The Minority leader was recently reported to have appealed to our people to help strengthen the capacity of our elected Members of Parliament (MPs), bemoaning the fact that sometimes the people are influenced by other factors to elect individuals who might not have the capacity to contribute meaningfully to the work of the House.
Indeed, he complained about the lack of competence of some of the people who get the nod to represent their constituents, especially if they happen to have been endorsed by a political party in an area considered a stronghold. That fits into that dysfunctional presumption often touted by some political parties that even if they select a goat as their candidate in a particular constituency, the party will win hands down.
Indeed, our people are so much taken for granted that when members of one party suggest they could win in a certain area, the one which considers the area as a stronghold openly and boastfully counters by saying those making the claim are joking or dreaming. It means that we have a long way to go in educating our people to realise that party politics does not necessarily mean voting for people who speak our language or come from our area, but those who could best represent our collective interest and pursue policies for the sustained development of our communities.
But there is another thing that we have to do beyond electing people who have the competence. Unless the candidate is such that they can never learn any new thing, it is imperative that our parliamentarians are provided with the necessary human and material support to understand and appreciate issues to enable them to contribute meaningfully to national discourse.
In terms of capacity building, our MPs must have qualified researchers and assistants to enable them to assemble the most relevant information about any issue they are called upon to deliberate on. Such research personnel must be available at both the constituency level to get the views and feelings of the constituents and at Parliament House to delve into issues for meaningful contribution.
Thankfully, our MPs now have offices where they can keep their documents. What they need is the resources that will enable them to function effectively as legislators. The truth is that as a people, we have not done much to equip our lawmakers to take control of affairs at the legislative level.
At another point we must hold the leadership of the House accountable for some of the lapses we are seeing. The point is that if the Standing Orders of the House provide for members to express their views in any Ghanaian language of their choice, why should the facilities for translation not be provided to make it functional such that those members who have challenges with the English language would be at ease with expressing their views rather than some of the embarrassing developments such as the “ trees under schools” that was repeatedly expressed on the floor of the House without the member having a feel of being a laughing stock to the listening public.
Research has clearly indicated convincingly that when individuals are empowered to express themselves in their mother tongues, especially where the mother tongue is the language of education, they understand concepts better and are more able to contribute to discussions.
Thus while there is still the need to ensure that the people we elect are competent and capable, there is more that we need to do to empower them to deliver on their mandate.
Another issue which could be handled by the leadership of Parliament itself is to set up an institution that would be responsible for the orientation and grooming of new members of the House on the rudiments of parliamentary practices, including the protocol of making statements on the floor of the House.
Again, in nominating people to serve on committees, their competence must not be discarded. They should be placed on those committees where their presence could be put to the most effective and efficient use to make them relevant.
We equally have to review the situation where MPs serve on the executive and seek greater value as ministers of state than as MPs. Sometimes MPs act below expectation, not because they are incompetent but because they want to please the President for ministerial appointment. As ministers they are provided with official vehicles and accommodation, at whatever cost, but they would escape the ire of the public.
We need to elect capable individuals but we can also empower them if we provide them with the tools they need to function better and more meaningfully.