Article 97(1)(c) of the Constitution provides as follows:
97.(1) A member of Parliament shall vacate his seat in Parliament -
(c) if he is absent, without the permission in writing of the Speaker and he is unable to offer a reasonable explanation to the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges from fifteen sittings of a meeting of Parliament during any period that Parliament has been summoned to meet and continues to meet.
In our first report “ What has your MP done for you? Analysing MPs’ effectiveness between January 2013 & July 2014” we identified 6 members of Parliament who had been absent from 15+ sittings of a meeting (3 months period of Parliamentary work) of Parliament in contravention of Article 97(1)(c) of the Constitution. We promised to provide the full list of absentees after collating data from order papers in 2015.
After examining all order papers between January 2013 and July 2015, we have identified 125 Members of Parliament who are potentially in breach of Article 97(1)(c). This figure represents 45.2%, or nearly half of all Members of Parliament!
The Constitution stipulates that if these 125 MPs are unable to provide “reasonable explanations” for their absence to the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges, they must vacate their seats.
Pursuant to this, Odekro has written to the Speaker of Parliament asking him to declare the seats of the identified MP’s vacant if they have failed to offer reasonable explanations for their absence to the Committee on Privileges.
A copy of our letter:
While we abide the response of the Speaker, we intend to enforce the Constitution by seeking a court order declaring these MPs’ seats vacant if we do not hear from the Speaker within 15 days from the date of our letter. If the court order is granted and/or the Speaker declares these seats vacant, the practical result would be that many of the MPs who were recently re-elected by the NDC and NPP as Parliamentary candidates will have to contest by-elections to retain their seats, before the general election in November 2016.
The Role of the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges
The high price which MPs could pay for absenteeism shows the importance which the Constitution places on the MP’s role as a representative of his/her constituency. The constitutional provision in Article 97(1)(c) also highlights one crucial and proper function of the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges.
Most Ghanaians might have heard about the Committee on Privileges because of its recent eagerness to show various public figures “where the power lies.” The Speaker controversially summoned Prof. Alex Dodoo to appear before the Committee for referring to their questions about the legal basis of Ebola vaccine trials as “ignorant.” The legality of the Speaker’s summons to Prof. Dodoo and others is in dispute. His duty to refer the conduct of an MP absenting himself for more than 15 sittings to the Privileges Committee however, is crystal clear!
Clause 17 of Parliament’s Standing Orders, based on Article 97 (1) (c) of the Constitution states:
“(1)A Member shall not absent himself during a meeting for more than fifteen sittings without the permission in writing of the Speaker. Any member infringing this Order shall have his conduct referred to the Privileges Committee.”
Clause 31 (2) further states:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in these Orders Mr. Speaker may refer any questions of privilege to the Committee of Privileges for examination, investigation and report.”
The Committee on Privileges’ role is to carry out these investigations and examinations into complaints of contempt of Parliament and breaches of Parliament’s privileges and to present a report of same to Parliament as a whole.
Instead of expending its energies demanding respect from public figures whose acts do not affect the conduct of Parliamentary business, perhaps the Committee on Privileges should focus on ensuring that MPs behave in a manner that demonstrates respect for the institution of Parliament and thus inspires respect for Parliament by the people.
A Parliament in Contempt of the People
What could be more contemptuous of Parliament than absenting yourself from a 30-day period of Parliamentary work, 15 times or 50% of the time without bothering to seek permission from the Speaker?
What could be more disrespectful than behaving in this manner when MPs are guaranteed immunity from witness summons, immunity from any court proceedings while undertaking parliamentary business and provided with perks such as car loans all to ensure they have all the legal freedoms and material comforts necessary to properly execute their duties?
By repeatedly absenting themselves from Parliament, these 125 MPs are in essence demonstrating their disrespect for the constituents who elected them into office.
They are saying, we do not care enough about your health and education to question Ministers of State about these issues when they report to Parliament.
We do not care enough about the $10.2 billion of debt which according to the NPP, the current government is piling on you and which you will have to repay through absurd taxes and items such as condoms.
We at Odekro find this attitude of the elected representatives unacceptable and inimical to our democratic progress as a nation. .
If Parliament fails to declare these 125 seats vacant, or produce evidence that these MPs have presented reasonable explanations to the Privileges Committee we shall enforce the Constitution by seeking a court order to declare those seats vacant.
It is time to remind our politicians that “The Sovereignty of Ghana resides in the PEOPLE of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised in the manner and within the limits laid down in (the) Constitution.”