Members of Parliament (MPs) are to begin initiating bills in Parliament using the Private Members Bill.
The Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Michael Oquaye, who disclosed this said the MPs would sponsor bills on social, health, illegal mining and other issues affecting Ghanaians.
In an interview with selected journalists in his office at Parliament House last Monday, Prof. Oquaye said Parliament was setting up a legal department to assist in the drafting of the bills.
The interview was titled: “The Speaker in His Own Words”, and the journalists who conducted the interviews were the Political Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mr Kobby Asmah; the Host of Weekly Press Review on Ghana Television, Mr John Kwame Waja; a News Editor of Joy News, Ms Araba Koomson, and Mr Winston Amoah from TV3.
The journalists posed questions on infrastructure development in Parliament, attendance of MPs to Parliament, Speaker’s relationship with the Minority Caucus in Parliament, the legacy Prof. Oquaye would leave behind, among others.
Private Members Bill
A Private Members Bill in a parliamentary system of government is a bill introduced into a legislature by a legislator who is not acting on behalf of the Executive branch of government.
The designation “Private Members Bill” is used in most Westminster System jurisdictions, in which a “private member” is any Member of Parliament (MP) who is not a member of the Cabinet (Executive).
A Private Members Bill is not to be confused with a private bill, which is a bill that only affects an individual citizen or group.
Prof. Oquaye said adverts had been made and some lawyers who had put in applications had been interviewed, and indicated that those who had passed the interview would be engaged to start work soon.
He said offices had already been secured for the legal team in Parliament.
Prof. Oquaye said he had already discussed the issue of the Private Members Bill with President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, adding that the President was supportive of it.
He said after Parliament had passed bills promoted by MPs into acts of Parliament, the President would have to sign them to ensure that the contents were consistent with government policies.
He said if the President had some issues with the acts, he would write his recommendations to Parliament to be factored into such legislations.
Why Private Members Bill
Prof. Oquaye said currently, it was only the Executive that initiated bills in Parliament, and indicated that the Private Members Bill would allow legislators to initiate bills on any issue that affected the citizenry.
He said the bills must not be necessarily initiated by MPs, and indicated that civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals could initiate the bills.
He said the CSOs and individuals who initiated bills would have to identify an MP to promote it in Parliament.
The Speaker, therefore, urged CSOs and individuals to consider initiating bills and identifying interested legislators to promote such bills.
He urged the media to raise issues of concern to the public and push the agenda for bills to be initiated in such regards.
Right to Information
Touching on the Right to Information Bill (RTI), Prof. Oquaye gave an assurance that the House would pass it before the end of its third meeting in December 2019.
He dismissed the suggestion that Parliament was not committed to passing the bill into law given the fact that the House was struggling to get a quorum to continue with the consideration of the RTI Bill.
A fortnight ago, the Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Alban Bagbin, who was chairing the sitting, was compelled to adjourn consideration of the bill due to the lack of a quorum.
But Prof. Oquaye told journalists that “The Right to Information Bill will be a thing of the past at the end of this meeting.”
He stressed that Parliament would rather be considering issues of women at the next meeting.
The object of the RTI Bill is to provide for the operationalisation of the constitutional right to information held by public and some private institutions, subject to exemptions that are necessary and consistent with the protection of public interest in a democratic society.
It also seeks to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs and to provide for related matters.
The RTI Bill was first drafted in 1999, reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was only presented to Parliament in 2010. It was brought back to the Sixth Parliament but could not be passed till the expiration of that Parliament on January 6, 2016.
After months of waiting, the bill was laid in Parliament early this year (2018) by the Deputy Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Joseph Dindiok.
Prof. Oquaye said he had so far been fair to the Minority Caucus in Parliament, and dismissed the suggestion that he was seen to be partisan.
He said there were occasions where the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, was not happy with his rulings.
He said remarks by some Minority MPs that they were considering impeaching him were remarks not coming from their hearts.
Role of Parliament/Challenges
On the performance of Parliament over the years, Prof. Oquaye said Ghana’s Parliament was a relatively young one at age 25.
He, however, said Ghana’s Parliament had evolved over the years notwithstanding the teething challenges.
One of the challenges that had plagued the various republican parliaments in the view of the Speaker had been military interventions or coup d’etats.
He also mentioned that Members of Parliament were not well provided for as public servants to enable them to effectively play their roles as parliamentarians.
“They need things in kind and not necessarily in cash, for them to perform effectively,” he stated.
He, however, said that currently, the leadership of Parliament was working so hard to overcome the infrastructure deficit affecting the work of Parliament.
He said implementing plans for the construction of an expanded office space for MPs and staff were ongoing.
He further said a new chamber complex was also in the offing, as well as a new parliamentary enclave to include a library, museum, church and mosque, new administration block and a hotel.
In all of those challenges and achievements, Prof. Oquaye said the government had been good to Parliament and was financing most of the infrastructure projects.
Paperless offices/clocking system
The Speaker also pointed out the new direction of Parliament where premiumwould be placed on “paperless administration”.
In his view, a paperless office helps improve efficency in Parliament.
He further disclosed that very soon, Parliament would introduce a clocking system to monitor attendance and punctuality of MPs and staff.
He said when all of those facilities were in place, Parliament was going to name and shame MPs who failed to attend meetings of the House.
On his legacy, the Speaker, who was sworn into office on January 7, 2017, stressed his determination to strive for an efficient and strong Parliament that would work to satisfy the needs of Ghanaians.
“Meeting the needs of parliamentary staff is my business, and I am committed to working to provide the physical needs of the staff and make the enclave a better place to work,” he stated.
We need to put in place computerised systems of monitoring to enhance punctuality, he further stated.
The Speaker said key among the issues he would like to leave behind was the need for Parliament to be not just accountable, but also interactive.
In his view, an effective Parliament was one that would be able to legislate in the ultimate interest of the citizenry.