Special Feature… Parliament down memory lane —the 60s, 70s, 80s and now

The system of political administration of the country dates back to the 1800s.  Though not called Parliament, the Gold Coast in the 1850s had its own Legislative Council, similar in its outlook to today’s Parliament.  The Council advised the Colonial Governor on the enactment of legislations mainly in the form of “Ordinances for the peace, order and good governance of the subject.” 

 

It must be noted that the Legislative Council was purely advisory as the Governor exercised all legislative and executive powers.  Almost a century later and fed up with colonial rule, political activism started rearing its head as nationalism took centre stage and Gold Coasters got geared up for self-governance.

 

It was not surprising therefore when in 1951, pressures built up and the country witnessed its first large scale election to select 75 members to the Legislative Assembly.  The Assembly had other members including three (3) nominated ex-officio and six (6) special members representing commercial and mining interests.  The 1954 transitional Constitution provided for an Assembly of a Speaker and 104 members elected on party lines on the basis of universal adult suffrage.

 

When the country achieved full political independence in 1957, a new Constitution (First Republican Constitution) was fashioned after the Westminster model and the Legislative Assembly system continued with 104 elected members.  In June 1960 however, there was the realisation that all of the 104 members of the Legislative Assembly were men.  There was a conscious effort therefore to bring in female legislators.  Consequently, 10 women were elected by the National Assembly to fill specially created seats.  This was done to rope in women to represent the interest of the majority of the population whose needs and concerns needed to be articulated.

 

Transformational changes

The Parliament of Ghana, like every institution, has gone through a number of transformational stages to this very day.   Most of the transformational changes that have taken place begun during the Convention People’s Party (CPP) administration led by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah from 1957 to 1966, a period known in our political governance system as the First Republic.

 

In February 1964, Ghana adopted a one-party system of Government still led by Osagyefo.  The First National Assembly of the Republic was dissolved in 1965 and a general election was held.

 

Barely two years later, the 24 February, 1966 coup d’état by the National Liberation Council overthrew the government, the ruling party, was banned and Parliament was dissolved.  The military government remained in power till September 1969, when, on its own volition, handed over power to another constitutionally elected government.  Once again, the parliamentary system was reinstated giving way for the Second Republic.

 

The Second Republic under the leadership of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia lasted for only 22 months in office when the country suffered another military intervention.  The second parliamentary democracy also succumbed to another military intervention.  Between January 1972 and October 1979, under much political pressure, that military government was compelled to usher in the Third Republican Parliamentary system under the leadership of Dr. Hilla Limann and his PNC government.

Chamber of the old Parliament House (60s, 70s & 80s)

Unfortunately, after just two years in government, in December 1981 parliamentary democracy once again suffered a jolt and thrown into cold storage as a result of yet another military coup.  The country returned to constitutional rule on 7th January, 1993, under the leadership of Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings and his NDC government, the Fourth Parliament was born with the 1992 Constitution firmly in place.

 

Changes in parliamentary hierarchy

When the Third Republican Constitution was ushered in on 24th September, 1979 our parliamentary democracy shifted from the old Westminster style of government. Under the 1979 Constitution, the President, his Vice and Ministers of State were not members of the Legislative House.  Things have changed since with the Fourth Republican Constitution (1992) operating a hybrid system of government where both the presidential and parliamentary systems are combined.  By this system, the Executive President has majority of his ministers appointed from Parliament.  Nonetheless, ministers appointed from outside Parliament may participate in debates in the House but cannot vote.

 

Term of office                   

Unlike the First, Second and Third Republican eras where members were elected to serve a five-year term, the elected legislators under the Fourth Republic served and continue to serve a four-year tenure.

 

Public conduct/reputation

A few controversies involving some Legislators both in and outside the House over the years, have sometimes left sour tastes in the mouths of the general public.  In the heat of some of these controversies, people have argued that the title “Honourable” should be dropped from the titles of Members of Parliament.  But how did the public view Parliamentarians of old times?  The verdict of one female Member of Parliament in the First Republic was clear as I asked her to comment on the topic.  According to the former CPP MP, Madam Lucy Ennin, unacceptable attitudes and misconduct on the part of some members of the legislature of late have not been the best.

When I caught up with her the other day, she explained that “it is conventional in Parliament for MPs, particularly those in opposition, to interject whenever a President or any other government official is invited to the august House to deliver a statement or for questioning.”

 

She explained further, “The minority usually boos while the majority cheers but added that they all do that in a more civil way.”  However, she lamented that that convention has turned into intense heckling, attacks and sometimes insults under this Fourth Republic.

 

For her part, a former MP in the Third Republic and who represented the Ada Constituency in the Greater Accra Region, Mrs. Eunice Ametor-Williams, also in an interview said: “Parliaments under the Fourth Republican Constitution have been over political.”

“The atmosphere in the august House, especially during the Fifth, Sixth and the current Seventh Parliaments have all been too polarized on party lines which have affected and will keep affecting the growth and development of our beloved country.”

 

Mrs. Ametor-Williams recounted how during her time in Parliament both the majority and the minority hurriedly refused to approve a budget presented to them, because they saw that there were certain elements in the budget which were not helpful to the growth of the nation. “How many of our current crop of MPs can stand against their party’s decisions and say no to their government’s policy because that policy will not help the nation so we are voting against?” she quizzed.

Mrs. Ametor-Williams being interviewed at her residence by our Parliamentary Correspondent, Franklin Asare-Donkoh

According to the veteran politician, lateness and absenteeism were not tolerated in those days.  She went on to add that MPs during those days were always punctual.  They ensured they got to Parliament on time to execute the business of the day in unison and with a sense of urgency unlike MPs of today.  “Nowadays, most of them have turned radio station into another ‘chamber’ where they sit from Monday to Friday instead of going to the House,” Mrs Ametor-Williams noted.

 

Abysmal female representation

Ghana’s Parliament since its first inception has always had fewer women representing their constituents.  For example, under the First Republican Constitution, not a single female got the nod to represent any of the 112 constituencies.  However, under the Second Republic, only two females were elected by their constituents.  The Third Republic was no better.  During the time, Parliament had just five females out of the 140 members.  The female representation increased by 300 per cent to16 during the first Parliament under the Fourth Republic which had 200 members. The number again went up from 16 to 19 during the Second Parliament under the Fourth Republic.  However, it reduced to 18 during the Third Parliament of the Fourth Republic.  The women representation again saw a small increase from 18 to 25 during the Fourth Parliament.   The number for whatever reason came down to 19 in the Fifth Parliament, but went up to 30 in the Sixth Parliament and now 34 in the current Parliament (7th).

 

Number of seats, party representation

The 1979 Parliament had 140 members.  The parties which constituted the assembly were: People’s National Party (PNP) – 71 seats, United National Convention (UNC) -13 seats, Popular Front Party (PFP) – 42 seats, Action Congress Party (ACP) -10 seats, Social Democratic Front (SDF) – 3 seats, and one independent candidate.  And among the 140 members, only five were females.

The first Parliament under the Fourth Republic had 200 members which was an increase from 140 during the third Republic.  Members of the august House were inaugurated on 7th January, 1993.

The parties that represented were: National Democratic Congress (NDC) -189, National Convention Party (NCP) – 8 seats, Eagle Party (EP) – 1 seat and two independent candidates.

New Parliament House

The New Patriotic Party (NPP) which took part in the presidential election, however, boycotted the parliamentary election on the grounds that the presidential election was rigged leading to the infamous “Stolen Verdict” written by the late Prof Albert Adu-Boahene, the then flag-bearer of the NPP.

 

The Second Parliament under the Fourth Republic was ushered into office on the 7th January, 1997 with 200-member composition.  This time around, the NPP took part and won 61 seats out of the 200.  The NDC had 133 seats, PNC- 1 while CPP won five seats.  The Third Parliament under the Fourth Republic took office on 7th January, 2001 with a 200-member representation.  The NPP won 103, forming the majority, followed by the NDC which managed to win 89, declining from 133 seats in 1996.  The PNC upped their game and increased their tally from one to three seats.  The CPP as usual maintained its one seat with the remaining 4 MPs being independent

 

During the Fifth Parliament (Fourth Republic -2009), there was a turn of event, NDC fought back to regain its majority status with 116 seats.  The NPP on the other hand dropped from its 128 seats in 2001 to 107, PNC – 2 seats, CPP-1 and 4 other independent candidates.  The Sixth Parliament under the Fourth Republic which was inaugurated on 7th January, 2013 had 275 MPs, showing an additional increase of 45 MPs.  Parties that represented were NDC – 148 seats, NPP – 122 seats, PNC and CPP, 1 seat each with three independent candidates.

The current Parliament which is the Seventh has only two parties, NPP and NDC, representing the 275 constituencies.

 

Common features    

Despite the differences, the most common features of all the four Republican Constitutions are: Office of the Speaker, Office of the Clerk to Parliament, Majority/Minority, parliamentary Logo, Mace of Parliament, regulation of proceedings by Standing Orders the Committee System and the President’s sessional address.  The President, in accordance with the Constitution, goes to Parliament every year to deliver his Sessional Address to the House.  The address contains policies and programmes the president intends to do in the course of the year.  The president is also responsible for placing the final seal on bills to pass them into laws.

 

Location of Parliament

The location of Ghana’s Parliament has changed over the years. The King George V Memorial Hall, a recreational centre for residents of Accra, the capital city of Ghana, was refurbished to house the very First Parliament of the First Republic in July 1960.

Succeeding Parliaments of the Second (1969-1972) and Third (1979-1981) Republics were also housed at the same location.

Chamber of the current Parliament House

The current Parliament however, is at the State House, Osu, Accra, originally the Kwame Nkrumah Conference Centre.

So, whether in terms of public perception, conduct, women representation, constituencies, Parliamentary Committees and location of Parliament, there has been a complete metamorphose till this day.  What might not have changed perhaps are its modelling on the British Parliamentary system and the responses of “yea,” “yea,” that signifies MPs applause in the House.  It is clear that Parliament is one institution that clearly defines and has defined the country’s democracy.  The question that may be asked is, has the system served us well?

 

Story: Franklin ASARE-DONKOH

Writer’s email: franklin.asaredonkor@todaygh.com