On October 27, 2009, I addressed a Press Conference to focus on one important area of our national life that we cannot do without if we want a vibrant, multi-party democracy - the legislature – Parliament.
The decision by President John Evans Atta-Mills this week to appoint the three leaders on the majority side of Parliament specifically, the Hon. Alban S. Bagbin, Majority Leader, Hon. E. T. Mensah and Hon. John Tia to ministerial positions as members of the Executive, brings the need for a change in the Constitution into greater focus. That decision is unfortunate. It further brings into question whether the Executive controls Parliament or not.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not questioning President Atta-Mills’ right to reshuffle his Cabinet. At a time when the country is ready to examine the 1992 Constitution to review among other subjects the separation of the Legislature from the Executive, this stretching of the long hands of the President and dipping them into Parliament to grab the top three leaders from the Majority side to his side is at the very least unsettling.
The utterances of those former ministers suggesting that they have been re-assigned by President Atta-Mills to leadership positions in Parliament confuses the situation some more. Furthermore, Members of Parliament on the Majority side are complaining about not getting the opportunity to express their views on who their leaders should be.
I have on numerous occasions called Parliament as it stands now, weak and unable to serve as an effective pillar of checks and balance to the Executive. Ghanaians including President Mills have been quarreling about the Vodafone agreement it is because Parliament was ambushed and rushed by the Executive to pass a bill most members did not have time to read and understand. Parliament did not have the opportunity or the resources to engage technical experts to give it needed advice.
This in large part is due to the fact that the current Constitution robs it of independence and muscle. In particular, Article 78 (1) of the Constitution says, “Ministers of State shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of Parliament from among members of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected as members of Parliament, except that the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament”.
I have been a Member of Parliament and a Minister of State before. So I know of which I speak. This feature in our Constitution is inimical to the interest of all Ghanaians. It promotes and perpetuates the culture of impunity and makes our Presidents walk over the legislature. Worse, it enables the approval of bad agreements and contracts. An independent legislature would not sit by and be denied offices, human resource and other facilities needed for the effective performance of its job.
The acceptance of ministerial positions by experienced legislators I have a great deal of respect for, should make Ghanaians become more serious about the work of the Constitution Review Commission. Hon. Bagbin a lawyer by profession was becoming a powerful, independent voice. He made a lot of sense within and outside Parliament and by his performance gained a lot of respect and credibility in a way that was making many people consider Parliament an important national institution. His acceptance of a ministerial position, increases the perception that many people go to Parliament not to be law-makers, but to “catch the eye of the President” to be made Ministers of State. His decision continues to raise the profile of MPs who are made Ministers. If you are not a minister, you are considered, “only an MP”. No one considers that being the Chairperson of a Parliamentary Sub-Committee is something powerful or important. Hon. Bagbin does not need a house, a car, protocol privilege, etc as he already has these as the Majority Leader. Why then has he decided to accept appointment as a Minister of State?
I am calling on all Members of Parliament to rise up and work with other Ghanaians to change the provisions in our Constitution so that they can be empowered to do a credible job. We must all rise seriously and get to the task of bringing change about. This reshuffle is a blow to the separation of powers and the independence of the Legislature.
Source: DR. PAPA KWESI NDUOM
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