Honourable Parliamentarians and our democracy

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

I have been itching to share Daniel Webster’s words of wisdom with our honourable Members of Parliament.  Webster was writing about PATRIOTISM.  Hear him, “Let our object be our country, our whole country and nothing but our country.  And by the blessing of God, may that country become a vast and splendid monument not of oppression and terror, but of wisdom, of peace, and of liberty upon which the world may gaze with admiration for ever.”

It is time to pause and ponder clearly and seriously about our democratic progress, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks.  This is about the fixation, or is it the obsession, or rather the illusion, or may be the deception that democracy is all about elections. That when you conduct elections successfully, you become democratic, and that the country and her people are transformed to enjoy the expectable outcomes of a genuine democratic system. Many of us have become addicted to this tranquilising fallacy.

But is it the case that elections represent the totality of the democratic system? The answer is a decisive NO. Elections must certainly not be the end.  They must be the means to the end. They should be seen as one vital step. But if that vital step is taken and other vital steps are missed, then the whole democratic process is stunted. A stunted democratic growth must be avoided since it becomes toxic.

There has to be a serious rethinking and clear understanding if our democracy is not going to remain a mere repetitive ceremonial farce.

The crucial test must be whether there are established institutions that bedrock the democratic environment, and whether those institutions are functioning effectively to register the desired impact on the people.  Otherwise, elections become a hollow cosmetic ritual that, unfortunately, provides the avenue for sleazy money-making and the invidious opportunity to foment acrimonious viciousness that instigate division and instability.

Just consider the poisonous subversive utterances that have become the sad aspect of our election campaigns.  So if the productive outcomes of elections are not realised because there are no effective institutions to sustain these outcomes, then in the popular parlance “did we go or did we come?”

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Our focus, in my view, should be on our Parliament, our Judiciary and our Presidency.  They represent the fundamental triangle of our democratic success or failure. The need therefore to scrutinise and constantly and persistently monitor these three pillars for sustainable democracy can hardly be overemphasised.

For instance, is our Parliament really performing effectively in protecting the NATIONAL INTEREST?  In effect, are our parliamentarians really representing the interest of their constituents or they are merely obsessed with promoting partisan, parochial and other dubious interests that do not promote the nation’s interest?  If they are not, then how do we hold them to account for their work?  Is there an effective accounting mechanism? 

Furthermore, is the Judiciary sincerely living up to the expectation that they would dispense justice with fairness, firmness, honour and integrity?  Or they are fast being perceived as compromised with money, political considerations or sheer incompetence?  If they are not, then how do we hold them to account expeditiously and transparently?  We should recognise that a bogus judiciary is a complete security headache.  It subverts democracy.

All that said, my immediate concern presently is our Parliament and our parliamentarians.  Significantly, the noble title HONOURABLE has been bestowed on them.  I believe that those who originated that ‘honourable’ title did envisage that gentlemen and ladies bearing that noble title would possess some basic attributes to ensure that they become successful and productive Members of Parliament.  They surely would have considered a certain level of socio-political and professional competence, honesty, integrity and of course maturity and wisdom. You have to deserve that honourable title otherwise the title is cheapened by charlatans.

Because at the basic level these are the criteria that should define and determine the character and conduct of all who enjoy that noble ‘honourable’ title.  Actually, for the democratic system to perform with dignity, these noble attributes should be manifested in the conduct of the Members of Parliament both inside and outside of Parliament.  Indeed, many people would place more emphasis on their conduct outside the House. The reason ought to be clear. They are in the eye of the public and whatever they say or do becomes headline news.

This brings me to the very disturbing issue that over the years many of our honourable parliamentarians have incrementally and retrogressively been losing honour, decency, integrity and credibility.  Their conduct in and out of the House has raised disturbing concerns.  Any objective survey would confirm that many discerning people have acquired very poor opinions about some of our MPs.  Indeed, some are held in contempt.

Over the years, some of them have been shamefully associated with criminal and anti-social conduct like insurance and visa frauds, drug-dealing, moral turpitude and a host of other dishonourable escapades that clearly render the noble title of ‘honourable’ totally  ludicrous,  even nonsensical.

A mystifying aspect is that many go unpunished.  There has been even the impunity factor.  Worse still, even after they leave office some still insist that they are addressed as HONOURABLE.  How ludicrous! This attitude runs down the wire to District Chief Executives and Assembly members. They demand to be addressed honourable.  That is cheap, if you ask me.   When honourable members perform dishonourably, there is trouble.

There is no need reciting the catalogue of shenanigans, malfeasance and other disreputable attitudes.  Many of us know them. They stride the political divide. They include the rather crude and profane display of arrogance, superciliousness and offensive contempt. That certainly is dishonourable.

Consider this.  How on God’s earth would honourable MPs enter the House to hear the budget statement armed with vicious derogatory placards in condemnation of a budget statement that has not been read? That is not what parliamentary democracy is about. It is a shameful aberration. Or how do you justify the rowdy, irresponsible, crude conduct of honourable members heckling Heads of State like wayward students on illegal strike? It is noteworthy that the honourable members behaved responsibly in not subjecting President Mahama the other day to their trademark rancorous heckling.  Maybe it is a new attempt by the MPs to retrieve their lost dignity. That should be fast tracked. 

Intelligence appreciation should establish that gradually but steadily, many patriots are becoming worried, even disillusioned, about the way we are executing serious aspects of our democratic practice. The insane acrimonious partisanship is one big case in point. When MPs see themselves as serving their political parties and not the nation, there is a problem.  Additionally, the bothersome perception that Parliament is behaving like a sacrosanct untouchable body of gods operating from out there in some cosmic environment is even more problematic. The matter becomes more delicate when the constituents see their MPs not as divinities but just coarse human material cloaked in the noble title of honourable.  This creates a disconnect syndrome.

Many who have followed the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee, the Privileges Committee and the Appointments Committee of Parliament cannot fail to be alarmed at the way those noble institutions have been bastardised by some bogus MPs into terror instruments to besmear and humiliate decent people in an irritating undisguised manner. The naughtiness cannot be mistaken. You need people of character on the committee. Not bad-mannered foul-mouthed rabble-rousing political fanatics.

I can recall that outraged people actually dared the Privileges Committee in particular to invite them so they can confront the Committee about their noisy intimidatory and terrorising posture. Fortunately, the committee could not accept that confrontational invitation. Or was it unfortunately?

Pair up this situation with the sad fact that over the years Parliament has remained cowardly impotent in calling to order MPs who mess up in and out of the House, in spite of the fact that some MPs have denigrated Parliament by their crude dishonourable conduct.  The question that must be confronted is this.  Who holds bogus MPs to account? 

I have been personally pained by the public perception that MPs are dutiful and united only when their emoluments and privileges are concerned. Otherwise, over crucial national issues, they seem to be fighting an indecent partisan turf war. I have heard some MPs pooh-poohing this perception as unfounded and irrelevant. Well, they forget that in politics, perception can create political problems. Perception should be taken seriously.

The way forward demands a vibrant Parliament of decent patriotic members whose focus should be on the nation.  And we should all be determined to hold our MPs responsible. Otherwise on crucial national issues, they will continue to shortchange us.  It must be stressed that over a long time, some of their performances have not been in the best interest of the nation. This is a serious indictment.

Take this shining example. Once upon a time, a respected anti-corruption MP on the majority side publicly accused his colleagues of collecting US$5,000 bribe from the Chief of Staff to vote favourably for an agreement, that was demonstrably against the nation’s interest. Nothing happened as far as I recollect. Parliament played the deaf and mute game. MPs scornfully shrugged off the allegation and even insulted the MP who levelled that gargantuan charge, and comfortably “chopped” their bribes. In any genuine democratic environment there would have been “tsunamic” political consequences. The government would have fallen. Not so in dear Ghana.

What kind of parliamentary democracy is this? So of what practical use are elections in this context for instance? Take this rather mystifying instance. Once upon a time, our noble Parliament approved the sale agreement of VALCO to some two foreign entities. Almost immediately, those entities issued crisp prompt denials. They had not bought anything from Ghana. One went  damaging step further, they had no intention of buying anything from us. Is that not strange and mystifying? So who sold what? And who bought what? Again, Parliament went surprisingly stone deaf. Is that our brand of parliamentary democracy? Are we not crucifying democracy? Elections or no elections?

These developments can be dangerous in any security appreciation. In a situation where our honourable MPs are being fairly or unfairly associated with money, greed, selfishness and the pursuit of parochial interests, tendencies like these do subvert the integrity of Parliament and the image of MPs.

Over time, people’s disappointments, frustrations, disillusionment, resentment and ultimately anger at our skewed practice of parliamentary democracy can lead to something else, possibly something explosive.  That is the reality.

We keep saying that Ghanaians have become more discerning, but I wonder whether we appreciate the full implications. One inevitable outcome is this. The people, so outraged by these perfidious practices, would not stomach untenable situations meekly all the time. That’s the danger. They could explode.

In the same vein, must we debate the shabby, and in some cases, the perfidious conduct of certain sections of the Judiciary? The democratic practice can be a hollow farce if there is no manifest justice. But can there be justice in a skewed criminal justice environment of political bias, perceived corruption, incompetence, treachery and plain sabotage?

This is the security talking point. If the people cannot get justice legitimately, they will snatch it their own way by taking the law into their angry hands. The chaotic outcome can be a real security breach. Let me repeat this. A bogus Judiciary is a national disaster, pure and simple.

Can I conclude this piece without advocating for the urgent need to make standing regulations to govern the conduct of former Presidents so that they can behave maturely and wisely in enhancing national cohesion, unity coherence and stability?  That will help them to be appreciated as venerable senior citizens and wise elder statesmen. We are looking after them holistically so we are entitled to demand a high level of responsibility and accountability from them.Otherwise instead of being regarded as consistent, mature, stabilising statesmen they could derail into flip-flopping destabilising toxic humbugs.

Article by Kofi Bentum Quantson