I was in Parliament House recently when the report from the Appointments Committee on three deputy minister nominees was brought to the House for discussion. Listening to the contributions of members, I reflected on public criticisms that sometimes MPs focused on trivialities and left out certain pertinent issues, especially when they are vetting nominees who are members of the House.
The report was on Messrs Bombande, Angmor and Oti Bless or Bless Oti. Much of the deliberation was as to whether his surname was Bless or Oti. There was one other fact. The nominee did not undertake his national service but the MPs did not address that issue.
However, when the Minority Leader stood up to speak to the matter, he underscored why the public held that feeling. He explained that the basic qualification for a person to be appointed a minister of state is somebody who could contest an election to be elected a Member of Parliament. Therefore, when a sitting MP is nominated for ministerial appointment, there is very little to be done.
The MP for Bekwai, Joe Osei Owusu, brought to the notice of the House the disparaging comments Oti Bless had made about the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice in particular. There were attempts by some MPs to disparage his submission. Those opposed to Mr Osei Owusu’s submission sought the intervention of the Speaker to rule him out of order and dismiss the claim since there was no formal report on the allegation before the House.
It appeared the Speaker was inclined to dismiss the submission until the Minority Leader took his turn to speak to the issue. He repeated the concerns raised by Mr Osei Owusu. It was at that point that I left the House. I was concerned that a major allegation of that nature was about to be dismissed but thank God, the Speaker saw reason in the claim which culminated in the House not confirming the nominee for the appointment.
The lesson here is that we have to be serious in our dealings when it comes to national issues. Indeed, my presence at Parliament was because a Daily Graphic reporter had been cited for contempt of Parliament and the Privileges Committee was submitting a report on him to the House for a decision.
No arm of government must be seen to be more important than another although the Constitution has an order of things that each arm could do. I do not think that the privileges of MPs give them any immunity from prosecution for contempt of court.
Therefore, I am of the conviction that Parliament should not ever approve the nominee for appointment. Whether he writes a formal apology to the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice would not take away the fact that he acted irresponsibly. He was not speaking on the floor of the House for which he has unconditional immunity because of the concept of absolute privilege.
The current session has not concluded. There is, thus, the possibility that anytime the House reconvenes, the matter will come up and the House might be inclined to approve his nomination. There is the need for Parliament to set good and worthy examples. Already, there are some Ghanaians who think that when it comes to ordinary citizens, Parliament is quick and ruthless in wielding the big stick of hauling people before the Privileges Committee but when it comes to the actions of some MPs which equally bring the integrity of the House into opprobrium and disregard, they are treated with kid’s gloves.
As a first step, the Speaker and the House must be commended for not condoning the misguided statements of a member by suspending his approval. However, if at the next meeting on the spurious excuse that the MP has apologised he is approved, it would be a stab in the back of the Judiciary.
If Parliament frowns upon any judge hiding under any provision to issue a warrant for the arrest of an MP while he is engaged in his legitimate duty as MP, then the House must thoroughly review its position on a matter as grievous as contempt of court and refuse to be seen to be doing anything to suggest that an MP is above the laws of the land.
The decision to suspend the approval of Oti Bless as a Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development must be the contribution of Parliament to good governance and the rule of law. It must be the dawn of a new era where the House will not be soft on MPs when they are nominated for appointment for ministerial positions.