By Gifty Mensah
The decision by the leadership of Parliament to reconstitute Ghana’s delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament without considering all necessary Protocols relating to the regional Parliament is what caused the international embarrassment to the country on Friday 10th February 2017 at the Extra Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, Nigeria.
As several media outlets have reported, an unprecedented major confusion rocked the ECOWAS Parliament when it was realised that Ghana had represented nine representatives instead of the eight it is entitled to at a swearing in ceremony. The implication of this rocketed confusion and embarrassment about the membership of the delegation led to the refusal of the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament; His Excellency Honourable Moustapha Cisse, to swear in Ghana’s delegation until the team presented the eight Representatives with the right to represent Ghana.
The ECOWAS Parliament as established under Articles 6 and 13 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty (1993), is a forum for dialogue, consultation and consensus for all representatives of its fifteen member countries with the aim of promoting regional integration. Of a total of one hundred and fifteen (115) seats, Article 5 of the Protocol relating to the ECOWAS Parliament guarantees a minimum seat of five (5) per country, with each country being apportioned additional seats based on its population. Ghana has always had a fixed number of eight (8) seats; the second highest following Nigeria’s thirty-two (32) seats.
Article 7 (1) of the Protocol states the criteria for selection as;
i. Representative and their alternatives shall be elected by direct universal suffrage by citizens of Member States;
ii. Pending the time Members of Parliament are elected by direct universal suffrage, the National Assemblies of Member States or their equivalent institutions or organs shall elect such Members from amongst themselves;
In Ghana, the standard practice is that Members of Parliament from both the majority and minority sides campaign for votes from their colleagues to be elected as ECOWAS Parliamentarians.
In this case, the excess number of representatives resulted from the refusal of Mr. Frederick Opare-Ansah (NPP-Suhum), to withdraw his membership from the ECOWAS Parliament. Under the Sixth Parliament Mr Opare-Ansah was one of Ghana’s eight representatives. The other members included; Mr Alfred Kwame Agbesi (NDC- Ashaiman), Mr Dan Botwe (NPP- Okere), Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchway (NPP-Anyaa-Sowutuom), Mr Simon Osei-Mensah (NPP-Bosomtwi), Mr Samson Ahi (NDC- Bodi), Mr Ahmed Ibrahim (MP for Banda) and Mr Dominic Azimbe Azumah (MP for Garu).
As Ghana has now inaugurated its Seventh Parliament, following the outcome of the 7th December 2016 general elections, it follows logic that the delegation had to be reconstituted. The reconstituted delegation now includes; Mr Kwasi Ameyaw-Cheremeh (NPP-Sunyani East), Mr O.B Amoah (NPP-Akwapim South), Ms Ama Pomaah Boateng Andoh (NPP-Juaben), Mr Alexander Afenyo-Markin (NPP-Effutu), Mr Kwabena Appiah-Pinkrah (NPP-Akrofuom), Mr Clement Kofi Humado (NDC-Anlo), Mr Mahama Ayariga (NDC-Bawku) and Mr Sampson Ahi (NDC-Bodi). Clearly, only the MP for Bodi was retained as a Representative to the ECOWAS Parliament. The contention of the article is that Parliament did not do due diligence in the reconstitution exercise.
While Article 7-2 (1) of the Supplementary Amending Protocol relating to the ECOWAS Parliament states that;
“Representatives shall be elected for a period of four (4) years from the day of swearing-in. Their mandate shall, without any exception, end on the last day of the legislature.”
Article 7 (2) of the Protocol relating to the ECOWAS Parliament states that;
i. For the duration of the transition period, Representatives who are not re-elected at the national level shall remain in office until the new Representatives from their respective Member States take up their positions.
This four-year term per Representative has over the years been bolstered by the concurrence of the minimum four-year term mandate of MPs by their national Parliamentary terms across the region. Unfortunately, the fate of Representatives who have not exhausted the four-year term at the ECOWAS Parliament but have undergone a shift in Parliaments (as in the case of Ghana, the dissolution and inauguration of the Sixth and Seventh Parliaments respectively) in their countries, lies within the conventions of their respective countries. Such has been the dilemma rocking Ghana’s delegation after the dissolution and inauguration of the Sixth and Seventh Parliament respectively.
By law, the single act of Hon Frederick Opare-Ansah (NPP-Suhum), is not in breach of any provision within the ECOWAS Revised Treaty (1993) or the Protocol or Supplementary Protocol relating to the ECOWAS Parliament. Specifically, he did not violate the protocol of incompatibility enshrined in Article 12 of the Protocol relating to the ECOWAS Parliament which provides the grounds for which an MP acts in violation of his membership. A provision that is clearly stated in the report of the Selection Committee as read in our Parliament on January 25, 2017 (Page 303) on the reconstitution of delegates to the ECOWAS Parliament. Further, Mr Opare-Ansah has not elapsed his four-year term, or resigned his membership from the regional Parliament, neither has he lost his seat at the national level or even taken up a position within the executive of the country. The only challenge then was the failure on the part of committee to fully consider the membership of Mr Opare-Ansah.
This erroneous oversight is clear in the Hansard of Ghana’s Parliament for January 25, 2017, when the Majority Leader, Hon Kyei Mensa-Bonsu said;
“Following the dissolution of the Sixth Parliament and the inauguration of the Seventh Parliament, it has become necessary to re-compose the entirety of Ghana’s representation to the Community Parliament. The Leadership of the House duly met and composed the membership of Ghana’s representation at the Community Parliament and it is hereby presented in this Report.” Parliament and it leadership are solely to be blamed for the confusion that rocked it delegation to Abuja and not the individual involved.
It further baffles comprehension that when objections were raised after the presentation of the report on the Select Committee, Parliament still failed to rectify the situation before sending the newly reconstituted delegation over to Abuja only to be shoved with such an international embarrassment. According to the same Hansard, Dr Mark Assibey-Yeboah (MP for New Juaben South) bemoaned the membership of the newly reconstituted delegation. He argued that;
“Mr Speaker, we complain here in Ghana that our Parliament suffers from high attrition. I see here eight new Hon Members nominated to the ECOWAS Parliament. In the last ECOWAS Parliament, we had a Member, who had served for a longer period, for which reason, he was elevated to the position of a Deputy Speaker in the ECOWAS Parliament. Today, we are sending Hon Members and there is no experience being carried over from the old membership of the ECOWAS Parliament.”
The MP drove the point home when he said “[h]owever, if you are a Member of the ECOWAS Parliament and you have been sworn-in and you have not resigned, then our Parliament here cannot forcefully take you out of that Parliament.”
“So, I am only asking Leadership if the necessary consultations have been made, so that we do not have a situation where our eight new Members go to the ECOWAS Parliament and the old ones insist on staying there. It is going to be embarrassing for our country. I am only drawing the attention of Leadership to this situation which has happened in the past.”
By this, the failure of the Select Committee to consider all applicable Protocols, coupled with the failure of leadership to resolve the disagreement raised about its delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament is the sole reason for such an embarrassment to the country. To single-handedly point accusing fingers at the Hon member is needless. If the committee had meticulously done its work well, not only would it have been able to handle the confusion among the members in a better manner, but the incident at such an international forum could have been averted entirely.
Indeed, Parliament is to be blamed and not Mr. Opare-Ansah! Parliament should work to resolve all it internal misunderstandings to avoid any such future embarrassment.