Parliament Is Rubber Stamp’

THE HEAD of History and Political Studies Department of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Dr Richard Amoako Baa, has called for change of the 1992 Republican Constitution as it contains many flaws that give room for individual discretion. According to him, the current constitution harbours several ambiguities, which have concentrated power in the hands of the executive branch at the expense of other branches of government. This, he noted, had reduced Parliament – which has an oversight responsibility on the executive –to a rubber stamp by virtue of its dependency on the executive for funding of its budgets and other resources. In an article to DAILY GUIDE for publication, the university don noted that a good constitution does not only speak to the demands of the moment, but must also envisage possibilities that are likely to arise later. He said Ghana’s political dynamics had made its legislatures prone to intense divisions and acrimony which sometimes threaten the very development of the nation. Dr Baa argued that lack of funding for political campaigns meant that aspiring legislators owed their electoral success to certain patrons in their party and “this patronage makes it virtually impossible to produce independent minded legislators who have the good of the nation at heart.” He said in many instances, parliamentary democracy in developing nations had eventually been reduced to a four year cycle of virtual dictatorship since the executive often comes to dominate the legislature. “When that happens, parliament becomes a rubber stamp parliament since the fortunes of the majority party members are tied to the success or demise of the executive,” he pointed. For him, Ghana’s choice of the hybrid system where ministers are chosen from Parliament had contributed to the intense partisanship as parliamentarians compete for ministerial positions, and therefore willing to go to great lengths to defend every decision by the executive. “Once appointed to this dual office of executive/legislator, the parliamentarian comes to see himself or herself not just as a member of the executive and the ruling party, but as the frontline personnel to defend the government.” He said this further had reduced the legislator’s sense of identity as a lawmaker, asserting that Article 108 of the Constitution bars Parliament from initiating a bill on its own. The political scientist believes when ministers are picked from Parliament, the constitutional principle of separation of powers is violated. To him, the principle is a constitutional mechanism designed to ensure accountability, transparency and the preservation of administrative autonomy from the other arms of government. “When legislators, who are supposed to supervise the executive branch to ensure transparency, accountability, and sometime prudence in policy choices are also the same people who initiate and implement policies, checks and balances no longer exist,” he noted. Dr Amoako Baa indicated that the violation of separation of powers does not only create a conflict of interest situation on the part of the legislators, but it also defeats the purpose it was designed for. When a parliament becomes a rubber stamp parliament, he says it loses its integrity in exercising its oversight responsibility, noting, “Even a flagrant violation of law by the executive is defended by supporters in Parliament.” In his view, direct answer to the avoidance of rubber stamp parliament lied in its adherence to the principle of separation of powers as contained in the constitution, suggesting that the immediate solution to this problem was the constitutional principle of ‘trigger mechanism’. He explained that the ‘trigger mechanism’ as a constitutional procedure that is based on the principle of ‘lesser of two evils’. Provisions are made in law which force legislators to pick the lesser of two evils from their own perspective. Failure to do so in a timely manner allows the opposing side to unilaterally decide, which may result in a decision even less favourable. “The principles of ‘trigger mechanism’ and ‘lesser of two evils’ are applied in the special prosecutor where the President is not from the majority party in Parliament,” he cited.