Religious tolerance dispute: Parliament can’t intervene yet

General News of Friday, 6 March 2015


Joe Osei Owusu Bekwai

The Minority spokesperson on legal and constitutional affairs, Joe Osei Owusu has defended Parliament’s decision not to join in recent debates over religious tolerance and the alleged infringement of the rights of certain religious groups.

Joe Osei Owusu, justified Parliament’s decision, saying the House does not interfere in matters that are “within the arms of the executive.”

Despite several calls for Parliament to intervene, he added that the time may not be right for the legislature to become involved in such a sensitive issue.

Speaking on Eyewitness News in response to suggestions that Parliament’s unwillingness to join the debate may have contributed to the escalation of the debate, Mr. Osei Owusu said: “I don’t know what parliament could have done. Parliament does not take on matters that are firmly within the arms of the executive. In that respect, all we could do is advise them. But we can’t purport to take on a matter like that unless someone from Sekondi had made a statement bringing out certain issues, then Parliament would have gone in to investigate that and advised or urged the leadership as to what they ought to do. If it requires legislative intervention then we make recommendations to the executive. As it is now, we are not able to initiate legislation on our own. But I think that it has not reached the stage where Parliament ought to intervene.”

The Member of Parliament (MP) for Bekwai, however, expressed concern over the recent disagreements, suggesting that there should be an effort to maintain the structures which have seen both religions co-exist peacefully over the years.

“My view is that each party has a right in the constitution. We should respect the rights of Muslims and Christians as enshrined and protected in the constitution. But I also believe that If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. We have lived in this country, side by side all religious groups for many years. Suddenly things that were never issues, never points of controversy are becoming controversial. That gives me cause for concern. What I suspect is that fundamentalist influence is growing in this country. I think what we should focus on are the things that unite us as a people. We’ve never had problems between Christians and Muslims; Christians in Muslim schools, Muslims in Christian schools,” he explained.

Mr. Osei Owusu also spoke of his disappointment that such a sensitive issue that could have been nipped in the bud at the local level has blown up into a national discussion, which he says is a major reason for the current tension.

“What I am not happy with is the sudden nationalization of what should have been a local issue. Suddenly it has taken a turn of Catholic bishops, Muslim leader, which shouldn’t be the case. I think we should have just handled the complaint the Sekondi Muslim leaders had, investigated it and dealt with it at that point. The moment we allowed it to become a national issue and to be discussed nationally on radio, the sensitivities may be lost and we may not be able to treat them with the level of sensitivity and economity that is required,” he said

The government issued a directive calling on schools to desist from forcing Muslim students to attend morning devotion in schools and perpetuating other forms of discrimination or risk facing sanctions, following a demonstration by Muslims in the Western Region, a call that was reiterated by President John Mahama.

However, the Catholic Bishops released a statement in response to the directive, describing the Government’s threats of sanctions against the schools as “unwarranted.”

The Ghana Education Service (GES) also issued a directive compelling all students to participate in the morning devotion if it was part of the school rules.

The Muslim Students Association has since rejected this directive from the GES and called on Muslim students to disregard it.