Friday, February 22, 2013

The President and Parliament fighting over the Council of State?

Friday, February 22, 2013
Have you heard the news? Parliament and the Executive are on a collision course in matters concerning the Council of State, which is intriguing for several reasons.
The MPs are unhappy that the President went behind them to act in a manner that did not only violate the Constitution but that also undermined their integrity. Or rather, the President slighted them and acted ultra vires (beyond his powers). This is not the first time that the MPs have complained of being sidestepped by the Executive, but the particular issue against which they are protesting itself is pertinent to our current political dispensation.

The President appointed a number of persons to the Council of State and swore the Council itself into office on Wednesday. But his action has angered the MPs who are accusing him of doing so without consulting Parliament.
The eleven-member Council of State is made up of the following: Cecilia Johnson (Brong Ahafo Region), Nana Osei Asibe (Ashanti Region), and Patrick Enyonam Agbogba also known as Togbui Sri (Volta Region. The others are Rashid Sulemana Mahama (Northern Region), Okogyeman Kweku Gyamerah (Western Region), David Kanga (Upper-East Region), Ama Benyiwa Doe (Central Region), Edward Gyader (Upper-East Region), Abraham Kweku Edusei (Eastern Region) and Dr Rabiatu Deinyo Armah (Greater-Accra Region).
The Council of State is in place. But the MPs have insisted that the President violated the Standing Orders of Parliament by failing to inform Parliament before appointing and swearing in the Council of State members.
Raising the issue, the NPP MP for Sekondi, Paapa Owusu Ankoma, quoted Standing Order 172 of the House, which states that the President is obligated to bring his Ministerial and Council of State nominees before the Appointments Committee of Parliament. He added that the president was therefore expected to have brought his nominees before Parliament to be vetted and approved but he didn’t.
Joy News’ Elton John Brobbey reported that the issue drew a lot of comments on the floor of Parliament.
It is interesting to note that the protest was spearheaded by the NPP MPs, who have chosen to boycott all official functions involving the presidency, having already confirmed their resolve on several occasions.
They may claim that they are protesting to help our democracy. Fair enough. But even if the President referred the matter to Parliament, ipso facto, it is only the Majority side in Parliament (made up of the NDC MPs and their counterparts in the PNC and Independents) who will act. They are not expected to raise any objection to anything of the sort from the President. Rubber stamping is the norm.
So, what exactly will be achieved except that the President would have been said to have passed through the normal channel? Mere recourse to formality for what benefit to the country? Obviously, the President has already appointed those with whom he has already established a strong working relationship (Benyiwa-Doe and Martey Newman, for instance), who will definitely be glorified praise singers.
The composition of the council itself tells me clearly there are many members who are on the same page with the President and the government. They are definitely to serve the President but I wonder how effective they will be once they come across as sympathetic to the NDC and the President’s cause.
At a larger level is the real benefit of this Council of State to the country. We acknowledge the fact that it is constitutionally mandated to be in existence; but if we consider how ineffectual the Constitution itself is, we have to pause to ponder whether this Council is worth the expenditure that is made to sustain it.
Over the years, it has been nothing but a rubber-stamp, concurring to everything coming from the Presidency; or, even if it takes the initiative to nominate anybody to the President for appointment to public office, it hasn’t gone out of its way to choose anybody that would eve be opposed by the President. Or anybody whose political inclination conflicted with that of the government of the day.
Beyond being such a docile institution lies the issue of productivity and relevance to the country. In playing its advisory role—and therefore seeking to justify its continued existence—what particular solution has this Council of State offered to help the President and his government tackle our country’s problems?
I have no single instance to point to. Let those who know better prove me wrong. What I know is that the Council of State is just a mere window-dressing for our democracy. Or, just a dumping ground for those who have retired from active service but are still interested in praise singing to be given part of the national cake.
One peculiar feature of the membership has been the presence of chiefs from the various regions. Of course, against the background of the agitation by some powerful chiefs for the country to adopt a bicameral legislative system (and the Upper House reserved for chiefs), I am not surprised that the chiefs are fighting hard to make their presence felt at that level.
After all, they know that the position pays. More so, they are smart enough to use the shortcut to be in politics (any more respect for the ban on their involvement in partisan politics)? How many of them on the Council of State have ever had a dissenting voice to suggest that they are not there in their capacity as camouflaged supporters of the government of the day? Let them prove me wrong.
There has never been any instance when the operations of the Council (including its meetings) are even publicized for us to know goings-on. All we hear is that the President has appointed so-so-and-so on the advice of the Council of State. Of course, being in office at the pleasure of the President himself, what else can they do to assert their independence or authority? None.
They know that their fingers are in the mouth of the appointing authority and won’t hit the top of his head, lest he bites of those fingers off. How will they eat, then? Or, as Chinua Achebe puts it mildly, they won’t like to bite the finger that feeds them.
As has been the norm, the Chairman of the Council has always turned out to be a known former active government functionary or surrogate in some powerful institution of state. Just look back to see who the various Chairmen have been from Rawlings’ time to now. From C.K. Dewornu to Professor F.T. Sai to Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor!!
Earlier reports said the Chairman of this Council is John Henry Martey Newman, former Chief of Staff under the late President John Mills and the caretaker administration of President Mahama. Now, we are being told that Mrs. Cecilia Johnson is rather the Chairperson. Which is which now?
I am adamant that the Council of State isn’t really serving any useful purpose. It is a waste pipe that must be discarded and the resources being wasted on it redirected to better serve the interests of needy segments of our population. The overarching question is: What will our democracy lose without this Council of State?
The President has all manner of people at the Presidency—ranging from seasoned bureaucrats, serving and retired technocrats, party functionaries, Ministers without portfolio or those now designated as Desk Officers for certain specific ad hoc functions (a kind of disguised Task Force?), as well as other hangers-on running all kinds of errands.
Most of these (like Dr. Sulley Gariba) are designated as policy advisors or some other amorphous tag whose primary duties include advising the President on governance issues. Others are scouts looking for prospective appointees for the President to put in office. In effect, what this Council of State claims to be doing is already being handled at the Presidency. Forget about some other unclassifiable functions that the Council may claim to be performing.
Without the Council of State, the Presidency can use its own staff to do all those assignments. So, what do we hope to gain from this needless duplication of functions? Or are we so fixated on constitutionality as to do everything just because the Constitution says so or just to prove that we are democratic? Even when the country doesn’t benefit in any way from the existence of such institutions and roles?
Considering the waste pipe that the Council of State is to me, I wonder why Parliament should waste time complaining about the President’s action instead of focusing on issues that can help solve the daunting problems making it difficult for the citizens to have uninterrupted services such as electricity, water, transportation, and what-have-you!
We have been told that the House agreed to form a committee led by the Speaker, the Chairman of the Appointments Committee of Parliament, and the leadership of Parliament to meet with the President and resolve the situation amicably.
A whole committee? To include the boycott-kings and queens of the NPP (since they are part of the Leadership of the House)? Or, will they boycott this one too yet stand back and make the foulest noise after the fact? You see how mischievous some can be?
Clearly, this impasse is a non-issue and the noise being made about it is not only unnecessary but it is also irritating. Yet, trust these MPs to use it as a way to flex muscles just because they are spoiling for a fight. Rather curiously, it is these boycott-happy NPP MPs who are calling the tune. What a pity!!
I shall return…
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