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27.07.2015 Feature Article

Of Parliament, Criticism And Contempt

Of Parliament, Criticism And Contempt
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To me, democracy is the principle of the mastership of the third estate, and that mastership is an unconditional and supreme authority. This authority consists of the right of the populace to choose their leaders and legislate whatever laws they want. The people by and large practice this authority through delegation, by electing Members of Parliament who will be a symbol of them in the parliament and exercise this authority on their behalf.

The word “parliament”came from the French word “parler” which means to talk or to speak. And from the middle ages, Kings summoned representative advisers to their palaces at the Westminster to discuss the affairs of the state. And in recent times, the Ghanaian parliament also exercised such powers as clearly defined in Articles (122) and (123) of the 1992 constitution.

Throughout the week, I’ve been planning to air my view on these issues, however, a friend of mine tried to draw me back with this contempt issue. I believe that the same constitution that granted the parliament the right to haul persons before them, is that same document which says I’ve got the power to air my view on any issue I take delight in doing. Emphatically, Article 162(4) states that“editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by Government, nor shall they be penalized or harassed for their editorial opinions and views, or the content of their publications”.However, since to every freedom there is a limitation, I would have to keep it cool not to go on heat.

Blakk Rasta, a musician cum radio presenter, was hauled before the Privileges Committee of Parliament for saying that “80% of parliamentarians smoke weed”. His statement, to me was the lowest point a public figure could go in criticizing a state institution. Absolutely thoughtless, outlandish and woefully lacking evidential value. I still mull over the enormity of his Dutch-courage when he was still figuring a way of swaying away from his own words.

However my main apple of discord with parliament is the Professor Alex Doodo issue. Parliament, as a state institution, is not the property of parliamentarians. Parliament as a representative of the people should be aware of their propinquity to the people and should always have a big heart when dealing with such issues.

In Britain for example, the House of Commons also have these penal power to punish persons found guilty of contempt, however, they feel reluctant to use it because of:

i. the institutional reluctance to take action which may seem oppressive

ii. Fear of successful legal challenge which will slow down parliamentary processes.

In New Zealand, these penal powers have been used only twice since the establishment of the house. Britain on the other hand, the last time they used it in the 19thcentury.

In our constitution, and even in the standing orders of parliament, the line between contemptuous cases admiring ones is very thin that, statement tagged to be contempt of parliament are not clearly defined. Parliament in a statement quoted Article (115) as the grounds they were basing to charge Prof. Doodo of contempt. Though I stand to be corrected, I think the basis for the call was dead on arrival.

Article (115) has nothing to do with what persons say outside parliament. It is a privilege or an immunity given to parliamentarians with respect to what they say in parliament. I do believe that Article (115) was grossly misconstrued if it was the grounds for inviting Prof. Doodo to explain whatever he said. The word “ignorant”as used in relation to Ebola, I think was no offense, because most Ghanians, which parliamentarians are part, are ignorant about the deadly disease. On the issue of the “shut up”, I would leave it to those with linguistic background if there is a new meaning for the shut up I already know.

A parliament recently stocked with Chinese furniture and improved access to technology, could at least be interested in discussing matters that would bring economic development to the country rather than being keenly interested in these matters. Have they forgotten about the Bribery and Corruption allegations made by Twumasi Appiah, Appiah Ofori and Alban Bagbin. These were all MP’s who made and yet we’ve seen nothing done to them. This is the epitome of selective application the law. Remember “nemo est supra legis” to wit, nobody is above the law.

And to the speaker’s statement that they can punish persons found guilty of contempt, I think it’s unfortunate because the standing orders of parliament states that issues tagged as criminal issues should be referred to the Attorney General. And let me hasten to say that, the fact that parliament has the same powers as a high court does not make them a high court. If so, then we should erase separation of powers from that democracy of ours. Where lies the natural justice when you set up you want to become a prosecutor and a judge in your own court? Nemo iudax in causa sua”-no man shall be a man of his own cause.

To end, I think the only to avoid criticism is to do nothing; however our MP’s would never go to parliament and do nothing so they should have a heart for criticism. Also, parliament’s duty is to uphold democracy, and political tolerance is a key part of democracy so to weigh down our freedom of speech would be an enemy of democracy. Critics are also urged to criticize constructively.

By: Onua Kyei Marfo
E-mail: [email protected]

Emmanuel Kyei Marfo
Emmanuel Kyei Marfo, © 2015

The author has 7 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: EmmanuelKyeiMarfo

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