Separation of powers: Why MPs should not serve as ministers

Over the years, our fledgling democracy has grappled with a long-standing debate: the contentious practice of appointing Members of Parliament (MPs) as ministers of state, a move that has sparked intense discussion, raised ethical concerns and tested the very fabric of our democratic governance.

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While proponents argue that it fosters efficient coordination between the legislative and executive branches, critics contend that it perpetuates a pernicious conflict of interest, undermining the integrity of our democratic institutions.

In the ongoing debate over whether MPs should be appointed as ministers, the Daily Graphic endorses the recent proposal by a member of the Council of State and statesman, Sam Okudzeto, who aptly noted during a stakeholders' consultation meeting on the potential review of the 1992 Constitution in Accra that serving as a minister is "a serious full-time job" that demands undivided attention.

(See Daily Graphic, Thursday, June 20 issue.)

Mr Okudzeto said constitutional principle required “checks and balances” in the governance structure, for which reason no minister should belong to both the Executive and the Legislature simultaneously.

“How do you check something when you have one foot here and another foot there; which one is checking which?" Mr Okudzeto asked. "This is the problem we have as a country."

The Daily Graphic also supports his position that MPs should not be appointed as ministers of state. The Fourth Republican Constitution clearly outlines the separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

Appointing MPs as ministers conflates these roles, creating a conflict of interest. MPs are elected to represent their constituents' interests in Parliament, not to execute the duties of the executive branch. When they become ministers, their allegiance is divided, compromising their ability to hold the government accountable.

Furthermore, this practice undermines the independence of Parliament. When MPs are appointed ministers, they are bound by Cabinet solidarity, forcing them to toe the party line, even if it means sacrificing the interests of their constituents.

 This erodes the very essence of representative democracy, where MPs are expected to act as a check on the executive branch. Additionally, appointing MPs as ministers creates a culture of absenteeism in Parliament.

Ministers are often busy with their executive duties, leading to frequent absence from parliamentary proceedings. This not only hampers the legislative process but also deprives constituents of effective representation.

Moreover, this practice perpetuates the concentration of power in the executive branch. When MPs are appointed ministers, they become part of the executive team, further empowering the Executive and weakening the legislative branch. This undermines the system of checks and balances, essential for a healthy democracy.

Article 58(1) of the Constitution states, "The President shall appoint a Minister responsible for the administration of each Ministry." This provision does not mention MPs as potential appointees.

In fact, Article 78(1) explicitly prohibits MPs from holding offices in the executive branch, stating, "A Member of Parliament shall not hold any office of profit or emolument, whether private or public, except with the permission of the Speaker, and such permission shall not be granted except in accordance with the terms and conditions specified in this Constitution."

Indeed, Article 103(1) states that "The Cabinet shall consist of the President, the Vice-President, and not less than ten and not more than nineteen Ministers of State." This provision does not include MPs as members of the Cabinet. By appointing MPs as ministers, the President circumvents the Constitution, expanding the Cabinet beyond its intended scope.

These provisions are deliberate, ensuring the independence of Parliament and preventing the concentration of power. When MPs are appointed ministers, they become part of the executive team, compromising their ability to hold the government accountable.

This is precisely what the Constitution seeks to prevent. The Daily Graphic is of the opinion that preventing MPs from taking ministerial positions would promote accountability and transparency.

 When MPs are not burdened with executive responsibilities, they can focus on their legislative duties, scrutinise the government more effectively, and hold ministers accountable for their actions.

To strengthen Ghana's democracy, MPs must be allowed to focus on their legislative duties, ensuring effective representation and accountability. The executive branch must appoint qualified individuals as ministers, separate from Parliament, to ensure a more efficient and accountable government.

From the above arguments, the Daily Graphic recommends that the Constitution be amended as well as a review of Article 78 of the Constitution to stop the appointment of ministers from Parliament and ensure strict separation of powers to strengthen Parliament as a watchdog institution countervailing the executive powers.

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