Absenteeism can obviously ruin the work of the Ghanaian Parliament. The question is why Speakers of Parliament are not enforcing the rules on Parliamentary absenteeism? Several factors may account for this, including partisanship on the part of Speakers, Executive dominance of Parliament and appointment of Parliamentarians as ministers.
In Ghana’s Parliament, the Speakers have always been put forward by the government/President and have mostly been elected by the Majority in Parliament, even though this is often done by a consensus between the Majority and the Minority14. Thus, the Speakers mostly have a leaning towards the interests of the government in power and the Majority, which makes it difficult for them to crack the whip against absentee MPs, the majority of whom are from the Majority side.
Article 97(1)(c) requires that an MP shall vacate his seat in Parliament “if he is absent, without permission in writing of the Speaker and he is unable to offer a reasonable explanation to the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges from fifteen sittings of a meeting of Parliament during any period that Parliament has been summoned to meet and continues to meet.”
While this constitutional provision gives the Speakers of Parliament an enormous power to expel absentee MPs from Parliament, the provision appears quite difficult to interpret. For example, it is difficult to specify what a reasonable explanation is, allowing for discretion on the part of the Speaker. How would the Speaker be able to consider as unreasonable an MP-Minister’s explanation that he/she attended other national assignments in his/her capacity as a Minister? What about cases of ill health, where an MP can provide a certificate of hospital attendance? What if an MP attended to an emergency constituency assignment? It appears that MPs will almost always find ‘reasonable’ explanations for being absent from Parliament, hindering the Speaker’s ability to expel absentee MPs.
The appointment of the majority of Ministers from Parliament as stipulated by Article 78 of the Ghanaian Constitution is one of the problems affecting the Speaker of Parliament’s ability to expel MPs who flout the constitutional provision on absenteeism. As noted above, it seems all MP-Ministers can always offer reasonable excuses for not being in Parliament for fifteen (15) or more days. Again, since the Speakers most often are sympathetic towards their governments’ interests, it will be difficult for them to sack a government (or Minister) MP from Parliament. Expelling a government MP from Parliament may have serious consequences for their government.
Perhaps, also, the punishment prescribed by the constitution is too heavy, making it difficult for the provision to be implemented. In this sense, Parliament may begin to explore other punitive measures such as a suspension, a reprimand, a call to the Bar of Parliament to render apologies, financial penalties (such as MPs forfeiting parts of their salaries) when they flout the constitutional provision.
Article 78 of the Constitution can be amended to remove the provision enjoining the President to appoint the majority of his Ministers from Parliament. Otherwise, Parliament could legislate on the number of ministries and Ministers that a government/president can establish or appoint.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), stakeholders, citizens and other interests groups should begin a serious campaign to urge the Speaker of Parliament to enforce the law16. It is one way in which citizens’ participation in our democracy can be realized.
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