Has our Parliament gone mad?

Orrrderrrr! Orrrderrr! Honrouable members, orrrderrr! I’m remembering with nostalgia, that baritone, authoritative voice of arguably the best Speaker ever of Ghana’s parliament, the late Peter Ala Adjetey.

Then President John Kufuor and his government had settled on the consummate legal luminary, a La native of Accra, as Speaker. He followed another celebrated son of the Ga land, DF Annan who was Speaker until after the 2000 elections handed the governing NDC a defeat.

Peter Ala Adjetey had Fredie Blay and Ken Dzirasa as his first and second deputies respectively. This arguably was the golden era of Ghana’s Parliament in the Fourth Republic. The fearless Hawa Yakubu was in this Parliament. The eloquent, intelligent, well-educated JH Mensah was there. So too were the legal brain from Kumbungu, Mohammed Mumuni, the respected Alban Sumana Bagbin and Enoch Teye Mensah.

One could spend the whole day watching parliamentary debates over critical issues.

Even though Ala Adjetey had been the National Chairman of the NPP before, he became fiercely independent winning admiration from those who opposed his nomination. The minority NDC, led by arguably the best Minority Leader ever, Alban Bagbin, vehemently opposed Ala Adjetey’s nomination by the Majority NPP as Speaker. “We will go after him! He threatened, after the confirmation.

After his confirmation as Speaker of the Third Parliament of the Fourth Republic, Ala Adjetey, commandeered such authority and respect even from the Minority, that by the end of that parliament, it was Mr. Bagbin and his colleagues in the Minority who wanted Ala Adjetey retained as Speaker.

Of course, the Majority had become increasingly frustrated with the assertiveness and sense of fairness of the man and plotted to take him out. In fact, the Minority was warned that if it nominated Ala Adjetey for Speaker and forced an election between him and Begyina Sekyi Hughes, who was the Majority’s choice, the NPP Majority would break convention and deny the Minority, the Second Deputy Speakership.

The Minority stood their ground and nominated Ala Adjetey. As promised by the Majority, they voted for Sekyi Hughes and carried out their threat by nominating Alhaji Malik Alhassan Yakubu to compete with the Minority’s Ken Dzirasa. Mr. Dzirasa lost. The Minority controlled all three positions – Speaker, 1st and 2nd Deputy Speakers.

This is how strong Parliament was. Parliamentary debates were exciting and insightful. As Speaker Ala Adjetey presided over debates like a Supreme Court judge – with power, authority and more importantly, unparalleled knowledge of the Standing Orders of Parliament which guide the conduct of debates and MPs.

Those were the days you could watch live broadcasts of Parliamentary debates for hours. It was not boring. MPs knew what they were talking about and they spoke with exacting clarity.

In recent times however, our parliament has consistently failed to live up to the expectations of the people. Regrettably, the MPs do not even appear to care.

The current Parliament appears to spend more time trying to whip people in line to command respect rather than working to earn it.

The majority appear to have abdicated their responsibility to hold the executive in check. In fact, it seems the Majority is more interested in pleasing the executive than the people. It has been argued variously that allowing 50 percent of ministers to come from Parliament blurs the line between the executive and the legislature.

Recently, it appears the legislature itself has purposely erased the line by pandering to the Executive in search of juicy appointments. It seems no Majority MP has the balls nor even the desire to stand up for what is right. They care less about what their constituents think. They seem to have outsourced the responsibility of holding the government in check to the Minority.

The Minority appear to be spineless and lost as well. In fact, the President is on record to have said the Minority may be sleeping in the House.

Recent utterances by Minority MPs about embarrassing slippages make it difficult not to believe what the president said.

Take the controversial AMERI deal for example. According to a Norwegian newspaper, Ghana is paying $510 million for 10 turbines that should have cost the nation $220 million. Of course there is an additional $81 million variable charges, ($16.3m every year for five years). A statement by the Power Minister didn’t deny each of the 10 turbines costs $22 million cedis except to explain that “the quoted price of $220 million in the Norwegian story for outright purchase of similar turbines is exclusive of all other costs such as auxiliaries, balance of plant, civil works, sub-station, installation of equipment, cost of financing, operation and maintenance etc.”

When the story broke, Parliament was caught flatfooted. In a rather tepid attempt to save face, Minority member of the Mines and Energy Committee of Parliament said they were misled.

“We were presented with three scenario, outright purchase, rental and the BOOT that we ended up with,” he said, rather confusingly.

The Bagbin-led Minority of 2001 onwards would have raised hell. But the Kyei Mensah-Mensah-Bonsu-led Minority appeared unaware what went on in respect of this deal despite red flags raised earlier by Dr. Mohammed Amin Adam’s Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP) about this deal. Of course, Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu is a very capable man. Why his Minority is, according to President Mahama, sleeping is difficult to understand.

KT Hammond, “I really need to understand exactly where we were misled. Quite clearly what has turned out in the public domain has been quite dramatic to me as it has been dramatic to all of us.” The man does not even know where the MPs were misled. It is safe to assume the Minority is not going to do a thing about this deal.

Whilst the dust was yet to settle on the murky AMERI deal, government went to Parliament and under a certificate of urgency, passed the new Income Tax Act 2015, Act 896. Under the Act, new taxes and levies were introduced. A vexed one is the Energy Sector Levy which imposes about 80 pesewas levy on a litre of petroleum product accounting for a 27% jump fuel prices even though crude oil prices on the international market have seen historic decline. Rather disappointingly, the minority again offered another tardy response to questions about why the Minority did not attempt to block this bill.

To complete the list of derelict acts, the National Media Commission laid a Legislative Instrument described variously as retrogressive and obnoxious and without any scrutiny from our MPs, it passed, to become law.

Once again the explanation was as embarrassing as it was strange. MP for Obuasi and member of Parliament’s Communications Committee, Kwaku Kwarteng, one of the most vocal MP by the way, said the law needs to be reviewed. Our MPs appear to have perfected the art of securing the door after the horses have bolted.

How can elected representatives of the people become so nonchalant about performing one of their most important duty – holding the executive accountable and protecting the public purse? Is it negligence? Incompetence? Complicity? Or all?

Many are particularly disappointed in the Minority. As for the Majority, no one expects them to raise a finger even if Ghana is placed on Tonaton by the government. The Dagbin that led a very active, vigilant Minority now leads a rubber-stamp Majority who appear to have taken their passports, checked out Ghana and joined the Executive on a holiday in Dubai.

In fact, the media do not bother to talk to the Majority when something goes wrong in Parliament. Unless of course, they are being called to speak on the position of the executive on a particular matter. They have checked out.

Parliament can increase the punishments that can be imposed by their privileges committee on critics. But as long as they continue to make themselves merely an appendage of the executive, Ghanaians will continue to hold them in contempt.

Source: Ghana | Myjoyonline.com

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