Constitution Day: Citizens Must Get Involved In Consolidating Our Democracy – Prof. Attafuah

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As Ghana celebrates Constitution Day, much is  expected from both duty bearers and citizens on how to consolidate the growing constitutional democracy the country is enjoying which has become the envy of many countries across the globe.

Interestingly, the role of Parliament is considered paramount in achieving this goal.

In 2006, during the Parliamentary Week Celebrations,  Prof. Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah, then an Associate Professor of Leadership and Governance at the Graduate School of Leadership and Public Management of the Ghana Institute of Management & Public Administration (GIMPA), at a symposium organised by the Parliament of Ghana gave a touching speech which is relevant today as the country celebrates its Constitution Day.

Speaking on the theme; “Parliament, The Bastion of Constitutional Democracy: Effecting a Meaningful Relationship With the Citizenry,” he said it is the responsibility of citizens to address the problems that frustrate, frighten or distance them from one another and that when citizens get involved and organized, they achieve progress.

Meanwhile, he said Parliament on the other hand, has a responsibility to foster a sense of public spiritedness in every Ghanaian since “good and effective citizenship do not come about naturally or by chance either; they require preparation. To better engage with the citizenry and enhance their relevance in contemporary Ghana, MPs must consider making it their business to ensure that “Preparation for Citizenship” is incorporated in every level of our formal education.”

He said Parliamentarians must give due recognition to the vital role of civil society in preserving and strengthening democracy in Ghana.

According to Prof. Attafuah, Parliament needs a strong partnership from both sides and that should reflect an enduring image of our Parliament.

The recent incident in Parliament where the Minority and the Majority virtually fight over the E-levy, is nothing but an indication of a breakdown in such partnership and collaboration towards a common good of the country.

According to Prof. Attafuah the incidents highlighting partisanship are probably few and far between, by their ferocity and widespread media coverage, they serve to provide a caricature of parliamentary discourses, and what crystallizes in the public consciousness is not the occasional failure of the House to achieve compromise, but rather the image of perennial partisanship.

He urged strong collaboration between civil society and Parliament so as to build a strong but humane society.

“In short, let them work together to ensure security, comfort and freedom.

In this 2006 seminal lecture, he highlighted the respective obligations of Parliament and the citizenry in quickening “the sense of public duty” and transmitting to the next generation of Ghanaian a nation “not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us”.

Prof. Attafuah condemned thepit-bull partisanship” that had become an enduring image of our Parliament and that insults the intelligence and sense of decency and fairness of the discerning observer of Parliamentary proceedings and their subsequent media coverage.  He invited MPs to “individually and collectively …win and retain the respect of the citizenry by “moderating the incidence, frequency and fire of partisanship in the House … improving the quality of civility in Parliamentary debates and discourses … promoting civility and lawfulness in the wider society, including the promotion of civic journalism”, and promoting civic engagement”.

In addition, Prof. Attafuah outlined several strategies for strengthening the role of Parliament in Ghana’s democracy, and emphasized the crucial need for MPs to maintain relevance and to push the frontiers of participatory democracy. He reminded MPs of their duty to the electorate to be the best public officers in their respective constituencies, charging them to evince a solid commitment to public service and good governance through the ordinary principles of public service, including integrity, devotion to duty, efficiency, punctuality, courtesy, neutrality in public service delivery, impartiality, and attentiveness and sensitivity to the needs of the diverse publics they serve.

Prof. Attafuah also shared several thoughts on how to grapple with the challenge of building an effective Parliament and to strengthen constitutionalism in Ghana.

Prof. Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah is currently the Executive Secretary of the National Identification Authority(NIA).

Below is the full Address he delivered:

2006 Parliamentary Week Celebrations

Symposium

 Organized By Parliament of the Republic of Ghana On“Parliament, The Bastion of Constitutional Democracy: Effecting a Meaningful Relationship With the Citizenry”

Notes for Speech

By Prof. Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah, Ph.D. Barrister & Solicitor

Associate Professor of Leadership and Governance Graduate School of Leadership and Public Management Ghana Institute of Management & Public Administration (GIMPA), Greenhill, Accra

Date: 16th January 2006

Venue: British Council Hall, Accra

“Parliament: The Bastion of Constitutional Democracy: Effecting a Meaningful Relationship With the Citizenry”

“We think about how dependent the public is on good government… but we lose sight of how much good government needs a good public   — David Mathews

The Rt. Honourable Speaker of Parliament and Chairman, Mr. Begyina Sekyi-Hughes

Members of the Council of State

Honourable Ministers of State

Members of Parliament

Nii Mei, naa mei

Leaders and representatives of various political parties

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Your Excellencies

Journalists and students

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

Permit me to begin with three preliminaries. First, I want to register my profound gratitude to the leadership of Parliament, including the Parliamentary Service, for this rare and fine opportunity to address the House outside the House through this Symposium that starts this year’s Parliamentary Week Celebration. On a personal level, this is my last public speaking engagement before I leave the country for my new assignment as the UN’s International Technical Advisor to, and Member of, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, as the Rt. Hon. Speaker informed you in his introductory remarks. Second, and in this regard, I am particularly happy that the focus of the symposium is how to deepen civic engagement between Parliament and civil society in order to invigorate the capacity of Parliament as the bastion of constitutional democracy in our beloved country. Third, I take for granted the validity of the presupposition that Parliament is the bastion of constitutional democracy. While the judiciary and “civil society” are critical defenders of constitutional democracy and constitutionalism, the centrality of the role of Parliament – the elected representatives of the people in whom the legislative power of Ghana is vested – is indubitable in this all-important enterprise. The focus of my remarks then is on how Parliament can effect a meaningful relationship with the citizenry, and to some extent, the reverse.

 

On any fine day in a constitutional democracy, the relationship between the law maker and the citizenry is a dynamic one involving a two-way street of lobbying and advocacy, coaxing and cozying-up together, irritation and annoyance, confrontation and consultation, confusion and consensus, and hatred and love. The power to elect a politician as a Parliamentarian to represent a community, or to vote a parliamentarian out of office, is always a delicious one exercised by the citizenry in appreciation or in sweet vengeance.

 

And these, Mr. Speaker, are two of the most delightful human pleasures: to glorify a person with sweet victory, to confer power on them and to salute them with a warm welcome because we appreciate and love them, or to dismiss the person from office because we loath them or despise their performance. Of course, there are a number of middle-ground pleasures and motives for electing persons into, or voting them out of, political office. But the thrilling and energizing power of periodically becoming a king-maker, every four years or so in our country, and of holding elected representatives to account, is a power coveted by those living under a dictatorship. In the Province of British Columbia, Canada, this power once found expression, in the early 1990s, in the passage of legislation entitling the constituents to recall, at any time before the next general elections, an incompetent Member of the Legislative Assembly with the signatures of 60% of the constituents who voted in the last elections!

 

On the other hand, many a Parliamentarian views the citizenry as largely docile, impressionable and sufficiently gullible enough to persuade with promises in exchange for votes. They view many party functionaries with suspicion, seeing them as persons waiting in the winds for the next rich contestant to emerge on the political scene.

 

As far back as 1777, the renown English political philosopher, Thomas Paine, advised that “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it”.  The responsibility for supporting the freedom enterprise rests with the citizenry. The Akans of this country say that “Se adehyee anko a, nkoa dwane”. In literal terms, this means that “when royals cease fighting, slaves flee” (i.e., when royal warriors slack in war, slave warriors desert the military campaign). Citizens are the beneficiaries of the dividends of citizenship and democracy, and it is they who bear the burden, preferably, though not necessarily, through the instrumentality of civil society organizations, of undergoing the fatigue in support of the democratic state.

 

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, it is the responsibility of citizens to address the problems that frustrate, frighten or distance them from one another. Contemporary history is replete with examples of the triumph of civil society over political and social problems, including governmental ineptitude, alienation and crime. The evidence is increasingly clear that when citizens get involved and organized, they achieve progress. Research after research confirms that even the terror of crime yields to organized citizen outrage and action.

 

That, Mr. Speaker, is what the citizens of the Italian city of Palermo, Sicily, did when, led by the civic initiative of their women, they took back their city in the last quarter of the last century from feeble municipal politicians and the terrorist control of the Mafia and the anarchic violence and extra-judicial killings and maiming to which the ordinary people had been subjected for so painfully long. With white banners and white bed-sheets hanging from the banisters and railings of their balconies, they washed the flowing blood of the city in white, and their kids saved a penny each a day from their school lunch money and used the proceeds to restore the ruins of the abandoned and dilapidated temples to their past glory. They sent away the Godfather and brought back to the courtrooms the blindfolded woman with the scales of justice in her hands, and they returned Sicily to its legendary tourist status.

 

As many of us probably know, Mr. Speaker, Palermo is the birthplace of Civitas, the great international consortium of civic educators committed to the promotion of citizenship, democracy and human rights education around the world! And, Mr. Speaker, I still think Palermo is the second most beautiful city in the world after Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where “Take-back-the-night campaigns” by women have pushed prostitution away from residential neighborhoods where kids live and play, and, thereby, restored community safety, pride and dignity, along with property values!

 

Thus, it is no longer tolerable today for communities to fail to organize themselves to confront the menace of crime and drugs, instead of expecting the police alone to take the fight to the criminals. Yet, this is not a call for vigilantism, but rather for properly organized, police-supervised community policing and Neighbourhood Watch programmes in which citizen cooperation with, and tip-offs to, the police produce positive results in the fight against crime. Citizens in the many rich but socially-disorganized suburbs of our cities must wake up to their social responsibilities of building connected communities by, among other measures, organizing themselves, getting to know each other, pulling resources together to improve education, drainage and sanitation standards, enhance safety and security in our cities by getting police assistance in forming viable, professional and sustainable neighbourhood watch committees.

 

Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, there is simply no other way around the problem of crime in the neighbourhoods, unless these measures are pursued by the citizenry, working in tandem with their elected representatives at the district, municipal and national levels to improve day-care facilities, educational opportunities, stay-in-school programmes, and to provide avenues for viable employment and self-development for the youth. This is the challenge of citizenship, grass-root democracy and development in our country: articulating a vision for development and mobilizing the enduring support of the citizenry behind it. That is why, Mr. Speaker, despite their notable shortcomings, I miss the great Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong!

 

And yet, Mr. Speaker, when we look into history, we find copious examples of well-articulated visions of citizenship and development that failed woefully because the visionaries and the citizenry did not evince a demonstrated commitment to working to support and maintain the agenda for development. I think Athens provides us with the best example of the worst kind: In the Athenian Code is found the following:

 

“We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many: we will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty: we will transmit this city not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us”.

 

Lofty and attainable though these aspirations were, the Athenians failed to remain loyal to the noble purpose of citizenship, democracy and development. In “The Moral Foundations of Society, published in the Conservative Consensus, Seattle, Washington, 1995, p.2, former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, cites Edward Gibbon as noting that,

 

“In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life and they lost it all – security, comfort and freedom. … When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free”.

 

That, Mr. Speaker, is why President John Fitzgerald Kennedy throws that historic but timeless invitation to Americans (and us Ghanaians) to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country”! And then, I’ll say, “Proceed with it”!

 

Mr. Speaker, what is clear from studies of citizenship and patriotism is that a society comprising citizens who want to give of their best to the nation can have it all – security, comfort and freedom. These concepts have an intricate interrelationship. Security is the dividend citizens enjoy from committing themselves to the vigilance of serving and protecting the nation, and serving and protecting their communities, their homes and their workplaces. Security is about protecting the integrity of the state, the public good and private and public property. From that security comes all manner of freedoms, including the freedom to strive lawfully for the best in anything. For, as Cicero once observed, “Freedom is participation in power”, and, therefore, Mr. Speaker, those who have no power over their lives, those who are located outside the “centres of relevance” and the spheres of power, those who have no control over their own destinies, those who obey the tides and the waves and the winds like kites or feathers in the sky – those, in short, who do not participate in power, are not free! Such persons – and there are countless numbers of them in our society – are in bondage to irresponsible politicians and the captains of commerce and industry who can and do exploit them.

 

That freedom of enterprise, in turn, gives rise to comfort and comfort begets vigilance (or the duty to secure the state in both its material and ideational forms). That security deriving from vigilance is also freedom. In the absence of security and freedom, the head that wears the crown always lies uneasy.

 

Understanding the foregoing dynamic interrelationship between security, comfort and freedom, and striving in a balanced pursuit of them, is neither easy nor automatic. That, Mr. Speaker, is where Parliament enters the picture. As the elected representatives of the people, Parliament has a duty to assist the citizenry to appreciate that good citizenship is the anchor of security, comfort and freedom. And good citizenship demands commitment to what Professor Ali Mazrui calls the three “t’s” of training in nationhood: tolerance, toil and teamwork. These core cementing values hardly bear elaboration, for they are the obvious foundations of any cohesive, peaceful and prosperous society.

 

Building Effective Citizenship

 

Mr. Speaker, fostering a sense of public spiritedness in every Ghanaian should be a prime concern of every Parliamentarian. Good and effective citizenship do not come about naturally or by chance either; they require preparation. To better engage with the citizenry and enhance their relevance in contemporary Ghana, MPs must consider making it their business to ensure that “Preparation for Citizenship” is incorporated in every level of our formal education. They must give due recognition to the essential role of civil society in preserving and strengthening democracy in this country.

 

In this regard, it is important for Parliament to rediscover civic literacy as a national priority for all Ghanaians, and to support and collaborate with the Ghana Education Service, the National Commission for Civic Education, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, among others, in expanding the scale of civic knowledge, civic acceptance and civic behaviour in our dear land. Parliament, in short, must deepen the public focus on the link between effective societies and active and influential citizens.

 

Mr. Speaker, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen: it was Aristotle who said in 340 B.C. that, “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost”.  The obligation to share in the government to the utmost rests with the individual. However, in a largely preliterate society such as ours, government and the elected representatives of the people bear a duty to assist the citizenry in devising mechanisms to broaden the capacity of, and opportunity for, effective citizen participation in governance.

 

Elected leaders are generally well-placed to do this because, at minimum, they command the respect of the electorate (i.e., where they won the elections “freely and fairly” as assessed or perceived by the people, not just the “international community and expert observers”); they are “better educated” in the ways of the polis than the generality of the populace and appreciate the nature of the “public good” or the “common good”; they are the servants of the people and are often elected with the assurance that they can mobilize the resources and sentiments of the people and cement them for development. It is the duty of an MP to mobilize and mentor the constituents for progress and prosperity, which guarantee peace. MP = Mobilizer for Progress, Mobilizer for Peace!

 

And so, Mr. Speaker, there are a number of simple, practical things an MP can do to cultivate and engage the citizenry in achieving progress and peace. Helping to set up a community civic centre or to invigorate a local youth advocacy group, for example, is always a good start. Indeed, either of these “projects” serves to draw the people together, help them visualize development (which implies comparison with “conditions” external to them), and enables them to focus their energies internally for the common good. That, Mr. Speaker, is the essence of effective or good citizenship. But building effective citizenship requires that elected representatives of the people connect more deeply with the people, not necessarily more personally, but imperatively more usefully and more visibly.

 

Mr. Speaker: One of the essential preconditions for Parliamentary effectiveness is the deliberate cultivation of the respect of the citizenry. Among other purposes, the pomp and majesty of the parliamentary proceedings and the immunities and privileges enjoyed by MPs are all designed to secure the respect of the populace for the House. But respect for Parliament hinges on two fulcrums: the conduct of individual members, and the behavior of the House as a collective. The exercise of sound judgment, tact and diplomacy in one’s personal affairs – the manifestation of mature, disciplined and honorable conduct – is but the most elementary expectation of an honourable representative of the people, whether in New Drobo, New Edubiase, New Abirem, Newfoundland or New York.

 

Mr. Speaker, pit-bull partisanship is an enduring image of our Parliament. While the incidents highlighting partisanship are probably few and far between, by their ferocity and widespread media coverage, they serve to provide a caricature of parliamentary discourses, and what crystallizes in the public consciousness is not the occasional failure of the House to achieve compromise, but rather the image of perennial partisanship. Yet, it must be conceded that Ghana’s Parliament is not in a special league in regard to partisanship. Yet again, Mr. Speaker, the reality is that many a good citizen has often been dismayed by what seems so obviously wrong in our Parliament from time to time: rabid partisanship that insults the intelligence and sense of decency and fairness of the discerning observer of Parliamentary proceedings and their subsequent media coverage.

 

Individually and collectively, Mr. Speaker, MPs must win and retain the respect of the citizenry by:

 

Moderating the incidence, frequency and fire of partisanship in the House. While appreciating the centrality of the party in our liberal democracy, the citizenry will wholly welcome such a development.

 

Improving the quality of civility in Parliamentary debates and discourses by positively and purposively shifting the character and flavour of such deliberations from the occasional anger and petulance that, unfortunately, often gels in the minds of the public as the defining characteristic of Parliament, to the maturity that MPs often admonish student leaders to exhibit in dealing with schoolyard conflicts with their colleagues and superiors.

 

Promoting civility and lawfulness in the wider society, including the promotion of civic journalism.

 

Promoting civic engagement via the following:

 

Radio and television broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings

Establishing linkages with the electorate

Focusing state attention on innovative strategies for civic education

 

Strengthening Parliament

 

Mr. Speaker, while there are clear, historically well-grounded and understandable reasons for the situation whereby half of the members of the House are also members of the Government, the practice serves to weaken the legislature as the first arm of government. High levels of absenteeism of legislator-ministers serve to cripple the business of Parliament. In my view, it is a constitutional arrangement that urgently warrants a review.

 

Similarly, I think the idea of an MP’s Common fund, which promotes the idea of the MP as the bringer of material development, needs a careful review after twelve years of practice. The uncommon practice of giving a pittance to MPs to assist in the common good of their constituents appears to distort the reality of the role of the MP in the social and economic development of the country. The MP’s primary responsibilities of law-making, of ensuring executive oversight and accountability, of developing appropriate policy framework for the nation’s social development, and of mobilizing the collective sentiments, energies and resources of the constituents for progress, appear to be overwhelmed and overrun by the demand on the MP to directly and personally initiate, fund and facilitate “development projects” – to bring comfort and security to the people. While MPs complain that the money is woefully inadequate, the public believes, often without any credible empirical foundation, that MPs routinely embezzle or misapply huge chunks of their share of the common fund allotted for the common good. If this peculiar arrangement, borne out of a hasty compromise in balancing the role of the District Assembly with that of the MP in social development, is to be maintained, then the size of the fund per MP must be increased considerably. Alternatively, the pittance should be thrown into the coffers of the District Assembly and disbursed according as they see fit.

 

Maintaining Relevance and Pushing the Frontiers of Participatory Democracy

 

At minimum, each Parliamentarian owes a duty to the electorate to be the best public officer in his/her constituency. Public office holders, particularly MPs, must evince a solid commitment to public service and good governance through the ordinary principles of public service, including:

 

Integrity

Devotion to duty

Efficiency

Punctuality

Courtesy

Neutrality in service delivery

Impartiality, and

Attentiveness and sensitivity to the needs of diverse publics

 

Mr. Speaker, online campaigning, online activism, and online lobbying and advocacy are dependable methods of civic engagement in many parts of the modern world. They are among the commonest manifestations of the electronic democracy and electronic governance that are now a fact of life in many countries around the world. In nation after nation, Mr. Speaker, online political news, online citizens’ group discussions and online citizen dialogue with their elected representatives is a taken-for-granted reality.

 

In an age in which electronic governance and electronic democracy are rapidly taking root in many nations worldwide, it is embarrassingly anachronistic that our Parliamentarians still rely, almost exclusively, on face-to-face contact as the primary mode of interaction with their constituents. This, of course, is a reflection not only of our relative ICT backwardness and limited spread of ICT resources in general in our beloved country, but also of the limited levels of mastery of ICT, beyond the most rudimentary uses of the mobile phone, i.e., making calls, sending and reading text messages, and taking generally poor quality photographs and video shots. Indeed, very few of our people, including our MPs, even use the calculator function of their mobile equipment, which, in any event, often informs callers that it “is either switched off, or out of coverage area”!

 

Mr. Speaker, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen: It behooves Parliament to invigorate the national effort to expand the scale of citizen appreciation of the value of ICT, the spread of ICT, and the competent use of ICT in this country. In short, Parliament must assist the populace to meaningfully experience the totality of the emerging democratic tradition in our country. This goal can be accomplished through the following measures, among others:

 

Each Parliamentarian setting a personal goal to become ICT proficient within six months, acquiring and using a personal computer within 12 months

 

Establishing a non-partisan, first class ICT centre in his/her constituency office staffed with technicians without naked political character.

 

Institutionalization of e-governance and e-democracy

Towards An Effective Parliament

  1. Training

It is trite that in our system of government, long periods of majority government tend to reinforce executive dominance.  Power gravitates to the President and his key advisors at the expense of MPs.  Through periodic national elections and occasional by-elections, new members join the House. Both new and veteran MPs occasionally need new skills and new orientations to enable them better discharge the duties of their office.

  1. Time Management and ICT Literacy

MPs are often inundated with committee assignments, House duty, urgent requests from constituents, multiple invitations from lobbyists and interest groups, and trips to their constituencies. In these circumstances, MPs’ opportunities for civic engagement with their constituents may be gravely reduced. Yet, the ability to remain in contact with constituents is a fundamental requirement of MPs – before, during and after elections.

Mr. Chairman, while time is a fixed variable that cannot be increased, efficiencies can be increased in the use of time. A basic course in time management for all MPs is an obvious beginning, where they have not previously benefited from such training.

Mr. Speaker, there has been, in recent times, an upsurge in the modalities for engaging the citizenry in parliamentary democracy. In addition to traditional methods such as town-hall meetings, MPs today have a wealth of technology-based means to solicit the views of constituents: the use of mobile phones, faxes, e-mail and chat-lines. Yet there is no single tried-and-true method for legislators to engage Ghanaians effectively, owing to the poverty and limited spread of technological know-how, funds, and electronic equipment such as computers to support such possibilities. Compounding this uncertainty, MPs are faced with other challenges, including decreasing levels of voter turnout, growing alienation among young people, and extra-parliamentary processes such as citizens’ assemblies.

The Challenge of Building An Effective Parliament

Mr. Speaker, effective parliaments are dynamic, efficient, productive and relevant to the needs and aspirations of the citizenry. Effective parliaments command the respect of the citizenry. As a House, Parliament has a duty to win the respect of, and stay engaged with, the citizenry. The question, however, is: How can we cultivate a more effective parliament? This goal can be accomplished if each MP is effective, people-centered and results-oriented. It seems to me that the following are among the strategies that can be pursued to ensure that we have more effective members in an effective Parliament:

Offering inspirational leadership in their communities: Each Parliamentarian is a community leader, and they owe it to their constituents to demonstrate a fair understanding of their problems and a commitment to working together with them to explore and implement solutions in a manner that inspire trust and further community engagement.

Attending meetings of the District Assembly: For the “politicians” at the district level, your participation in the meetings of the Assembly is an index of your engagement with the locals.

Taking advantage of the expanding frontiers of e-democracy and e-government, as I have already outlined and elaborated on.

Learning to stay grounded: MPs must remember, the average tenure of a Parliamentarian is short; do not lose touch with family, friends, and former interests and occupations.

Choosing a few issues and specializing: Select two issues – one familiar and one completely new – and stick with them for the life of a parliament.  MPs who want to engage with the citizenry at large must spend time listening, learning and looking for ways to contribute to the House and the political process.  They must use committees both to impart and to gain knowledge on these issues.

Being careful not to overextend committee work:  Without focus, MPs can become easily diverted from their core activities by other needs and interests.

Being accurate and staying informed: MPs must remember that reputations can be ruined by sloppy work.  It is important to ensure that speeches and other public remarks are factually correct and well presented.

Seeking avenues outside politics to learn new ideas:  Attending conferences is one of the best ways to develop knowledge and expertise. As much as possible, an MP should prefer conferences to funerals; this is not only because the former brings knowledge (and with some luck some per diem) and the latter saps time and financial resources, but primarily because knowledge grants power in persuading, in motivating, in mobilizing, and in showing results. Constituents are more likely to vote for an MP who attends funerals infrequently but who meets with them to discuss their problems, and to assist in finding solutions to them. Of course, funerals are in themselves a great arena for showing support to family and friends in times of grief, if you can work out an efficient means of doing so without spending endless hours under baking canopies listening to extra-loud music that almost damages your tympanic membrane or ear drum!

Working on reaching your own goals:  As an MP, it is important to think about what you would like to accomplish while in the House and then budget enough time to enable you to fulfill your objectives. Remember that enormous pressures are placed on your time and energy, and constituents will understand if you are sincere in addressing their needs.

Learning the rules of the House: In parliamentary democracy, compromise is often the best strategy.  When compromise is not possible, turn to procedure and use the rules of the House to your advantage.

Consulting the Speaker and the Clerk: MPs must recognize their limitations and not hesitate to consult the Speaker when they face serious issues within their own party.  Of course, this will depend on the extent to which the Speaker runs the office with dignity, majesty and welcome. Generally speaking, Speakers are experienced parliamentarians who can offer sage counsel on a variety of political challenges.  When it comes to administrative matters such as staffing, MPs should feel free to consult the Clerk.

Understanding the mechanics and politics of caucus: Often, the most important debates are those that take place behind the closed doors of caucus.  It is important for MPs to take time to learn how to be effective in caucus, for effectiveness in the House is directly related to the ability to influence caucus.

Using constituencies as laboratories: Constituencies are laboratories to determine the effectiveness of government programs and services.  As such, MPs must take an active role in dealing with constituents’ concerns about programmes and service delivery.

Avoiding obsession with media coverage: It is extraordinarily difficult for backbenchers to receive widespread publicity unless they attack their leader or do something outrageous.  An MP must resist the temptation.  Whatever the media say, whatever critics say, whatever people from other political parties or affiliations might say, MPs are the key to democratic government.  Everything Members do – as legislators, representatives and committee members – has an impact on the House and the country.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, although Parliament is vibrant, it appears stale, boring and unknown. While the Hansard – the record of Parliamentary proceedings – is there to prove the vibrancy and diligence of the House in discharging its constitutional obligations, the widespread public disregard of, and cynicism toward, the House, except for the party loyalists and favour-seeking sycophants, prove the latter. Parliament must reinvent and reinvigorate itself, and fora/forums such as this one are, to use a common Ghanaianism, “a step in the right direction”.

 

It appears that, beyond its core business of legislating for the state, there is a decreasing relevance of the House to the national development agenda, and that Parliament is not widely perceived as being adequately proactive. This perception is an unfortunate one that derives, in my view, from an inadequate appreciation of the impact of the largely Executive Presidential system of government in our country – a presidential system that is a creature of our history and, of the 1992 Fourth Republican Constitution, and that is largely hegemonic and ubiquitous, no matter who operates the statecraft.

 

Even so, the electorate expects the House to provide sterling leadership in some key areas. Among these are:

 

Serving the interests of the constituent – monitoring government spending patterns, lending support to government where warranted and courageously exercising one’s freedom of conscience and duty to oppose what they do not believe in, following up on issues, and ensuring that the taxpayer gets good value for money spent on public officials and public projects;

 

Serving as an engine of social and economic development, and

 

Cementing or unifying the diverse blocs in the constituencies.

 

For many reasons, not all of our MPs succeed in meeting these legitimate expectations of their constituents. Some of the reasons are financial and logistical, while others relate to deficits in self-confidence, leadership, organizational competence and time management. Yet others are grounded in lack of vision, inability to articulate goals, to inspire a loyal but educated following, and to inspire others to embrace diversity and the new frontiers of change and relevance.

 

Mr. Speaker:

To those who lack, let them be given what they need – offices, personnel, library, computers, vehicles, etc.

 

To those who need, let them acquire the knowledge, skills and orientations necessary for effective statesmanship within the Parliamentary context.

 

To those who must supply the resources, let them get on with it, and get ready to account. For verily, verily I say unto you, the day of reckoning is always near!

 

Conclusion

 

Now, therefore, in conclusion, Mr. Speaker, let the citizenry hold their elected leaders to the stringent standards of accountability, but not with a “pull her down” mentality, but with a “love-of-country” orientation. And we must remember: accountability on radio, or what I call FM accountability, may be high-sounding and populist alright, but it is not necessarily effective accountability.

 

Let civil society and Parliament collaborate to build a strong but humane society. Let them cultivate, grow and expand the business sector and the middle class even as they work to reduce poverty, protect the environment and strengthen the capacity of the state to promote and ensure easy and inexpensive access to social services such as education, healthcare, and a viable pension scheme. In short, let them work together to ensure security, comfort and freedom.

 

And let the citizenry celebrate good service from their Parliamentarians just as the employer reveres the hardworking employee.

 

Mr. Speaker, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen: The note accompanying the invitation to me to speak at this symposium asked me to focus, among other things, on ways of deepening the relationship between Parliament and the citizenry. I hope that I have provided some useful suggestions on how this goal might be accomplished.

 

Mr. Speaker, I thank you, the august House and the Parliamentary Service for the honour of inviting me to address this symposium. Let us go out there and unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty; let us strive to transmit this country to posterity not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

Thank you once again.

Prof. Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah

No 8 Castle Road Ridge, Accra

Monday, 16th January 2006

 

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