Engaging Citizens: A Game Changer for Development?
Citizen Engagement Project
Engaging Citizens in Law-Making in Ghana
HISTORY OF THE PARLIAMENT OF GHANA
Ghana achieved Independence on 6th March, 1957. The political struggles that preceded this historic event date back over a hundred years.
The early period of nationalist struggle for political independence created political awareness and desire to assert the right of self-determination both for the individual and the State.
As far back as 1850, Ghana, then The Gold Coast, was given its own Legislative Council to advise the colonial Governor in enacting legislation mainly in the form of Ordinances "for the peace, order and good government of the subject." The Legislative Council was purely advisory as the Governor exercised all legislative and executive powers.
In 1916 the Legislative Council was reconstituted to include nine nominated officials, six of whom were Africans, as opposed to eleven officials and the Governor. The first Legislative Council elections ever to be held took place in 1925 under the Guggisberg Constitution. Under this arrangement the Governor still retained complete control of legislation.
Under the 1946 Bums Constitution which replaced the Guggisberg Constitution, the representatives of the people formed the majority in the Legislative Council. The Governor ceased to be ex-officio President of the Legislative Council and an unofficial Member was appointed President. This system continued until 1951 when the Legislature elected its first Speaker under the 1950 Constitution.
In 1951 the first large-scale elections to the Legislative Assembly took place when 75 Members were elected. There were three nominated ex-officio Members and six special Members representing commercial and mining interests.
The 1954 transitional Constitution provided for an Assembly of a Speaker and 104 Members elected on party lines on the basis of universal adult suffrage.
In 1957, when Ghana achieved full political Independence the constitution was fashioned after the Westminster model. In June, 1960, ten women were elected by the National Assembly to fill specially created seats. This was done to expose women to parliamentary life. This system of election was not intended to be permanent. The Act made no provision for filling a vacancy caused by death, resignation or expulsion of a woman Member.
On 1st July, 1960 Ghana became a sovereign unitary Republic. In February, 1964 Ghana adopted a one-party system of Government. The First National Assembly of the Republic was dissolved in 1965 and a general election in which all the 198 Members, all of them Members of the national party, the convention People's Party (C.P.P.) were elected unopposed. The 1964 Constitutional Amendments among other things increased the powers and prerogatives of the President.
In February, 1966 the First Republican Government was overthrown by a military coup which installed a military government that remained in power up to September, 1969, when, on its own volition, it handed over power to another constitutionally elected government, and thereby restored parliamentary rule once again.
After only 22 months in office the second parliamentary democracy also succumbed to another military rule between January 1972 and October 1979, when under much political pressure, that military government was compelled to usher in the Third Republican parliamentary system. In December 1981 parliamentary democracy was once more thrown into cold storage as a result of yet another military coup. However, the country returned to constitutional rule again on 7th January, 1993.
FUNCTIONS OF PARLIAMENT
It is well known that Parliaments basic function is law making. However, a number of functions are incidental to the performance of this function. Among others, the following can be clearly identified as functions performed by the Parliament of Ghana:
Legislative: Law-making is considered to be the most important function of Parliament. Under article 93(2) of the Constitution the legislative power of Ghana is vested in Parliament and is exercised in accordance with the Constitution. No person or body other than Parliament has the power to pass any measure with the force of law except by or under the authority conferred by an Act of Parliament. The legislative function consists of passing Bills and scrutinizing statutory instruments and deciding whether to annul them or allow them to take effect by the effluxion of time.
Financial Control (Power of the Purse): Chapter Thirteen of the 1992 Constitution variously, vests the control of all public funds (power of the public purse) in Parliament. In specific terms this means:
No tax can be imposed without the authority of Parliament (art. 174)
Apart from moneys charged directly on the Consolidated Fund by the Constitution, no moneys can be withdrawn from the Fund without the authority of Parliament (art. 178)
Parliament has the power and duty to monitor the expenditure of public funds to ensure that the monies it has authorized are used for the purposes for which they are intended by taking appropriate action on the Auditor-Generals Reports.
In addition to these, Parliaments financial powers cover:
Authorizing the granting or receiving of loans (cf. article 181)
Monitoring the countrys foreign exchange receipts and payments or transfers (article 184)
Authorizing the waiver/exemption or variation of taxes (article 174)
Appointing an auditor to audit and report on the accounts of the Auditor-Generals office (article 187).
In effect, the Executive is free to propose various expenditure levels and how revenue should be raised to meet them. Parliament is, however, empowered to control the expenditure of public funds.
Oversight of the Executive Branch: As the embodiment of the sovereign will of the people of Ghana, Parliament exercises oversight of the Executive. Parliament keeps a watch over the performance of the Executive, which controls the public services, to ensure that the implementation of public policy conforms to the approved developmental agenda of the state and expenditure incurred is in accordance with parliamentary authorizations.
Parliament exercises this function by way of scrutiny of policy measures and executive conduct through its Committees, Questions to Ministers, Motions, and Censorship of Ministers among others.
Parliament also exercises this power through the approval or otherwise of Presidential nominees for appointment as Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Chief Justice and other Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Council of State and other public offices specified by law.
Representational Forum: Parliament is the supreme forum for the ventilation of grievances aimed at seeking redress. The MP is the communication link between his constituents and Government. Through parliamentary mechanisms/tools such as Question Time, Statements, Motions, debate on policy/bills, among others, an MP has the opportunity to draw attention to developments in his constituency and explore avenues for socio-economic development of the constituency.
Deliberative Function: In the execution of its functions, the House undertakes deliberations through debate on matters before it. More specifically, however, the deliberative function of Parliament enables it to debate an array of policy issues some of which result in the passage of resolutions. Deliberations may throw light on underlying tensions in society and help to foster consensus, compromise and reconciliation. The deliberative function is exercised mainly through the mechanism of Statements, Motions, Questions, and Ceremonial Speeches etc.
DUTIES OF A MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
Parliament is a representative institution, which reflects dictum government of the people, by the people for the people. It is the hub of democratic governance. It has a responsibility to foster public awareness of the basic tenets of democracy. The Member, as an elected representative of his constituents, is an agent for the realization of the aspirations of his people and the nation at large.
The Member finds himself in a web of onerous duties
Duties to the Nation: In his duties to the nation, the Member exercises the legislative power of the State in accordance with the Constitution. This is done through the introduction and passage of Bills. He also participates in all deliberations on matters of national and international importance.
Parliament exercises constitutional authority over the use of public funds and the operations of Ministries, Departments and Agencies through inquiries and investigations. It is the duty of a Member to assist the House to execute this mandate through Committees that enable Members to examine in greater detail, legislative and fiscal proposals from the Executive and its agencies. Effective participation in Committee deliberations enables Members to specialize in particular subject areas and this enhances Parliaments exercise of oversight responsibility of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Mechanisms, such as Statements and Question Time, present Members with the opportunity to draw attention to issues of public or national importance. These mechanisms also serve as a means of obtaining assurance from Ministers on actions being taken on the issues raised.
Duties to Constituents: A Member of Parliament is a representative of all his constituents regardless of their party affiliations. The Member must find time to interact with his constituents at regular intervals. As a non-voting ex-officio Member of the District Assembly, he is required to monitor programmes and projects that the Assembly initiates in his constituency.
It is the duty of a Member to explain to his constituents the laws passed by Parliament and policies being pursued by the Government. In this regard, a Member is enjoined to advocate both in Parliament and the District Assembly the concerns of his constituents.
With the support of the District Assemblies Common Fund and other funding, a Member may intervene directly in solving some of the developmental problems of his constituency.
Duties to the Party: A Member owes allegiance to the political party to which he belongs. His general performance must reflect the trust reposed in him by his party. While the Majority Group endeavors to implement its manifesto, the Minority Group is expected to offer constructive alternative programs. A Members loyalty to his party may be expressed in the following ways:
Mobilizing support for his partys policies through intelligent contributions to debates both in the House and at Committees;
Offering constructive criticism to the partys policies as and when appropriate; Enhancing the partys image at both national and constituency levels.
DIAGNOSES, CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
Parliamentarians in Ghana do not consult their constituents when voting and passing laws in parliament. After they are elected into parliament, they made decisions on political lines without reference to their constituents. They vote on political lines. The political parties vote together with a shout of voice and therefore you can never know how an induvial voted. This is very wrong and these are my recommendations. Members of parliament should consult their constituents before making decisions on the floor of parliament and when voting in parliament on laws and issues, each Member of Parliament should write down his or her vote and these votes should be made public so that their constituents can know how they voted and hold them accountable for their votes. This will bring accountability into our parliament.
Prince Henry Anim-Owiredu