The Mess In Parliament

All over the world, throughout history and in all epochs, the one single most important symbol of DEMOCRACY is the institution of Parliament.

In the UK, they call it “House of Commons” in the US they call it “CONCRESS”. In Israel they call it KNESSET but by whatever name you call the LEGISLATURE, it is the one most important institution of state that has the sole monopoly of making laws in the nation.

Parliament, reader, is one of the most exciting places to be in your life as a human being. Inside the chamber when you are on the floor of the House contributing to a debate, you have absolute freedom, immune from any Court action for whatever you say.

By the Grace of God I am a lawyer and I can assure you that it is extremely very exciting to stand in the courtroom, especially the Superior Courts – High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court – to make submissions. Some of the judges would just look at you quietly and pretend to be writing what you are saying, then when you finish they will ask……“Counsel, have you finished? Others too, like Mr. Justice………..they will heckle you at every full stop, at times making you feel so bad before your clients.

In spite of the foregoing, I can guarantee that the most thrilling experience any man can have is to be able to stand on the floor of Parliament and speak continuously for FIVE MINUTES without interruption………….. all the Honourable Members will be listening to you, and if you make one slip, reader, somebody somewhere will stand up and say that “Mr. Speaker the Honourable Member is misleading the House……..”

In parenthesis, let me relay this episode. When the 2003 budget statement was presented to the House, members started debating the subject and one day a certain loquacious extremely loud mouthed NDC MP stood up to contribute to the debate.

Immediately, he started talking I told myself I will harass this man to confuse him. After a few sentences, he made a slip! “………. We all know this Budget is a reflection of what the IMF and World Bank have insisted we should do…”

I rose up.

“Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Member is misleading the House. He is creating an impression that our Budget was drawn for us by World Bank and IMF. If he cannot give a specific example of what orders or directives were given, then he should withdraw and apologise………….”

Fortunately for me J. H. Mensah was in the House, and he rose to second me, saying the Budget was discussed in detail at a Cabinet retreat at Akosombo so it is not IMF or World Bank which directed that the road from Atronie to Sunyani should be worked on………..Peter Ala Adjetey was presiding.

Reader, more NPP MPs supported me and the Speaker asked the Honourable NDC Member to either give an example of how the Budget was written by IMF or World Bank otherwise he should withdraw and continue. I was beside myself with joy!!!

The Honourable Member refused to withdraw, and he just packed his papers and walked out of the chamber. As he was going I said to myself “danduruwa…………..”

The main reason why some MPs never speak on the floor of Parliament is the fear of being heckled. Reader, it is very thrilling to be a Parliamentarian.

Now, news making the rounds is that the Speaker of the House, Right Honourable Doe Adjaho is urging Honourable Members to generate business “for the House”.

That, reader, is the core of the problem.

Parliament as an institution is mainly to make laws – and believe you me it is ONLY THE EXECUTIVE, that is, the President and his ministers who can propose the laws that are needed to be made for onward transmission to Parliament.

Of course it is provided that a private MP can generate the process for making a law but in our peculiar situation where the President is required to choose majority of his Ministers from Parliament, that probability is low. I am yet to know of any private member initiated and succeeded bill having come to the Fourth Republic on Parliament since 1993.

So, conclusively, it can be stated that without the Executive Parliament’s work is very low if any at all. Of course they attend committee meetings, they travel, they make statements but the core business is making laws.

I will put the blame of the current mess in Parliament – where they are literally “out of business” to the President’s very strange decision not to make Dr. Kunbuor, Majority Leader as a Cabinet Minister. How come? Majority Leader and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, not a

Cabinet Minister? The Leader of Government Business almost a Prime Minister at large?

Dr. Kunbuor, a seasoned lawyer started work as a Deputy Minister of Health, later promoted Minister of Health, later Minister of the Interior, then Attorney General and now, under Mahama, Leader of Government Business – not a Cabinet Minister? I don’t understand.

If you don’t want him to sit in Cabinet then change his portfolio – make him Minister for Extraordinary and Contemporary Issues, and put someone else there who can sit in Cabinet so that Parliamentary Business can go on.

I dare suggest that the non-inclusion of the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs in Cabinet is a terrible act of subverting the institution of Parliament.

If the NDC Government is serious they should take a serious look at this issue.

The Speaker says the Honourable Members should generate their own business, which can be in two main areas – asking the Executives questions to compel the Minister to come to the House and answer them, and then the issue of making Statements.

When it comes to asking questions, the norm is that Majority Members hardly ask questions.

Usually it is the Minority who pester Government Ministers with questions but in the current dispensation where NPP is challenging the very legality of Mahama’s Presidency and his
concomitant Ministers, the phenomenon will persist until the Supreme Court clarifies the election issue.

As regards “Statements” it is another issue altogether. The culture of making statements is an interesting feature of Parliament. Every Member of the House can do research on any particular issue and make a statement, for instance, on “The Growing Menace of Armed Robbery” or you can look at the UN calendar and make a statement to coincide with UN Day of Refugees or UN Day for Evaluation of Poverty or whatever.

Usually when a Member makes a statement, the floodgates are opened for other members to comment and it can be very interesting. I remember one day Hon Aku Sena Dansuaa, then MP for North Dayi, made a statement on roads with emphasis on accidents and I took a tangential issue out of it and rambled on and on for over 10 minutes!!!!!!!!!!

But this “Statement” issue gives me goose pimples. It was Friday and I was in Parliament House when I received a phone call that one car, in a gruesome accident, had knocked down dead three pupils in the local JHS in Fetentaa, a village near my hometown, Jinjini, near Berekum.

That weekend I visited Berekum, went over to Fetentaa, got all the facts and then I wrote a “Statement” to be read in Parliament -I gave it to the Chief Whip who gave it to the Speaker, then Peter Ala Adjetey.

To my surprise my statement was returned to me within a minute by Peter Ala Adjetey “this statement cannot be accepted”.

Reader, two weeks later the funeral of the JHS pupils was held and I felt so betrayed when the Queen Mother said openly that “cars are killing us, and there is nobody to speak for us……..

“If only Peter Ala Adjetey had allowed me to make that statement on the floor of the House, the media would have carried it and this unfortunate remark would not have been made.

On the whole I think that the headache of the Speaker can only be assuaged if the NDC Government critically examines its attitude to the institution.

Until then the mess will persist.