Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs has held its first Core Leadership Engagement for leadership of Parliamentary, Select Committee Chairpersons and Ranking Members Parliament in year 2020 at the plush Job 600 Office Complex in Accra.
The day’s Core Leadership Engagement was on the theme: “Parliament and the Sustenance of Ghana’s Democracy 2020 And Beyond”
Addressing the gathering, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, said his Ministry’s engagement with the Core Leadership of Parliament runs very high on our annual agenda. Normally, it is our curtain raiser for the year. However, even though we are not in normal times, we have since March this year made efforts to have our first meeting of the year. Unfortunately, our efforts were scuttled by the imposition of restrictions on meetings and conferences occasioned by the advent of the rather very unfriendly and disruptive Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
He reminds his colleagues to always remember that there is recognition of the principal functions of Parliament which must be efficiently and effectively performed in order that Parliament would be relevant.
As parliamentarians we shouldn’t lose sight of these important functions such as Representation, Deliberation, Information Transmission, Legislation, Financial Control, Oversight, Problem resolution, Ratification of Agreements, Loans, Treaties, and Protocols etc. The legitimacy of Parliament is measured by these roles that they perform and how effective they are. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister noted.
The minister explained that there are new key developments his outfit has identified which the ministry believes when implement effectively will enhance the work of parliament as an institution and MPs as a whole.
The new key developments he wants Parliament to think through are:
- The role of Parliament in Article 177 – when advances are made from the Contingency Fund to the Finance Minister at the instance of the Finance Committee how does parliament exercise its oversight function?
- When advances or borrowings are made to the Minister of Finance by the Bank of Ghana in line with Section 30 of the Bank of Ghana Act, how is Parliament to exercise its oversight responsibility?
He pointed out that in first two instances the laws do not afford any clear opportunity for Parliament to oversee the advances or borrowings except to wait for the presentation of a Supplementary Estimate or a Mid-Year Review of government’s budgetary performance.
Meanwhile Article 181(5) Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu explained obligates Parliament to apply the necessary modification to Article 181(1), (2), (3) & (4) which relate to an Agreement to grant a loan out of any Public Fund or Public Account to an International Business or Economic Transaction to which government is a party as it applies to a loan. “Since the genesis of the 4th Republic that is into its 28th year Parliament has not done this. We need to act.” He appealed.
“Again, Article 22(2) obligates Parliament to “as soon as practicable after the coming into force of this Constitution (in 1992) enacts legislation regulating the property rights of spouses”. Twenty eight years on, Parliament has not discovered the “as soon as practicable” period.
Clearly, the Parliament of 2020 and the years after shall have to work extra hard to consolidate the gains made by the previous parliaments and, much more critically, expand the frontiers of democratic governance.” Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu reiterated.
However, the minister admitted that the oversight duty of the house through Parliamentary Committees was the sharpest tool for the oversight of the Executive. Saying the sheer volume of business in Parliament makes it impossible to transact every business in plenary, hence the Committee system. The Committee tracks the work of the MDAs, Constitutional and Statutory bodies and conduct special investigations into particular salient aspects of their policy and administration.
Mr. Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu was of the opinion that certain conditions precedent must prevail to render Parliamentary Committees and, indeed, parliaments effective.
According to him Committees must operate independently from party discipline. Adding that if members work together, as we normally do at the Winnowing Committee, individual members are able to examine issues and alternatives more rationally, if both government and opposition parties are not whipping their party members towards preconceived positions.
He continued: the non-partisan nature of Committee work could be reinforced by spreading chairship among the various parties represented in parliament rather than allowing government party members to dominate these crucial positions, especially in our situation where ministers are picked from parliament and the ruling party is thus manifestly weakened in terms of quality materials.
The Chairpersons of Committees help to set the agenda for Committee business preside over and determine the course of proceedings and hence significantly influence outcomes, including reports that are submitted to plenary. If such members are seen to be generally incompetent, parliament is significantly weakened.
This is why I have been a strong advocate for sharing committee chairship among the parties in Parliament. However, admittedly, the extreme partisanship of some MPs especially, some in leadership, who are otherwise normally intelligent people, makes me a bit nervous about what kind of polarization and rabble rousing such a move could possibly engender in our parliament.
Committees serve the purpose for public participation in policy making. Parliament should open their committees to public participation.
Committees must be armed with facilities and services to conduct their enquiries. Support staff – competent, neutral and impartial in their own right, the right to summon witnesses and the funds to hire outside advisors and experts are vital for effectiveness. Most MPs on Committees are not experts.
Committees, therefore, must be sufficiently resourced to engage experts and professionals to conduct due diligence on various matters to enable MPs probe for relevant answers from the MDAs in pursuit of transparency and accountability. Parliament must do more in this regard.
Greater scrutiny and analysis in committees leads to purer legislation, to less debate on the floor, to a more rational perspective of the scope and meaning of an issue and a broader basis for acceptance and legislation.
The minister who also doubles as the majority leader and MP for Suame Constituency in the Ashanti Region was however, not happy about the low numbers of female MPs in the house. According to him Women Representation is paramount in parliamentary business.
Since 1993 Ghana has never attained 15% of women representation in Parliament. Today, women make up just about 13% of the membership of the House. Is the first-past-post system good enough or should Ghana gravitate towards proportional representation as a cure to this? Parliamentary Affairs Minister inquired.
Story Franklin ASARE-DONKOH
Writer’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org