In 1991, Ghanaians voted in a referendum to approve the 1992 Constitution and return the country to civilian and democratic rule after ten years of military dictatorship. Military interventions of 1966, 1972 and 1981 have been documented as rebellions that disrupted the legitimate constitutional order and reversed both the democratic and economic gains of the time.
The 1981 coup interrupted a peaceful democratic process that emerged from the chaotic events of 1979. The expectations of many Ghanaians were that the 1979 coup-makers would keep their promise to protect the democratic process they initiated in 1981. The 1981 coup more than anything curbed our collective freedom of speech and movement and imposed several years of economic hardship through night curfews.
Perhaps it was through this period of curfew that Ghana’s economy suffered its worst economic reversals. Small wonder that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund steered Ghana’s economy on a tight road of Structural Adjustment and Economic Recovery Programmes. The outcomes of their interventions were a weakened manufacturing sector and an unbridled trade liberalisation policy that opened our market to foreign goods.
Return to democracy
It was against this background that Ghanaians advocated for a return to democratic rule. The overwhelming endorsement of the 1992 Constitution through a referendum proved that Ghanaians were tired of military dictatorship and the consequent human rights abuses and culture of silence. During the first general elections, the opposition decried the lack of a level field for free and fair elections and boycotted the parliamentary elections, which were held on a separate day.
This paved the way for the National Democratic Congress formed by the military junta of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) to win an overwhelming majority in Parliament. With hindsight, many analysts think the opposition, led by the New Patriotic Party (NPP), erred by boycotting the parliamentary poll after committing to the presidential poll. That decision cost our young democracy a lot of balance and insightful debate, as the House became one-sided and viewed everything from the lenses of the ruling NDC.
However, it is worth noting that from scratch the PNDC and its adherents were never enthused about the democratisation process. But the wind of change in favour of democratisation compelled them to cave-in to international pressure. Jerry Rawlings on the record described democracy as a “useless piece of paperwork”. Rawlings’ outbursts indicated that it was painful for the junta to relinquish their unconstitutional hold on power in favour of majority rule and democracy.
That said, from 1996 to 2020 Parliament appeared more balanced – though with clear majorities for the parties that won the presidential elections. This meant that successive governments since 1992 had cooperative and collaborative working relationships with the executive, for better or for worse. It is on record that some Parliamentary decisions in the past led to dubious loan deals that saddled the taxpayer with more debt.
Despite its limitations, liberal democracy is still considered as a standard model for any democratic system. Democratisation connotes a political change from a less competitive election to fuller elections, from severely restricted to better protected civil and political rights etc. From different contexts, democratisation involves actions, choices and initiatives of persons and groups which combine the elements of agency. Agency translates to a group of people given the mandate to make decisions for the common good of the people they are representing.
In short, a parliamentary democracy is a system of government in which citizens elect representatives to a legislative parliament to make the necessary laws and decisions for the country. According to Wikipedia, parliamentary democracy is a system of democratic governance whereby the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the support of the legislature – typically a Parliament, to which it is accountable. Though this accountability is ideal, Ghana’s hybrid system of both Parliamentary and Presidential systems in a way makes Parliament more subservient to the Executive. This notwithstanding, since 1992 Ghana has made inroads with democratisation, with the office of the Speaker being the authoritative symbol of Parliament.
Office of the Speaker
For a reminder, the office of the Speaker was first created in the then Gold Coast, under the Gold Coast (Constitution) Order in Council, 1950. Since then, all Constitutions have provided for election of the Speaker of the Legislature. The Fourth Republic Constitution provides that the Speaker shall preside in Parliament at all Sittings, and in his/her absence a Deputy-Speaker.
In the discharge of his/her responsibilities, the Speaker is “expected to be impartial, and does not take part in debate on the floor of the House”. Note that emphasis is on the ‘impartiality of the Speaker’. This means that no matter which party the Speaker aligns with, he/she must exercise considerable influence in ‘forging consensus’ on major issues, while ‘fairly and firmly’ enforcing order and consistently applying the established practices of the House.
Speakers under the 4th Republic
- Hon. Justice Daniel Francis Annan (7th January 1993 – 6th January 2001)
- Hon. Peter Ala Adjetey (7th January 2001 – 6th January 2005)
- Hon. Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi Hughes (7th January 2005 – 6th January 2009)
- Hon. Justice Joyce Adeline Bamford-Addo (7th January 2009 – 6th January 2013)
- Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho (7th January 2013 – 6th January 2017)
- Hon. Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye (7th January 2017 – to 6th January 2021)
- Hon. Alban Kingsford Sumana Bagbin (7th January 2021 – to date).
The Speaker is one of the three highest officers of the State, ranking third in the official order of precedence after the President and Vice President. The current Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Honourable Alban Sumana Bagbin, has consistently referred to his revered status as the third most important office-holder in Ghana apart from the President and Vice President. This is the dignity that accompanies the office of the Speaker, and for which his conduct must be consistent with the status of the office.
Parliaments have come and gone and Speakers have come and gone, with various levels of success and dignity; however, the current Parliament under the leadership of Honourable Alban Bagbin is fast earning a bad image as a critical state institution. The current Parliament laid a shaky foundation on the eve of January 7th, 2021, when the Speaker had to be elected as a prelude to the swearing-in of the President and Vice President elect.
On that day, Parliament descended into a state of nature wherein our legislators took the law into their own hands, exchanged blows and engaged in ballot-snatching. The incident shocked many Ghanaians, including children who for the first time saw adults – no less than our elected Members of Parliament – openly exchanging blows. Well-meaning Ghanaians (including chiefs and religious leaders) expressed their revulsion against such undignified conduct, and passionately appealed for the MPs to never again tarnish the image of Ghana in the manner they did on January 7th, 2021.
In fact, I was one of several Ghanaians who expressed delight and optimism on the appointment of Mr. Alban Sumana Bagbin as Speaker of Parliament through consensus. I had expressed joy that apart from the president, the number-two and three top ranking public officials are from the north. I was also hopeful that the Speaker, Alban Bagbin, would rise to the occasion and uphold the oath he swore to protect the sanctity of Parliament.
However, the Speaker appears rather more intent on celebrating his number-three status than living up to it. A few weeks to reading of the 2022 Budget, Honourable Bagbin was reported in the media as saying that he had the power to impeach the president, but the president has no such power to remove him from office. As to how this jostling for recognition is serving the public interest is unfathomable.
In a previous article wherein I analysed implications of the supposed rejection of the budget by the minority, I raised the stakes on the strategic role of leadership in every endeavour. I quoted international bestseller John Maxwell saying that “everything rises and falls with leadership”. Arguably, many Ghanaians have laid the blame for the two incidents in Parliament during November and December 2021 at the doorstep of Honourable Bagbin.
Many Ghanaians are disappointed that when duty called, the Speaker opted to embark on a health tourism trip to Dubai and left a chaotic and divided Parliament in his trail. When he returned from the 21-day health tour, he assured Ghanaians that he would not preside over a Parliament that disrupts government business; neither would he preside over a Parliament that does the bidding of government. Well said, Mr. Speaker; but I think your utterances are somehow pregnant, considering the Speaker’s non-partisan role as stipulated by Parliamentary regulations.
I shuddered when I heard the Majority Leader, Honourable Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, on radio accusing the Honourable Speaker of demanding GH¢1.72billion budgetary allocation to Parliament Service as a condition for the budget to be approved. If true, the amount the Speaker is requesting translates to 2% of the overall national revenue for 2022. The Majority Leader further alluded to the Speaker’s reminder to the Finance Minister, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, that the 2022 Budget will suffer a similar fate his late father, Dr. Jones Ofori-Atta, subjected the 1980 Budget of the People’s National Party (PNP) to.
The PNP government of the Third Republic was led by Dr. Hilla Limann, who hailed from the Upper West Region – the same as the current Speaker, Alban Sumana Bagbin. In toeing this line, is the Speaker settling scores on behalf of Dr. Hilla Limann through making Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta pay for the sins of his father? Honourable Bagbin needs to be reminded that it was his own political antecedent (PNDC) that overthrew the PNP government in 1981. So, Dr. Hilla Limann – who was reduced to a pauper till his death – does not need anyone from the PNDC line to fight for him. Allow him to rest in peace.
The Majority Leader also questioned the mindset of the Speaker of Parliament in pursuing his current stance against the budget. Like the Majority leader, many Ghanaians are questioning whether there is a hidden agenda to set the country on the path of instability. Inevitably, it appears that while Mr. Alban Bagbin may be engaging Ken Ofori-Atta in a tit-for-tat, the economy will be the ultimate loser.
As indicated earlier, my expectation was that what happened on January 7, 2021 would never recur. Unfortunately, on December 17, 2021, Parliament again descended into the gutter. Once more, the chaos started when the Speaker vacated his seat – ahead of a decisive vote on the E-levy. His decision to vacate the seat, whether planned or unplanned, triggered the disgraceful conduct of our Members of Parliament – to the point of one MP slashing the Minister of Sports, Honourable Mustapha Ussif, with a razor blade.
It is unclear why an MP went to Parliament with an offensive weapon, but that disgraceful act must have been premediated. I have monitored international media coverage of the two-consecutive incidents of violence in Parliament. Sadly, Ghana’s image has been battered. In fact, the harm done our collective brand as a peaceful country and torchbearer of African democracy is irreparable.
Political violence as a culture dates to the struggle for independence and after independence. Pre-independence political violence took the form of boycotts of European shops and goods. Post-independence violence, however, took the form of bomb-attacks on political convoys. Political violence intensified during the military rules of 1979 and 1981, when perceived opponents or dissidents to the PNDC were arbitrarily arrested or detained.
Sadly, political violence appears to be an entrenched strategy for the NDC leaders and supporters. Mr. John Dramani Mahama, former president and presidential candidate of the NDC in the 2020 election, is on record as stating that: “When it comes to unleashing violence, the NDC has a better record than the NPP”. That was a terrible statement, which should have been roundly condemned.
In fact, the founding fathers of the NDC should have distanced the party from that statement. Their silence on the statement may suggest that the NDC subscribes to the culture of violence as part of their ideology. Undoubtedly, the dimension political violence has taken in contemporary Ghanaian politics is not only alien to Ghanaian culture, but also defeats the very purpose of parliamentary democracy – which thrives on well-researched and insightful debates and consensus.
As things stand now, the Speaker of Parliament and the Minority Caucus, led by Honourable Haruna Iddrisu and Honourable Mubarak Muntaka, need to do a sober reflection of their leadership thus far – or else the current Parliament of the Fourth Republic might go down as the most rancorous and rudderless in our democratisation process. My humble advice is that the Speaker and the Minority Caucus need to revise their strategy for the sake of national stability and economic development.