Ursula, Napo Among Top Absentee MPs

Thirty-nine (39) MPs comprising 18 Ministers and 21 Deputy Ministers violated article 97(1)(c) of the 1992 Constitution by absenting themselves from 15 sittings and over without permission of the Speaker of Parliament.

They include Foreign Affairs Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Health Minister Kweku Agyemang-Manu, Communications Minister Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Education Minister Dr Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Works & Housing Minister Samuel Atta Akyea, Minister of Regional Reorganisation Dan Botwe, Railways Development Minister Joe Ghartey, Deputy Finance Minister Kweku Kwarteng, Deputy Health Minister Tina Mensah, Defence Minister Dominic Nitiwul, Interior Minister Ambrose Dery among others, according to a list compiled by civil society group Odekro for the first and second meetings of the seventh parliament of 2017.

Odekro observed in its report that “there has never been an occasion where MPs in breach of Article 97(1)(c) have been summoned before the Privileges Committee of Parliament to explain their chronic absenteeism without written permission of the Speaker and asked to vacate their seats upon failure to provide plausible reasons. Perhaps this lack of precedence has encouraged impunity among some MPs.

“The high rate of absenteeism particularly among MPs who double as substantive Ministers of State is a major concern. Earlier this year, the Selection Committee of Parliament had to recompose the leadership of committees on the basis that ‘the situation where sector Ministers superintend their oversight committees of the House (Parliament) is at variance with best practice and indeed the conventions of the House.’

“This suggested a complete disregard of institutional effectiveness of Parliament in the executive’s decision to appoint Ministers. Also, in our press release of 16 July 2017 captioned “The fallout from Nana Addo’s appointment of 110 Ministers continues to undermine Parliament”, Odekro indicated that the Selection Committee cherry-picked problems and only ‘plucked the low hanging fruit’ in terms of reconfiguring committee leadership, but failed to consider the equally important subject of chronic absenteeism. Besides, the separating line between the executive and legislative arms of government is blurred as the President is empowered to appoint majority of Ministers from Parliament as enshrined Article 78 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, which states “Ministers of State shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of Parliament from among members of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected as members of Parliament, except that the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament”.

In light of these observations, going forward, Odekro has recommended the following:

Punitive measures

1. The Honorable Speaker of Parliament Professor Mike Oquaye should task the Privileges Committee of Parliament to summon MPs who have been absent from 15 parliament sittings and beyond without written permission of the Speaker, to inquire into reasons for their absenteeism in line with Article 97(1)(c) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. This committee inquiry should be open to the general public by default.

2. MPs found to have no reasonable excuse to be absent without written permission from 15 sittings and beyond should be asked to vacate their seats in line with Article 97(1)(c) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.

Reformative measures

1. Automation of the process of requesting for permission to be absent. The current process whereby MPs have to manually fill out the “Leave of Absence” can be ineffective in some respects. There are occasional urgent emergencies MPs have to respond to in their respective constituencies which might make it impossible for an MP to come to Parliament and file an official request to be absent. This will broaden avenues of seeking the explicit permission of the Speaker in writing to be absent.

2. MPs who have sought permission in writing of the Speaker should have duplicate copies of approved “Leaves of absence”. This is to draw a distinction between approved and unapproved leaves of absence.

3. The threshold of absenteeism (15 sittings) upon which Statutory implications might arise as preserved in the Constitution is too high. For a serious institution like Parliament, the second arm of government, absence from seven (7) sittings of a meeting without written permission of the Speaker should attract sanctions.

4. Finally, we have to reexamine the impact of Article 78(1) on the effectiveness of Parliament’s oversight of the executive arm of government.