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Review Standing Orders of Parliament — Majority Leader

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman
Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu
Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu

The Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, has called for the review of some standing orders of Parliament that restrict the independence of select committees to conduct their own investigations into matters of national interest without the approval of the House during recess.

He said per the current standing orders of the legislature, if no referrals were made to Parliament during recess for an investigation to be carried out into issues such as the outbreak of diseases and scandalous corruption, no relevant committee could, on its own, act to prevent such issues from getting out of hand.

“If committees have the remit to do what is required of them to do without any referral, then we will see relevant committees, even in the recession period of Parliament, convening and converging to investigate scandalous issues such as what is happening at SSNIT and bring a report for the House to conduct further investigations,” he said.

Speaking at the third edition of the Crystal Ball Series in Parliament yesterday, Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu described the current standing orders as “a major factor inhibiting the performance of committees of Parliament currently.”

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The event, on the theme: “Promoting open Parliament in partnership with Parliament of Ghana and Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs”, aimed at promoting parliamentary transparency, accountability and responsiveness. It was organised by the Parliamentary News Africa and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD).

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Liberate committees

Buttressing his call for the review of standing orders of Parliament, the majority leader, who has been in Parliament for 21 years, stated that with the current rot at the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), no committee could delve into the matter until Parliament resumed session in October this year for the scandal to be referred to the House.

“This is why we want to review the standing orders to liberate the committee to do an effective work so that once the remit of a committee is defined, it can, without any prompting, conduct its own investigations into matters of national interest with the help of consultants.

“Assuming we wake up tomorrow and we hear that there is an outbreak of cholera, the committee on health cannot on their own delve into those matters unless Parliament is in session and a referral is made to it.

“And referrals can only be made if a question has been asked of the Health minister and his answer is not satisfactory or somebody comes out with a statement for the Speaker to task a committee to look into the matter,” he said.

According to him, any committee that dared to, on its own, initiate any investigation into issues of national interest without the approval of the Speaker of Parliament would have its report not entertained by the House.

He described as unfortunate the situation where various Speakers of Parliament had interpreted standing orders and the Constitution to mean that the House as an institution and committee members as individuals could not sponsor any bill, saying: “I disagree violently with those Speakers.”

Attitude of Speaker worrying

The Deputy Minority Leader, Mr James Klutse Avedzi, blamed the delayed passage of bills taken to Parliament for consideration on the executive and ministers of state, saying they only rushed bills to Parliament when the House was just a few weeks away from recess.

He also expressed worry over the posture of the Speaker towards the minority in the House, saying: “The Speaker sometimes ignores the minority leader even when he is on his feet speaking and this attitude of the Speaker is not good for our growing democracy.”

A Senior Research Fellow of CDD, Ambassador Mr Francis Tsegah  (Retd), commended Parliament for its responsiveness to matters of national interest, an attitude, he said, had allowed the legislature to take a lead in governance.