The recent oral performance of Fisheries and Aquaculture minister-designate, Mavis Hawa Koomson, has thrust into the public domain, the issue of language use in the legislature.
Her difficulty with English language when she appeared before the Appointments Committee has triggered a debate about expression and performance.
Parliament has traditionally used English in almost all of its proceedings but according to its standing orders, there is room for local language usage as and when.
What does parliament’s own regulations say?
GhanaWeb presents what the current standing orders say about language use. Clause 47 of the orders addresses the issue of language use.
“The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in English Language, except that a Member may exercise the option to address the House in either Akan, Nzema, Ga, Ewe, Hausa, Dagbani, Dagaare or in any other local language provided facilities exist in the House for its interpretation,” the clause reads.
Another provision order 76 that borders on language use in petitions to the house states: “A petition must be written in the English language or be accompanied by a translation certified to be correct by the Member who presents it.”
Parliament must boost language interpretation capacity
Speaking on the issue of using local languages in proceedings, former lawmaker Inusah Fuseini, whiles emphasizing the progressive nature of the standing orders; stressed that it was now time for the house to make provisions for such cases.
Speaking on Joy FM’s NewsFile program on Saturday, February 21, 2021, he submitted: “The provision you read in the standing orders is clearly a forward-looking provision, anybody who has taken a trip to the European parliament will see exactly what the provision is meant to address.
“It is a recognition of the fact that we speak many languages. Proficiency in one language should not be a criteria for limiting you from expressing yourself on the floor of the house.
“And so the provision looks to make room for people who can speak other languages express themselves better to be able to do so and enjoins parliament to provide facilities for the purposes of achieving that objective.
“And so clearly it is a forward-looking provision, we have not gotten there yet. There have not been attempts to operationalize this and that is the challenge.
“The parliament and state should provide facilities that will enable people to be able to express themselves in languages that they are comfortable with so that their speeches, their comments and their debates can be interpreted simultaneously.”
He cited instances of how there is language flexibility in the European parliament. He recounted his experiences as a member of an AU – EU parliamentary group.