The last week or so has been quite a stormy one for the legislative arm of government, with news that the Parliamentary leadership is gearing itself up for the construction of a new, $200m, 450-seater parliamentary chamber.
Social and traditional media exploded, and for once, the public condemnation and anger came from both sides of the political divide, just as the leadership, representing both sides of the house, had jointly made the decision in the first place.
In the face of the storm, only a few ‘brave’ MPs publicly lifted their heads above the parapet to support the project. This included the Majority Leader, who was left to carry the can after the Minority Leader suddenly abandoned the fast-sinking ship and retreated into the shadows.
The vociferous public lashing sometimes descended into outright abuse and when in the middle of the furore, the MP for Kade was captured on camera defiantly breaking traffic rules and then claiming he was acting in ‘the national interest’, he simply poured kerosene on a raging fire. ‘Drop The Chamber!’ became the rallying hashtag on social media.
The root of the matter
My personal view of this matter is that the public anger goes beyond the specific issue of $200m for a new parliamentary chamber when we have so many challenges in education, sanitation and health, among many others.
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I think this is just the latest layer in a number of irritants that have built up and coalesced over the years to give a rather poor image of the House and it effectively became the last straw on the camel’s back.
For instance, ex-gratia payments to MPs at the end of every parliamentary cycle, whether or not they have retained their seats, does grate on people. Generous car loans and rent advance for our Members of Parliament are noted and they do irritate.
Many feel their MPs do not represent their interests and are in the house for their own needs. Of course, this goes to the heart of the question of the functions of an MP which many believe is to bring development projects to them.
This is a misunderstanding of their core legislative function, but then, many MPs make these grand promises on the campaign trail, and the electorate are quite within their rights to call in the promises when campaign is over and the candidate can now safely be addressed as ‘Honourable’.
One other thing that angers many people is the perception that most MPs do nothing but turn up in the house to vote for their party’s position on important issues when they come up, without even understanding them, or to shout ‘yeah yeah!!’ and wave placards about excitedly. At other times, they cannot be bothered to turn up at all, something the Speaker has complained about on several occasions.
Many of us have stared at a literally empty chamber on our television screens on several occasions, which causes people to ask what the point is of a second chamber anyway when the current chamber is only full on Budget Day or during the State of the Nation Address.
No matter the fact that many MPs do a lot of hard work at committee level, public perception on the near-empty chamber is ingrained, and it is adverse. These are the things that make a second chamber such a tough sell.
I think people feel our Parliamentarians have not earned a new chamber the way the judiciary ‘earned’ themselves a new court complex in Accra without public mutterings.
Parliament must renew itself
When all has calmed down, I think the leadership of the House has to do deep introspection on how to win back public respect. They owe that duty to the institution.
Wrongly or rightly, there is a lot of public anger out there that cannot, and should not, be ignored or taken for granted. It is a road that must be travelled upon because we cannot afford the bastardisation of Parliament and with it, our democracy.
I ardently believe the new chamber is effectively dropped as one would a piece of live, red-hot coal in one’s bare hands. After all, to paraphrase the Good Book, what shall it benefit a Parliament to have a grand new chamber and lose public respect?