Lately, allegations of corruption have become rife in our country. Evidence too. The furore surrounding the scandal that rocked the judiciary is yet to quieten now. There has also been mention of the legislature being involved in corrupt practices. No doubt, these tend to weaken our democratic structures and reduce whatever trust the citizenry may have in our governance structures. It is an undeniable fact that there is a need to drastically reduce, if not totally eradicate, the menace of corruption from the country.
The question though is how to maintain the dignity and sanctity of these key institutions in our quest to publicly name and shame individuals who occupy key positions in these institutions and who engage in such behavior.
For the past week, both traditional and social media have been awash with reports of corruption in Parliament. While Parliament does not seek to condone such behavior, there is a growing concern about maintaining the dignity of the institution and Members of Parliament who are of high repute.
As the legislative arm of government, Parliament makes laws. This is done by scrutinizing memoranda to bills, usually emanating from the Executive. Once the bill hits Parliament, it goes through a first reading, at which stage the bill is said to have been laid before Parliament and is then referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker. Memos and contributions are invited from the general public to add or take away from legislation that has been referred to a committee for scrutiny. The general public and technocrats, stakeholders, experts and groups interested in contributing to the particular legislation are invited for their input at this stage.
Once the committee finishes its work, the bill is brought to plenary for a second reading during which the principles of the bill are debated. The bill is then taken through the consideration stage where the it is put under a microscope and dissected clause by clause. Where members are not happy with the bill, the Speaker directs for the bill to go through a second consideration stage. Once all are satisfied, the bill is read for the third time then forwarded to the executive arm of government for presidential assent which makes the bill an act, i.e. law.
Those wanting to have an input in a particular legislation are expected to respond to the invitations for memos when they are placed in the papers, come to Parliament and discourse with the relevant committees. This way their ideas could be incorporated into the new bill.
Other duties that members perform include oversight of ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). These sometimes include physical inspection of projects. Statements on the floor of the House are another crucial duty of members.
Members are able through this channel to bring public attention to issues and set the agenda for change through same. In other democracies, lobby agencies are known to lobby members to champion their interests.
Here in Ghana, those outside Parliament could identify key members of the House and channel their concerns through these MPs. Approval of loan agreement is another crucial role that Parliament plays. There have been many discussions on these duties and how members perform these duties.
The issue here is that is it possible to influence the process? Some people have claimed that there is. I do not doubt this assertion. But the question is that, do members of Parliament take bribes during such processes? Again, some people have claimed that members do. This, I cannot verify.
In any case, it is not as if some members have not come under scrutiny. There have been circumstances where some members have had to answer certain queries but frankly, these have been the exception rather than the rule. Again, having to answer questions on issues does not make one culpable of anything.
In fact it will be hypocritical of anyone to say that some members have not engaged in corrupt activities. The problem here is when the entire membership of the house is lumped together and utterances, instead of aiming at improving our democracy rather seek or are perceived to bring the name of the institution into disrepute.
Parliament’s position is that anyone who has information to that effect should come out clearly with names in order to avoid drawing innocent members and indeed, the whole Parliament into muddy waters when it can be easily avoided.
The two leaders of the house have variously condemned corruption and have gone further to insist that anyone who has evidence of any corrupt act by any member should bring evidence of same. The Speaker of the House himself has also spoken on numerous occasions on the need to eschew corruption from our legislature.
As an institution, Parliament has measures in place that check not just corrupt, but undesirable behavior of its members, and the members have not been shy to speak up about the need to deal with corruption in the legislature.
Members whose behaviors are suspected/ alleged to be un-parliamentary are hauled before the Privileges Committee, as are members of the general public. The Privileges Committee is mandated to inquire into any complaint of contempt of parliament or any matter of privilege, which may be referred to it. Matters are referred to the Committee by the Speaker when a Member raises an issue.
The erroneous impression has however been created that the privileges committee seeks mainly to gag citizens who criticize parliament and its members. That is far from the case. In the event of a matter being referred to the committee, the committee invites individuals or persons who may be involved in the particular matter to answer questions regarding the matter in question. So far, individuals who have appeared before the committee has only receive a wrist slapping from the House and have been left off the hook.
This does not negate the fact that these people could actually sanction provisions for which are made in the 1992 Constitution.
Clearly, the objective of the privileges committee is not to intimidate anyone. It is mainly a fact finding group that seeks to remedy wrongs that may bring Parliament into disrepute. Being the main fulcrum of our democracy, it is imperative that we all collectively work towards the maintenance of a sustainable, respectable Parliament.
This can be achieved by parliament itself practicing and projecting high moral standards and citizens respecting the dignity and sanctity of Parliament.