pursuing an agenda of self-interest. Challenge me with facts to the contrary, if you have them.

So, if we put everything together, where will we be in the near future? In other democracies, the Legislature is the strongest link in the chain because it is the fount of the 'people's power' and does everything to ensure that it is not over-ridden by the Executive and the Judiciary. What is happening in our case in Ghana? Isn't Parliament itself culpable for anything negative happening to it today?

I shall return...

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Michael J.K. Bokor, Ph.D.
Michael J.K. Bokor, Ph.D., © 2014

The author has 1325 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: MichaelJKBokor

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