Regrettable Constitutional Ignorance In High Places

The unnecessary hullabaloo over proposed amendments to some entrenched clauses in the 1992 Constitution has exposed many Ghanaians, if not most, especially, the politicians, as ignorant of the provisions of the Supreme Law of the land.

It is a sad commentary on the state of our fourth experiment at constitutionalism that this illness afflicts almost all politicians, from the Council of State, through the Presidency, the Ministries, Parliament, political party headquarters, and down to the wards.

Addressing newsmen last Wednesday, May 7, Mr. Joe Osei-Owusu (NPP Bekwai) accused the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon Edward Doe Adjaho, of breaching the 1992 Constitution, by forwarding a draft bill for amending some entrenched provisions to the Council of State before it had been gazetted, and without recourse to the House.

Mr. Osei-Owusu, also Chairman of Parliament’s Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Committee, said: “It must be stated at the outset that the Speaker is not a Member of Parliament. To that extent there is no legislative power vested in him, acting alone. Article 290 deals with the legislative process through which any partition (sic) of the constitution may be amended.
“We, in the Minority, regret to observe that the whole process of constitutional amendment is turning out to be nothing, other than an executive review of the national Constitution.

“The Bill the Speaker received from the Attorney General ought to have been published in the Gazette, and should not have been introduced into Parliament until the expiry of six months after the publication in the Gazette.”

The Chronicle regrets that it is forced to tell the Chairman of Parliament’s Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Committee, of all people, that the position he has canvassed above is the NOT THE CORRECT ONE prescribed by the 1992 Constitution for AMENDING its entrenched clauses.

The CORRECT PROCEDURE, which Speaker Adjaho followed, is stated unambiguously in Article 290, Subsections 2-5. For the avoidance of doubt, we quote subsections 2 and 3, which are adequate for our purpose, VERBATIM:

· A bill for the amendment of an entrenched provision shall, before Parliament proceeds to consider it, be referred by the Speaker to the Council of State for its advice, and the Council shall render advice on the bill within 30 days after receiving it.
· The bill shall be published in the Gazette, but shall not be introduced into Parliament, until after the expiry of six months after the publication in the Gazette under this clause.

And bills for the amendment of entrenched are only required to be gazetted AFTER the Council of State had rendered its advice.

The Chronicle finds that the position used by the Minority to support its condemnation of Speaker Adjaho is that of amending NON-ENTRENCHED PROVISIONS of the 1992 Constitution provided for in Article 291 subsections 1 and 2, which requires that the bill be first gazetted twice, with an interval of at least three months, then given the first reading in Parliament, before the Speaker refers it to the Council of State.

We wonder if this grand confusion can be attributed to the novelty of amending the 1992 Constitution. All we are sure of, for now, is that Speaker Adjaho comes out smelling of roses. We are not sure of though, what his accusers smell … But now that the Council of State has ignorantly allowed itself to be stampeded into returning the draft bill to the Speaker of Parliament, do we take it as meaning that it had fulfilled its constitutional obligation? The question is pertinent because, from all indications, there is no “contentious issue” for Parliament to resolve, as the Minority Leader quoted the Council as requesting.

The Chronicle will advise the Council of State to, in the light of the correct procedure for amending entrenched provisions of the 1992, recall its irrelevant letter, do its duty and additionally investigate the claim by the Minority that the government had turned the process of amending the constitution into “an executive review of the national constitution”.

For, if that claim is true, it would open the door to other governments when in power to review the constitution to suit their whims and caprices. That would ultimately make the Constitution worth less than the paper on which it is written.

To say the least The Chronicle is disappointed that a Council that advises the President would act on a petition without first finding out whether or not there is a basis for it in law. For if it had it would have realised that the OPERATIVE Article is 290 and not that of 291.

That is shoddy. VERY SHODDY INDEED! And unacceptable!!