Speakers of Parliament are people of very rich political and legal experience as their position is crucial to the deepening of the democratic process. They superintend over the passage of Bills into Acts and approval of loans and credit agreements.
The current Speaker of the Seventh Parliament, Professor Michael Aaron Oquaye, fits well into that category as he is a political guru and legal luminary.
Prof. Oquaye’s working life has been mainly a combination of private legal practice, lecturing in political science, doing active politics and pastoral work. He is expected to bring his experience to bear on the Business of the House.
Following the victory of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the December 7, 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections, it became necessary for the NPP to nominate somebody from its fold to be Speaker.
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Some names, including those of the former Second Deputy Speaker, Mr Joe Ghartey, the former Member of Parliament (MP) for Sekondi, Papa Owusu-Ankomah, and that of the acting Chairman of the NPP, Mr Freddy Blay, came up as contenders but Prof. Oquaye was the strongest contender.
It, therefore, came as no surprise when Prof. Oquaye was in the early minutes of January 7, 2017 introduced to Parliament as the nominee for the position of Speaker. His nomination was subsequently approved.
The MPs cheered him on as he took the coveted Speaker seat as the successor to Mr Edward Doe Adjaho, the Speaker of the Sixth Parliament of the Fourth Republic.
Speaker’s direction for Parliament
In his inaugural address, the Speaker outlined the direction that he wanted the House to chart to better serve the people of Ghana.
He promised to be fair to both the Majority and Minority sides of the House, and asked the two sides to work in the interest of the country.
One of the thorny issues he wanted to address was the controversy relating to the Private Members Bills. He said it was tragic that currently, it appeared that MPs could not initiate legislation independent of the Executive.
He said Article 108 of the Constitution provided that once a bill had financial implications, it could only be introduced by the Executive.
Prof. Oquaye said a narrow view had been taken that every bill had financial implication, including the paper on which it was printed and the clerks who worked on it who were paid by the government.
Another task that the Speaker wanted to undertake was a concerted effort to increase women’s representation in Parliament. He said a very disturbing aspect of Ghana’s parliamentary democracy was the abysmal low representation of women in Parliament.
He said an Affirmative Action law could be the only way of using the law as an instrument of social engineering and mischief correction to ensure equality.
The Speaker wanted the business of the House to run without any hindrances.
Professor Mike Oquaye (2nd left) arriving at the Black Star Square in Accra for the inauguration of President Nana Akufo-Addo
Educational and professional life
Prof. Oquaye was born on April 4, 1944 to Mr E.G.N. Oquaye of Osu, Accra (a cocoa merchant) and Mrs Felicia Awusiki Oquaye, (nee Azu) of Odumase-Krobo. He was the third of seven children.
He was brought up at Asamankese in the Eastern Region where he attended the Catholic and Presbyterian schools before proceeding to PRESEC, Odumase-Krobo (‘O’ Level) and Apam Secondary School (‘A’ Level), the University of Ghana, University of London and Lincoln ’s Inn, London. He holds B.A. Hons. (Political Science); LL.B. Hons., B.L. and Ph.D degrees.
A barrister of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, he is also a senior member of the Ghana Bar. As an academic, Prof. Oquaye achieved the singular distinction of winning within four years, the coveted International Rockefeller Senior Scholar Award (1993) and the Senior Fulbright Scholar Award (1997), considered the highest award in academia.
He was a Visiting Scholar in London (SOAS), and Virginia (George Mason), USA, respectively. He was Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Ghana, Legon (Oct. 1999-Jan. 2002).
Prof. Oquaye was the Vice-President of the African Association of Political Science (AAPS), with its headquarters in Zimbabwe (1997-1999). He won the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences Silver Award for his published doctoral thesis, among several awards.
He has researched and written extensively on good governance, conflict, political education, decentralisation and development, human rights, military intervention in politics, NGOs, rural development and gender issues.
He is a keen advocate of the rights of women, including affirmative action. He is one man who has regularly featured in conferences on gender in this country. Above all, he has researched widely on parliamentary democracy. His books and articles have been published in England, Canada, USA, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ghana.
Prof. Oquaye’s rich experience in African politics has been tapped by many institutions in Ghana and abroad.
President Nana Akufo-Addo (in kente cloth) congratulating Professor Mike Oquaye at the Black Star Square in Accra
Prof. Oquaye, the diplomat/politician
Prof. Oquaye is a diplomat, legislator and politician. He served as Ghana ’s High Commissioner to India (2002-04); Member of Parliament for Dome-Kwabenya (2005 to 2013); Minister of Energy (2005-06); Minister of Communications (2006-07) and the Second Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana (2009-2013).
His tenure as High Commissioner to India was a period of significant Indo-Ghana relations which included the establishment of the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in IT and Ghana’s Presidential Palace and Offices.
In the energy sector, he presided over the deregulation exercise; expansion and maximum application of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) and signed the agreement with Tullow which led to the first discovery of oil in Ghana. Again, the West Africa Gas Pipeline was inaugurated by President Kufuor in his time.
The Bui Dam MoU with Sino Hydro of China was signed in China by Prof. Oquaye in September 2005, after lengthy negotiations.
As a Minister of Communications, his achievements included the following: Ghana and China signed a $30 million agreement for the national backbone project; the World Bank gave Ghana $40 million concessionary facility after all the relevant benchmarks had been satisfied in record time, and he was in charge of the initial steps for the divestiture of Westel and Ghana Telecom.
In Parliament, Prof. Oquaye took very keen interest in legislation and made meticulous endeavours in detecting minute slips. According to the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, Prof Oquaye made brilliant statements and contributions rich in depth. Committees he served on included Committee on Members Holding Office of Profit, Standing Orders Committee, Committee on Defence and Interior, Committee on Local Government and Committee on Communication.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said as a Second Deputy Speaker, whenever Prof. Oquaye presided over the House, his evenness and equanimity pleased both sides of the House.
Professor Mike Oquaye
Prof. Oquaye is currently the Executive Director of Africa Public Policy Institute (APPI) – a research think tank which he founded.
A Baptist Pastor, Prof. Oquaye is married to Mrs Alberta Oquaye (nee Asafu-Adjaye) (Major retd) with children. His hobbies include soccer, table tennis, reading, writing and music.