MP Absenteeism during Ghana’s Sixth Parliament (2013-2015)

Introduction

In our first report, Odekro examined the attendance records of Members of Parliament (MPs) between January 2013 and July 2014. Based on the data available to us, we identified that the average MP missed 24% or 1 in every 4 sitting days during that period. In this report, we extend the period of our study and provide a deeper analysis of trends in MPs absence rates during the Sixth Parliament of Ghana’s Fourth Republic.

Regular attendance of MPs to parliament is critical to the functioning of government on at least two important counts. First, it is crucial for the effective representation of citizens during public debates and decision-making---a fundamental tenet of our democracy. Second, it ensures the efficiency of our governance processes. Before, parliament can commence business the 1992 Constitution requires that one-third of MPs (92 of the 275) are present. Thus, the lack of quorum brings to a halt government business and may delay or even rush consideration or passage of crucial bills. For instance, on Wednesday 25th November 2015, Parliament was forced to postpone its debate on the 2016 budget because the quorum had not been reached.

That occasion marked the second time this year that the Parliament had been forced to postpone its debate on the budget because of MPs’ absenteeism. On the 20th of November 2015, the debate on the budget was postponed due to a lack of quorum. The opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), blamed the incumbent National Democratic Congress (NDC)’s MPs for this adjournment. Most of the NDC MPs had left the capital to campaign for re-election in the party’s parliamentary primaries held on 21st of November 2015 in their respective constituencies. Similarly, on the 12th of June 2015, one day before the NPP’s parliamentary primaries, only 83 MPs were present, meaning Parliament did not have a quorum.

MPs may be absent from parliamentary meetings for other reasons aside from party primaries. For example, MPs may be absent when the Parliament sends them on an official mission. They may also be conducting other equally important duties as parliamentarians such as providing constituency service to their constituents. Lastly, MPs may be absent because they are sick. However, MPs may simply abandon their parliamentary duties to undertake personal business. The later represents a leakage on the public purse.

MPs must seek permission from the Speaker to absent themselves from Parliament during any day of meeting (Article 97(1c)). The Parliamentary “Order Papers” and “Votes and Proceedings” record the attendance status of all Members of Parliament for each parliamentary meeting. For each meeting, an MP may be present, absent with permission or absent without permission.

In the report below, we present an analysis of absenteeism in the Sixth Parliament of Ghana’s Fourth Republic, which was inaugurated on January 7, 2013. Between January 8, 2013 and July 23, 2015, Parliament held 253 plenary meetings. We use publicly available records on MPs attendance to report on the absence rate in Parliament over the past three years of the current parliament as well as the average absence rates of individual MPs. Furthermore, we break our analysis down by characteristics that may influence attendance rate of MPs. In particular, we consider ministerial status of MPs, party affiliation, electoral competition, term-in-office, age, and gender.

A. MPs’ absence rates at parliamentary meetings increased by 58% between 2013 and 2015.

We find that during the period of our study, more than a quarter (26.1 percent) of MPs were absent at each parliamentary sitting, on average (See Fig 1). That is, on a typical day when Parliament meets (i.e., a single sitting) 72 out of 275 of MPs were absent. We also find that the rate of absence during parliamentary meetings has increased over time. About 22 percent of MPs were absent from a sitting in 2013 with this rate increasing to 34 percent in 2015-- this represents a 58 percent increase in absenteeism. While these absence rates represent both MPs who were absent with or without permission, we also note that between 2013 and 2015, 1 in 5 of MPs were absent from parliamentary sittings without permission from the Speaker in contravention of Article 97 of the 1992 Constitution.

The increase in absenteeism in 2015 we may attribute to MPs’ campaigning in party primaries. The opposition NPP held its primaries on June 13th and June 28th 2015, dates that fall within the 2nd meeting of Parliament in 2015. However, the increasing rate of absenteeism in parliamentary sittings is disturbing and may go beyond election campaigns. For example, it may be that MPs use the first year to find their feet in parliament and increasingly jettison their parliamentary duties to conduct constituency services, ministerial duties, party work, or personal business for additional income.

Note:Figure 1 shows the proportion of MP-meeting days (i.e 253275=69,575 that fall into the three categories of a) Present b)Absent without permission and c) Absent with permission

Fig 2: Absence rate in Ghana's Parliament between 2013 and 2015

The overall absence rate in parliamentary sittings may mask the absenteeism rates of individual MPs and limit our quest for understanding possible factors that account for MPs’ absence in parliamentary meetings. Indeed, we find a lot of variation in the absence rates among individuals MPs. While between 2013 and 2015 the average MP missed about 1 in 4 parliamentary sittings, some MPs missed over 75 percent of meetings while others were absent only 1 percent of the time. Table 1 (below) presents the ten best and ten worst performing MPs over this period. In general, it is alarming that nearly half of MPs (44 percent) missed more than a quarter of sitting during our period of study (i.e., these MPs missed 63 or more meetings of the 253 meeting days that we analyze).

B. Preliminary findings on possible explanations of MPs absence rates

In this report, we highlight some personal and constituency factors of MPs that help to explain variation in attendance levels. We consider six factors: ministerial status, party affiliation, electoral competition, term-in-office, gender, and age. Our analysis suggests that:

Ministerial status: Ministers (especially, regional ministers) are more likely to be absent without permission in parliamentary sittings. From our last count, thirty-nine (39) MPs serve as state or regional ministers. Consistent with our first report, on the whole, the absenteeism rate of MPs who are ministers is significantly higher (about 41 percent) than that of MPs without ministerial portfolios (about 20 percent). In other words, MP-Ministers are twice as likely to be absent from parliamentary meetings compared to MP-Non-Ministers. When we disaggregate absenteeism by the type of minister, we find that the eight regional and deputy regional ministers who are MPs are the most likely to be absent from Parliament without permission. Practically, regional ministers and deputy ministers may be unable to attend parliamentary meetings because they are required to chair regional security councils and administer several other bodies---responsibilities that may require their daily presence in regional capitals outside Accra. While we may be able to explain the higher absenteeism rate of ministers by their increased responsibilities, their inability to seek permission from the Speaker is difficult to understand. It is unacceptable that ministers absent themselves from Parliament with complete disregard for parliamentary rules.

Party affiliation: Two political parties dominate Ghana’s Sixth Parliament---the incumbent NDC (148 seats) and the opposition NPP (123 seats). There is a representative from the People's National Convention (PNC) and three independent MPs. To simplify our analysis, we combine the PNC and the independent MPs into a single category. We find that there is only a minor difference (roughly 3%) between the absence rates of NDC MPs (24.18%) and NPP MPs (21.29%). The other parties (PNC and independent MPs) were absent about 20 percent of the time. Thus, party affiliation does not help us to explain differences in MPs' absence rates.

Electoral competition: We also explore whether electoral competition may account for MP absences in parliamentary meetings. It may be the case that MPs who contend in highly competitive constituencies absent themselves more in order to engage in constituency work to secure re-election. We find that MPs who are elected from constituencies with a margin of victory of less than 10 percent are more likely to absent themselves from parliamentary meetings without permission. MPs from competitive constituencies were absent about 27 percent of the time compared to 21 percent for MPs who won by a higher margin. We note, however, that we have no way of verifying whether MPs from competitive constituencies use their time away from Parliament to conduct constituency services, and further research is required on this topic.

Term-in-office: Most MPs desire to be re-elected. Given this intention, it may be the case the MPs who have been in office for less time are absent more while they try to establish a support network in their home constituencies. Hence, multiple-term MPs may be more regular in parliamentary sittings than their younger counterparts. Most MPs in Ghana’s current Parliament are serving their first or second terms (206 out of 275). Using 1996-2000 as our baseline term, we find only 7 MPs are serving their fifth (or more) term. Our findings show that MPs serving their fifth term are less likely to be absent (15.05%) than their newer parliamentary counterparts. However, MPs who are in their fourth consecutive term are absent 30% of the time, which suggests that time in office is not a perfect predictor of whether an MP is likely to be absent or present.

Age: We find that MPs who are more than 61 years old are less likely to absent themselves without permission. MPs between the ages of 30 and 60 are about 24 percent of the time absent without permission while those above 61 are absent about 19 percent of the time without permission.

Gender: Lastly, our investigation suggests that female representation in parliament does not only suffer from their proportionally fewer numbers (only 24 out of 275 MPs), but also by a higher absence rate of female MPs. While we do not always find a significant difference between male and female MPs absence-without-permission rates, we nonetheless find that female MPs are more likely to be absent (about 32%) compared to male MPs (about 26%). One explanation for this is that a high proportion of female MPs double as Ministers (about 29%) compared to male MPs (about 13%). Our findings, therefore, suggest that while we should be concerned about the lower number of females in Ghana’s parliament, we should equally be concerned about the higher absence rates of female MPs from parliamentary meetings.

Conclusion:

We conclude from our preliminary investigation into the absence rate in Ghana’s Sixth Parliament of its Fourth Republic as follows

● Absence rates in parliamentary meetings have increased between 2013 and 2015. The highest increase in absence rate occurred in 2015.

● There is a large variation between MPs with some absent 75 % of the time and other absent only 1 % of the time. Factors such as holding ministerial post and facing high electoral competition explain some of the differences in absence rate among MPs.

● Most absentee MPs are regularly absent without explicit permission from the Speaker as required by law. Indeed, Odekro’s report on the matter suggest about 42 percent of MPs are in breach of this fundamental provision of Ghana’s constitution. More worrying is the high rate of absence with impunity among Ministers.

● We have called upon the Speaker of the house to explain why MPs who are in breach of this law are not asked to vacate their seats. Odekro has had no response from the Honorable Speaker of Parliament since filing this letter (more than 15 days ago). Odekro has instructed its lawyers to file a motion requesting the High Court to declare seats in breach of this provision vacant.

MPs League Table: Least and Top (Bottom 10, Top 10): Rated by Absence without permission

*Author: George Ofosu, Ph.D. Candidate, UCLA with editorial input from Lolan Ekow Sagoe-Moses