PARLIAMENTARIANS AS EFFECTIVE LEGISLATORS AND CONSTITUENCY REPRESENTATIVES: EVOLVING SUPPORT REQUIRED”
RT. HON. PROF. AARON MICHAEL OQUAYE, SPEAKER OF THE PARLIAMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA
AT THE 25TH CONFERENCE OF SPEAKERS AND PRESIDING OFFICERS OF THE COMMONWEALTH, OTTAWA, CANADA,
WEDNESDAY, 8TH JANUARY, 2020.
RT. Hon. Chairperson
Colleague Hon. Speakers and Presiding Officers
Participants and Observers
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
I was delighted when I received the request from our host to speak on one of three topics at this august conference. Although each of the three topics appeared interesting, I immediately chose the topic on “Parliamentarians as Effective Legislators and Constituency Representatives: Evolving Support Required”, since in my humble view, it bore direct relevance to theme of this Conference.
As we all know, the work of the Legislator extend beyond legislation. It compasses approval of monies for the Executive and further to a House of Accountability both in financial terms and government performance and assurances generally.
In Ghana as in other places Parliamentary scrutiny of international loans requires considerable capacity. In a situation where the Executive has far more data, equipment and capacity generally than the Legislature, a gaping gap exists. This necessitates very interventionary measures of capacity building for African Parliaments generally.
Question Time especially follow-up questions to tease out certain hidden facts are a technique and an art which require exposure and training. This is an area which cries for assistance.
In the passage of laws generally, considerable examination of Bills at the Consideration Stage require the development of skills over a number of years. This process itself is tedious as we examine clause by clause, the various provisions in a Bill. Experience reveals that at the Consideration Stage only a handful of members take part in the process. This is rather a matter of concern. Training mechanisms must be applied to enable the meaningful participation of members.
Currently there are many support systems in some African countries including Ghana to assist in these applications, by donor countries including financial support, ICT platforms and instruction mechanism etc. Nevertheless, a lot more is imperative.
The Committee is the workshop of Parliament. Unless our Committees are made really strong, our efforts will be perfunctory. In this connection, Information and knowledge available to MPs from finance, accounts, science and technology, social issues including rights of women, children and the vulnerable – indeed from archaeology to zoology – should be available to the MP. In the developing nation, this creates an obstacle to performance.
Interacting with constituents, informing them on various national issues etc is a very important function of MPs. In same connection, matters relating to a wide variety of concerns particularly complaints in relation to social interventions in areas such as education, health, housing etc are followed up by MPs. These require offices, staff and a whole array of resources which are often lacking in Africa.
But what is worse, legislators in Africa are held accountable for their performance of an array of informal functions beyond town hall meetings. These include the personal needs of constituents, not only obtaining placements for them in schools and colleges, but actually paying school fees, donations at births and funerals, paying of medical bills etc. Most MPs are tasked and taxed in this manner until they bleed into poverty. Whereas the building of infrastructure especially roads are not the function of MPs, the wrong perception in this connection have led to unjustifiable accusation against MPs.
In many African Countries this has developed a gaping gap of disaffection between MPs and Constituents. A tragic consequence is that wrong criteria are used in assessing the performance of MPs by citizens. This has led to a dichotomy between Legislators and citizenry and undermines the development of Parliamentary democracy. In the last election in my country more than 50% of MPs lost their seats. This applies in many West Africa nations.
In this presentation, it is necessary to refer to the poor representation of women in our Parliaments generally. In my country where 51% of the population are women, women representation in Parliament has hardly gone beyond 20%. This disequilibrium applies in several African States. Systems must be adopted to promote Affirmative Action and also specially train and assist women MPs to become role models.
The issues raised above,
are require the upliftment of our people in educational and civic
exposure to enable accountable and responsive Parliamentary democracy to
In Ghana, the present government has embarked on a free Senior High School Education for ALL Ghanaian Children. The system which has been in operation for Three Years now, is a big toll on the public purse and some have called for its closure. This draws our minds clearly to the close nexus between democracy, representation and education. Can Africa afford the level of education indelibly associated with Parliamentary democracy?
Hon. Speakers, this brings me to the
final leg in my presentation – the lingering poverty in Africa which
negates virtually every good effort towards democracy.
Sometime ago, the prime focus in Africa was the fight against Colonisation. After independence the emergence of dictatorship and militarism and governance challenges in myriad forms, turned the world’s attention to a search for good governance leading to the Second wind of change.
Today, our existential problems are in three main dimensions:
1. Climate Change;
2. Nuclear race and threats which still affect Africa adversely;
3. Poverty, misery, and disease which stem out of the old economic paradigm of dependency and re-cycling poverty.
Global warming has changed agricultural patterns and jostled planning efforts in Africa. Globally, it has caused resources which could have been available for other nations to help Africa tackle gaping problems to be expended elsewhere.
In the same vein, the world needs a
nuclear weapons free zone to make the world a less dangerous place to
live in. Nuclear weapons in possession of the USA and Russia (apart from
other nations) will trigger an avalanche which will consume humanity.
Notably, also, the huge resources expended can be channeled to more
benefits for the developing nations.
Now we move on to the present World Economic Order itself where the developing nations essentially produce raw materials and the developed nations produce and export finished products to Africa. This economic paradigm is a continuum of the colonial order of unblessed memory.
Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire for example, produce 60% of the world’s cocoa but receive less than 10% of the end product of global income. By the existing world Trade Organisation (WTO) framework, the Free Movement of Goods globally, leads to the dumping unto African markets, cheap products of all kinds. The results is that infant industries are adversely affected. Notably, industrialisation was not achieved in any nation without Protectionist Measures to protect local infant industries.
Our fruits, for
example, need to be applied to processing into juices and vegetables
into pasters, so as to avoid the glut in peak seasons and import in lean
seasons. Before local industry can compete, it must be protected from
cheap brands dumped from a number of nations.
Hence, there is a dilemma here. Our produce can only be translated into finished products if we can avoid competition by a new global economic paradigm.
Sometime ago, Ghana was compelled by protestation from the USA when it attempted to protect the production of chicken in Ghana through special tariffs. Steps must be taken globally to liberate us from this dilemma.
Our president is vigorously pursuing a policy of One District One Factory (1D1F) and one Village one Dam in the Northern part of Ghana. It is fresh and viable economic policy to produce for the local market. Nevertheless, the end product needs protection at the initial stages if the emerging factories should stand. This is the dilemma.
In Ghana, we have abundant gold, diamond, bauxite, manganese, timber, oil, cocoa etc. The world needs a new partnership agreement which will be fair, just, equitable for these resources to be applied in a way that will bring maximum benefit to all the parties.
How much does Africa really benefit from its oil? Royalties levels are so low that they are about 5% of what is paid by explorers to African nations. No wonder the vicious cycle of poverty is not ended. A Global Marshall Plan is needed by the International Community to provide for Africa.
At the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo spoke about the damning report of a panel on the illicit flow of funds from Africa. The Panel which was chaired by the former President of South Africa, Mr. Sam Mbeki, revealed that over $50 billion gets syphoned out of Africa unaccounted yearly! Chana’s President charged the World to join hands and help stop the “rape of Africa”.
Ghana’s President today talks about “Ghana Beyond Aid”. Will the world be able to devise a new order of cooperation and economic partnership which will provide a new enablement in Africa?
By global treaties and a redefinition of the current order we need a New Economic Paradigm. This will encompass:
❖ Laws which promote global justice and equality.
❖ Laws which positively impact on poverty, misery and disease.
❖ Laws which promote equality and due consideration to all among the comity of nations.
❖ Laws which essentially promote an equilibrium of enablement for the upliftment and benefit of all nations.
❖ In short, treaties of economic justice which re-align the global economy, its management and ensuring equitable development.
Once this economic liberation is delivered, women empowerment, health, education, poverty, misery, disease and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals will follow automatically.