Parliamentarians are at liberty to dissect critical and sensitive issues, and sometimes pass their own informed verdict irrespective of the institution or individual involved. So why is it becoming increasingly difficult for the people who put them there to assess their work?
A number of people have been hauled before Parliament’s Privileges Committee for daring to question the legislators. Most of the comments have infuriated parliamentarians.
For instance, a former Hitz FM presenter Blakk Rasta was humbled by the August house for making comments the MPs deemed disparaging. Many have condemned the maverick presenter cum musician for those comments. He apologized, was reprimanded and pardoned with a caution: “Go and sin no more”.
Blakk Rasta (left) with his lawyer before the committee
However, what has irked many Ghanaians and unruffled feathers is what some have described as a “needless” decision to question a WHO scientist, Prof. Alex Dodoo, for calling their level of understanding on an ongoing Ebola vaccination trial into question.
Prof. Dodoo was compelled to apologize profusely much to the chagrin of many who have condemned the decision to invite him.
Some have asked, Is parliament becoming a monster? Why can’t people who put our MPs there question their actions in their own way?
On Joy FM’s Ghana Connect Friday, sit-in host Fred Smith assembled guests with diverse backgrounds to weigh the issue.
On the show were Dr. Rasheed Draman, Director at African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs; Nana Otu Darko, a citizen and a former student leader; and a former Member of Parliament Balado Manu. Dr. Frankie Asare Donkor from UK and Keena Likimani a blogger joined the discussion on the phone.
They all agreed on the need to protect the sanctity of Parliament but asserted that Parliament should be seen to be more tolerant.
Dr. Draman was of the view that the thin line between what constitutes contempt and what doesn’t should be established. Speaking your mind or free speech is guaranteed under Ghana’s Constitution, he asserted but warned that should not be abused.
“We must be careful,” he cautioned. MPs must also recognize that as people’s representatives, those who elected them have the right to criticize them, he added.
He was not enthused by the frequency at which the Privileges Committee invites persons who are alleged to have made the flimsiest contemptuous comments.
Their counterpart in New Zealand, he cited for instance, for well over a century evoked the powers just twice.
“The country has many problems that our members of parliament should busy themselves attending to and should not spend a lot of time dragging people to the committee… they should have open heart and take some of these criticisms in good faith,” he submitted.
Important issues such as the Auditor General’s report revealing misappropriation by public and civil servants, should not escape the attention of the august house
Prof. Alex Dodoo taking directive from his counsel
Dr. Frankie Asare Donkor concurred with Dr. Draman on many of his submissions.
In the case of Prof. Dodoo, for instance, “there was no need to drag that issue like the MPs did”, he opined.
He believes it was time the citizens were regarded as the fifth estate of the realm after the media: they should be empowered to check their MPs.
Dr. Donkor was worried that “Parliament is trying to place itself above every institution and the public” in a situation where they can criticize everybody but they cannot be criticized.
Even though Blakk Rasta’s comment “was reckless”, he advised, “you don’t kill a fly with a hammer”.
“They are going too far,” he said of the legislators, fearing they “are beginning to lose respect of the people.”
Nana Otu Darko, supporting what had already been said, suggested that some “unhealthy provisions” in our laws ought to be expunged or amended.
He believes the law which gives powers to the Privileges Committee has unfortunately caused them to preoccupy themselves with insignificant issues. Some MPs would prefer to wade into less important issues, but are dead silent when it comes to fighting to improve the poor conditions their constituents are forced to live in he argued.
Keena Likimani pointed out that, though she, like many others were very concerned with the Ebola vaccine trial and how the citizens were sensitized prior to the exercise, the issue could have been handled in a better way instead of dragging Prof. Dodoo to face the Committee.
The MPs spent time on the contempt case to the detriment of the real issue, she observed.
Baladu Manu on the other hand said parliamentarians are open to criticism but asserted that the House is not made up of “illogical, irrational” people who call people based on their “whims and caprices”.
The law spells out what comments or actions warrant invitation, the former legislature remarked and cautioned the public to be mindful of comments they pass on Parliamentarians’s work.
The panel were however united in their condemnation of any action that seeks to denigrate parliament.
Usually headed by the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ebo Barton Odro, the privileges Committee has the powers of a high court: it is empowered to punish, including recommending the expulsion of its own members if they affront the dignity of the house; not to talk about ordinary folks if their action impede or belittle the work of Parliament.
Story by Ghana / myjoyonline.com / Isaac Essel / twitter: @isaacessel
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