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09.06.2004 General News

Parliament takes two bills through first reading

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Accra, June 9, GNA - Parliament on Wednesday reconvened and referred the Courts (Amendment) Bill and the Long-Term Savings Plans Bill to two committees for consideration and report after taking them through the first reading.

They are the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee, respectively.

The Courts (Amendment) Bill is to amend the Courts Act 1993 (Act 459) to enable non-lawyers, who have the requisite limited training in law to be appointed District Magistrates among other things. A memorandum to the Bill said the main reason sought for the amendment was lack of magistrates to operate at the district courts. It said under section 45(1) of the Courts Act, it is provided that there shall be in each districts of the country such district courts as the Chief Justice may determine, and it is therefore incumbent on the Chief Justice to ensure that there is established at least one district court in every district.

The memorandum further explained that the Courts Act in respect of appointment of district court magistrates provided that a person could not be appointed a magistrate unless the person was of high moral character, had proven integrity and was a lawyer of not less than three years standing.

According to the memorandum, the qualification for district magistrate follows the abolition of the Community Tribunals where the tribunal was constituted by a panel presided over by a chairman who should be a person of high moral character and proven integrity and preferably be a lawyer of not less than three years standing or "a person with such judicial or legal experience as the Chief Justice shall on the advice of the Judicial Council determine".

It said the intention at the time of abolishing the Community Tribunal, was to bring back the district court magistrate system, ideally presided over by lawyers and to do away with the grade II magistrate court in view of the rather poor calibre of those magistrates.

"However, the reality on the ground now indicates clearly that the Judiciary has not been able to recruit young lawyers as was hoped, and the result is that at the moment there are only 69 instead of at least 110 magistrates. Some of these will soon move on to Circuit Courts, thus causing even greater vacancies to be filled at the district courts," the memorandum said.

"In the present predicament, upon the proposal of the Judicial Council, Government has accepted that the present arrangement should be altered to enable non-lawyers to be trained in the core subjects area of law for two years at the School of Law, after which they could be appointed as magistrates."

The purpose of the Long-Term Savings Plans Bill is to help establish an effective legislative framework for the development of a retirement-oriented long-term savings plan in the country. A memorandum attached to the Bill said it was envisaged that the scheme would provide an attractive vehicle for employees and employers to cooperate in establishing supplementary pension funds. Employers may use the scheme to fund the End of Service Benefit (ESB) for their employees.

"Thus, the scheme will not only contribute to workers' retirement needs, but will also mobilise savings and thereby generate funds, which would be a source of long-term investment capital for the economy." With the exception of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) pension scheme, the memorandum said there was currently no national contributory long-term savings scheme that provided retirement coverage or support and that could provide the other benefits that this scheme was expected to provide.

"For example Cap 30 is non-contributory, and while the retirement coverage it offers may seem to be adequate it cannot provide the benefits expected to be provided under this Act.

"Cap 30 applies to only a limited number of persons in the Public Service and because of its non-contributory nature, it cannot mobilise savings and generate financial resources and provide the investment capital needed for the growth of the economy and by its very nature. " Cap 30 takes away from the economy, financial resources which could otherwise have been used to expand growth," the memorandum said. The memorandum said apart from the Cap 30 there were a number of various private long-term saving plans being operated by licensed investment advisors like banks, and non-banking financial institutions but did not seem to have any strict regime of withdrawals.

"Withdrawals appear to be made at such short intervals that they defeat the purpose of using the plans to mobilise long-term investment capital and in the case of SSNIT, the inadequacy of the pension paid, and the length of time required to qualify for pension has led to contributors becoming disillusioned with that pension scheme. It is to address these lapses in long-term savings and retirement coverage that the Bill is being proposed for enactment. NHIS Instrument, others laid before Parliament Accra, June 9, GNA - Various papers including the National Health Insurance (Commencement of Payment of Levy) Instrument, 2004 L.I. 1793 were laid when Parliament reconvened on Wednesday for the First Sitting of the Second Meeting of the Fourth Session of the Third Parliament of the Fourth Republic of Ghana

Others to be laid are: Merchant Shipping (Training; Certification; Manning and Watch keeping) Regulations, 2004, L.I. 1790; Non-Disruption of the Central Banking Services Instrument, 2004, L.I. 1792. The rest are Protocol A/P1/1/03 relating to the definition of the concept of products originating from the Member States of ECOWAS and the Financial Statement of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission for the year ended 31st December 2002.

Electricity Supply and Distribution (Technical and Operational) Rules, 2004, L.I. 1789, and the Second and Third Annual Report of the Fisheries Commission covering the period of January - December 2001 and 2002.

Among the activities on the agenda during the seven-week sitting of the House are Bills for presentation and at Committee level, Instruments and Papers for presentation and questions.

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