There are many who have contributed immensely to the growth of Ghana’s parliaments over the years. In charting that course, they did not only make names for themselves, but also strengthened the cause of parliamentary democracy at the time.
The relevance of their non-partisan contributions in parliament has today become a reference point for academic discourse; and a subject matter for many political debates on the current state of Ghana’s parliament. There is currently within the minority side of Parliament, a heated debate why the leadership of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) would alter the status arrangement of its leadership in Parliament.
As per the directive by party chairman, Johnson Aseidu Nketia, Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu had been replaced with the MP for Ajumako, Enyan Essiam constituency, Dr. Casiel Ato Forson; Kwame Governs Agbodza becomes his deputy and Emmanuel Armah Kofi-Buah as the Minority Chief Whip. Part of the noisy partisan argument had been driven by an intangible recourse to ethnic and religious considerations. There are other seemingly, moderate commentators who feel slightly by the changes because they were not given enough briefing on the new directives.
But I wonder why none spoke against the selection of Haruna, a Northerner and a Muslim; and Muntaka Mohammed, someone of Northern extraction and a Muslim when the NDC decided on the two with virtually, same religious and ethnic backgrounds to lead the NDC in parliament. This is a question for the advocates of the religion, tribal card. I am still trying to figure out whether the NDC went round convincing and cajoling people to accept the decision to pick Haruna and Muntaka as minority leaders of the legislature. It was a party leadership decision and was enough to quell any simmering noises.
Was that the same approach in the selection of the new NDC minority leadership? My little research on the subject suggests that was the case. So what sacrilege has the Aseidu Nketia-led administration committed this time around. I thought, what should concern many, should be what legacy Haruna-Muntaka bequeathed to the incoming leadership that would be a major reference land-mark for the incoming Ato Forson leadership? Then they would be compelled to either maintain or improve upon what their predecessors have left for them.
Such proposition should rather strengthen and consolidate the stance of the Haruna-Muntaka backers. Instead, they felt throwing emotional tantrums would incite their supporters to rise up in arms against the Aseidu Nketia administration and that would have compelled the NDC leadership to renege on its decision. But Aseidu has proven to be a resolute warrior who would not be perturbed by sheer innuendoes and empty threats. Perhaps, such Haruna surrogates ought to be schooled on the impressive performance of some of our legislators of the past.
It’s only by knowing the colossus status of such individuals that they would appreciate whether the NDC did the right, by replacing Haruna and others at the helm of the minority caucus in Parliament. There were the dynamic trio of the National Alliance of Liberals (NAL) in the 1969 2nd Republican parliament whose contributions and critique of government policies helped put Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia’s Progress Party (PP) on its toes. It’s been some 54 years, yet we continue to count the contributions of Dr. G.K. Agama, Lawyer Samuel Okudjeto and Dr. Obed Yao Asamoah to the cause of the 1969 parliamentary democracy.
In contrast, the relevance of Ghana’s 4th Republican parliament is the subject of intense ridicule by many democrats, although the inception of current 8th parliament of the 4th Republic was considered a total departure from the previous seven that was labelled as rubber-stamping legislature. The previous parliaments of the 4th Republic earned that ridiculous tag because the majority always used its numerical strength to approve of any bill presented to the House by the executive. This is the first time a governing party has failed to command absolute or even simple majority in the chamber of our parliaments in the 4th Republic.
Who are the Jones Ofori Attas, G.K. Agamas & J.H. Mensahs of our current Parliament?
History has a way of reminding us from various perspectives. At least in our current parliament, there is one major landmark decision that then minority group, led by J.H Mensah took that is still etched in the minds of many Ghanaians. The novelty decision by J.H Mensah and his cohorts to stage a walk out or boycott proceedings because of the group’s intense disagreements with the majority, might not be that popular among NDC supporters at the time.
However, with the benefit of hindsight, the decision vindicates the position of J.H. Mensah and the NPP MPs that it was the highest point of protest and also to alert the majority that it was not proper to always disregard the contribution of the minority, although many have argued that the minority would always have their say and the majority, their way. There is however a time in our parliamentary democracy that most of the current MPs should consider and ponder, if they would also want to have their names to be etched in our democratic credentials as the protagonists of the past, had earned in our democratic journey.
That was when the President of the 3rd Republic, Dr. Hilla Limann’s budget was torpedoed by parliament after it was presented by then Finance Minister, Dr. Amon Nii Koi. The move for the rejection of the budget was initiated by Dr. Jones Ofori Atta, then ranking member on Finance from the opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) and supported by Dr. G.K. Agama of the United National Convention (UNC). Indeed, when the issue was put to vote, the majority joined the minority to throw over-board the Limann budget, which was later repackaged and presented by the new Finance Minister, Dr. George Benneh. The MPs acted in their collective conviction without resorting to favouring the executive to in turn, earn any favours from the executive. This is the conundrum we face in our current parliament.
Why the Haruna-led minority failed
The current composition of parliament is pegged at 137 each for the ruling NPP and the major opposition party, the NDC. The decision by the independent candidate to do business with the NPP tilts the pendulum just slightly in favour of the ruling government. But in just a quarter into the 1st year of the 8th parliament, most Ghanaians were regretting their earlier excitement about the current parliament. Two major events and the failure of the lead opposition to hold the government to proper scrutiny and accountability informed such regrettable feeling. These were in relation to what many considered, should have been the outright rejection of some of the President’s ministerial nominees, including Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta and his 2021 budget statement, which was tagged as “killer budget”.
Nothing hurt many independent watchers like the manner the opposition NDC somewhat betrayed the hope and trust of many Ghanaians to hold government accountable in the selection or nomination of particularly, Ken Ofori Atta. Many also thought it would have been the best and opportune time to take our parliamentary democracy to another level and by so doing, improve upon our governance system. Many had anticipated a new chapter in our parliamentary discourse that would have been a departure from the stated rubber stamping approach of all seven previous parliaments of the 4th Republic.
It would have also saved us the monotonous spectre of the majority always concurring with the executive no matter how draconian a government policy might be. Also it was the belief that the new parliament of the 4th Republic will not hastily move to do the bidding of the President and his executive. In effect, genuine and consensus building would have been the considered forte of the current parliament. As such, the system where majority MPs often side wrongfully, with the executive to catch the attention of the President in order to be made ministers of state would have been minimized, although we were still practising the hybrid system of government.
The conventional assumption was that with the close divide between the two main political parties, members of the majority side would perform in a matter they would have won the confidence of those in the majority by being objective and level headed in the discharge of their parliamentary duties. The Ghanaian constitution prescribes that two-thirds of ministers should be picked from parliament and so you can imagine why in the course of their performance, all majority MPs of the past seven parliaments of the 4th Republic operated on an auto pilot, as an appendage of the executive. The current split parliament thus offered us the finest opportunity for especially, the NDC caucus to help change such derogatory narrative. Rather sadly, the NDC has failed Ghanaians, right from the inception of the 8th Parliament of the 4th Republic and the biggest culprit in this instance has been the opposition NDC. It’s therefore not surprising that Haruna Iddrisu himself said late last year, that Parliament has failed Ghanaians. But as opposition leader, he had every opportunity to change the narrative. Rather sad to relate, he became an accomplice. Do we still hand over the minority portfolio in Parliament into his hands? Aseidu Nketia thinks otherwise.
Article by Atta Kwaku Boadi
Editor, Today Newspaper