Ghana’s Divided Parliament Failed to Meet Public Expectations

Ghana's Divided Parliament Failed To Meet Public Expectations
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Despite bold efforts to rein in the executive, the Eighth Parliament failed to follow through on the most important moment.

Since the start of the Fourth Republic in 1992, the Ghanaian Parliament has been dominated by members of the ruling party. In 2020, that changed when – for the first time in the country’s history – the two main political parties won an equal number of seats, with one seat going to an independent candidate.

In this divided parliament, neither the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) nor the opposition National Democratic Congress had a majority. The independent candidate (who had previously held the same seat on behalf of the NPP) pledged to do business with his former party, giving the ruling party a narrow majority.

Many Ghanaians hoped that this unprecedented balance would allow parliament to check excessive control of the executive and assert its authority on behalf of the people, preventing dubious appointments, agreements and laws. It was widely expected that Parliament would not be a mere buffer of executive policies as before, especially after the Speaker was elected to the main opposition party – another first for Ghana.

Also, most homes committees, including the nominating and business commissions, were made up of equal numbers of majority and minority parties. Minorities held up these victories as proof of their ability to ensure accountability, assuring Ghanaians that the ruling party would have no say at the plenum or committee level.

Ghanaians hoped that this unprecedented balance would allow Parliament to check the excessive control of the executive

However, after two years of a divided Parliament, these expectations do not appear to have been met. There have been glimpses of parliament holding firm on oversight of the executive. It has sometimes rejected loan applications for a variety of reasons, including lack of accountability, unsustainable debt levels and lack of quorum. A good example was the rejection a budget of €116 million for the redevelopment of the Accra International Conference Centre, among others, during the process of adopting the 2023 budget.

But despite these glimmers of hope, parliament has often failed to resist executive power over national decisions, often to the detriment of the well-being of Ghanaians.

The first failure occurred during the selection of ministers for the second term (2021-24) of the outgoing government. Minority members of the audit committee rejected three ministerial nominees – who they said had underperformed in their first term – and postponed the approval of five others until they reappeared before the committee for additional questioning. In the end, rejected and deferred applicants were approved in plenary after some minority MPs voted in their favour.

The second major setback concerns the introduction of the electronic transaction tax (e-levy) in the 2022 budget. The levy proposed a 1.75% levy on electronic transactions above GHS 100. Over 75% of Ghanaians disapproved of the tariff. The minority in Parliament, with overwhelming support from civil society and the general public, opposed the tax and assured Ghanaians that it would not pass.

The average Ghanaian MP misses one in four sittings

As a result, for the first time under the Fourth Republic, the 2022 budget was initially rejected by Parliament. However, the majority later overruled the rejection and approved the budget, along with the unpopular electronic levy. After a minority walkout, the levy was reduced to 1.5% (although it has now been revised to GHS100). The decision to stand down was widely criticized by the public, who hoped the minority would use their proportional influence to fight to the end.

Another disappointment was Parliament’s inability to deal with absenteeism – a scourge of the country’s multi-party democracy. Most members are usually away or arrive late, medium The member misses one session out of four. Some jump up to three out of four.

An attempt to expel those who miss more than the 15 constitutionally mandated parliamentary sessions without permission came to nothing. Some MPs invoked the Standing Orders of Parliament to declare absentee seats vacant. The decision was referred to the Privileges Committee, whereupon the Speaker decided that the committee’s report should be adopted and debated in plenary for decision. But to date, no decision has been made.

Additionally, Parliament’s failure to remove Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta – who many believe should be sacked because of the country’s economic woes – has been seen as a failure. Despite calls from Ghanaians for the minister to resign or be fired, he and the president have blatantly ignored these demands.

Parliament has failed to oversee the spending of public funds to ensure they are used properly

Parliament took a bold step when 98 MPs from the ruling party called the president to fire the minister, otherwise they would boycott all government business. After their party intervened, however, they backtracked, saying there was an acceptable roadmap to remove Ofori-Atta. At the same time, minority deputies launched a motion of censure to dismiss him. The motion was lost after a boycott by majority MPs prevented reaching the constitutional two-thirds threshold.

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Finally, Ghana’s eighth parliament has failed to monitor the expenditure of public funds to ensure that they are used for the intended purpose. The Auditor General is responsible for auditing all public accounts and reporting to Parliament within six months of the end of the financial year, drawing attention to irregularities.

The Auditor General 2021 report reported a total of GHS 17.4 billion (about $3 billion) in financial irregularities. Parliament should act on those findings through the public accounts committee and work with the Auditor General to get the money back. It must hold the appropriate authorities to account, order the reimbursement of embezzled money, and withhold other allocations from institutions that cannot reasonably explain the discrepancies. Instead, offenses continue to be committed with minimal repercussions.

Clearly, Parliament has failed to live up to expectations – failing to deliver on its promises at times when it mattered most to control the executive. The minority, in particular, seem to be losing a great opportunity to exploit their proportional influence in the House to call on the ruling party to book. The Eighth Parliament must redouble its efforts to win the confidence of Ghanaians in the remaining two years.

Enoch Randy Aikins, Researcher, African Futures and Innovation, ISS Pretoria