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Upgrade Council of State to Upper Chamber - Okudzeto

BY: Samuel Duodu
Sam Okudzeto, member of Council of State
Sam Okudzeto, member of Council of State

A member of the Council of State (CoS), Sam Okudzeto, has called for the constitutional body to be upgraded into an Upper House of Parliament to promote good governance and development in the country.

He said transforming the council into an Upper House would give some powers to the institution to play more than the advisory role it was playing now, counsel the President was not obliged to take.

The legal luminary said the proposal to upgrade the CoS into an Upper House should be part of the constitutional review.

"I must say that nobody, for now, including the President and Parliament, can make that change, except through a constitutional amendment," he said.

Mr Okudzeto was speaking in an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic following a similar proposal by former President John Agyekum Kufuor for the creation of an Upper Chamber of Parliament to replace the CoS.

Mr Okudzeto said until there was a constitutional amendment, the CoS would continue to remain as an advisory body that “has no teeth to bite".

Public outcry

The statesman described as unfortunate calls by a section of the public for the CoS to be "scrapped" because it was no longer fit for purpose, saying the institution, as it stood now, could only be reformed through constitutional amendments.

“Because of the trajectory where we are going now, we think we need a change or reform, which means the CoS should not be scrapped,” Mr Okudzeto said.

He added that the country should create a second chamber, as is the case in other jurisdictions, which should be composed of diverse groups of individuals with diverse experiences to help stabilise the nation for progress.

Composition

The member of the CoS said the composition of the Upper House should not be based only on an elective system but rather institutional representation, in addition to elective members.

“We can have what most countries have now, such as the Lower House and the Upper House. Let us transform the CoS into an Upper House, which requires constitutional changes to ensure that we do not make it a political talk chamber,” he said.

Mr Okudzeto said the composition of the Upper House should have representation from professional bodies such as the Ghana Bar Association, the Ghana Institution of Engineers, the Ghana Medical Association, among others, with some elected members or appointees.

He explained that the current CoS was composed of experienced individuals from diverse backgrounds and had served its purpose, as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution, with its limitation being that it had no powers to do much.

He said that was the reason some eminent citizens, including former President Kufuor, had called for the CoS to be transformed into an Upper Chamber, as pertained in other jurisdictions.

Recall

Former President Kufuor, when he took his turn at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) seminar series on constitutional review at his residence at Peduase, near Aburi in the Eastern Region on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, advocated the composition of an Upper House of Parliament to replace the CoS as part of constitutional reforms to promote good governance and development in the country.

In his proposal for an Upper House, he explained that when composed, it must have the mandate of checking what he described as “democratic excesses”.
It must also possess vetting powers and help check pitfalls in debates or proposed economic policies laid before the Lower House of Parliament, whose members should be directly elected by the electorate, he said.

“I have gone through the 1969, 1979 and the 1992 constitutional periods and I have come to the conclusion that perhaps what our Constitution should have, to be able to tamper with the extremes of democracy, is not a CoS but a well-composed second chamber,” he pointed out.

He explained that the Upper House could be composed of between 80 and 100 members from identifiable institutions, civil society organisations (CSOs), the National House of Chiefs, religious leaders, free thinkers, as well as representatives from the three arms of government — the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.

Former President Kufuor said the House should include professionals, such as media practitioners, lawyers, medical practitioners and members of academia.
Equally important were representatives of the youth and the private sector, made up of industrialists, traders, among others, the former President posited.

Cost, good governance

Mr Kufuor, while admitting that the Upper Chamber might cost the nation more, said it would ultimately produce quality and serve the tenets of good governance.

“I tell you, the difference that body will make in governance will be superb; I am not saying it should be so powerful as to deny the Lower House its democratic purpose, nor the President the necessary authority to govern, using the Executive agencies effectively,” the former President said.

He emphasised that the Presidency was not a monarchy, as was the case of a traditional ruler that needed advisors.