The Speaker of Parliament, Mr Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has called for a national debate on how to support Parliament to have a functional edifice that will help deepen democratic governance and accountability in the country.
The parliamentary enclave, with the requisite infrastructure, equipment and technology, would not only enhance the work of members and staff of Parliament, as well as the media, but also help curb some unpleasant happenings in the chamber that became “a national embarrassment” during the inauguration of the eighth Parliament on January 7, this year, he said.
“There is the urgent need for Ghanaians to start thinking about getting a proper place to position our Parliament. If not, we will be having this kind of national humiliation with the kind of voting we do on the floor of Parliament and even how to manage members on the way they get up and shout to get the Speaker’s attention,” he added.
The Speaker made the call when a delegation from the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL) called on him in his office last Thursday.
The four-member delegation, led by the Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mr Kobby Asmah, was in the Speaker’s Office to express appreciation to him for supporting the company to launch its “Ghana Year Book” on March 18, 2021.
The other members of the delegation were the Political Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mr Albert K. Salia; the Circulation Manager, Mr Kweku Tweneboah Ofosu, and the Head of Corporate Communications of the GCGL, Mr Emmanuel Agyei Arthur.
The delegation also discussed possible ways in which the GCGL could deepen ties with the Legislature to enhance the former’s coverage of parliamentary activities to provide the public accurate information.
Stuck in old Parliament
The Speaker, who said he had visited many Parliaments across the world, compared Ghana’s Parliament with others in some African countries which gained independence after Ghana’s and indicated that those countries had functional chambers and offices that had all the necessary facilities.
He said in 1992, the decision was made to refurbish the current chamber temporarily for Parliament, while a parliamentary enclave was to be built, “but we are still left in Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s conference room”.
“We are still stuck in and so a lot of things cannot happen properly. When we are voting, it becomes a national disgrace because we do not need now to be doing manual voting. It is not done in Parliament. You can be anywhere, but once it is time for voting, you can vote,” he said.
Mr Bagbin said anytime an effort was made to try to replicate Parliaments outside Ghana in terms of facilities, there was always an uproar.
Explaining the development, he said: “It is not the fault of the people but the leaders because the MPs and the government have not made Ghanaians to see the benefits of an MP.”
In 2019, the then Speaker of Parliament, Professor Mike Aaron Oquaye, also called for a new and expanded Legislative Chamber.
The sod-cutting was fixed for June 2019, but a public uproar and #DropThatChamber campaign on social media platforms compelled Parliament to make a U-turn on the controversial project.
With the current location of the Press Gallery in the Chamber on top of where the Speaker sat, Mr Bagbin said “the Parliamentary Press Corps is like an afterthought in Ghana’s Parliament”.
He said members of the Parliamentary Press Corps were not given proper conditions to work, as well as enough space and tools in Parliament to operate with.
He said under normal circumstances, as pertained in other African countries, the Parliamentary Press Corp must be accorded the right position in the House to enhance their work.
“The place they put the press corps is a place where you can observe everything happening on the floor of Parliament, and you have enough press rooms where, usually after these events, you take people in, conduct interviews and you can even air them live, not the corridors where you keep chasing members to ask questions,” he said.
To enhance the overall performance of the Legislature, the Speaker said he was open as a person, and added that he would ensure an open administration of the Legislature.
He said he is a member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), whose birth and upbringing have so much to do with social justice, fairness and, more importantly, freedom.
“I do what I do for the common good and I do what I do here because I think Ghana first. I will not see Ghana with my NDC lens.
“That does not mean the interest of the NDC is not national interest; it is part of the national interest, but I will not be a political partisan activist. That is not part of the role or duty of the Speaker,” he stated.
Access to information
The Editor of the Daily Graphic observed that getting access to information from Parliament could sometimes be challenging for media practitioners.
Mr Asmah, therefore, commended the Speaker for his commitment to open up the doors of Parliament for reporters to sit in committee meetings and plenary sittings, as well as cover courtesy calls on the Speaker.
“This will allow us to get first-hand information to share with the public. The media can only be effective when they are highly informed; if we are less informed, clearly you cannot be that effective,” he stated.
He thanked Mr Bagbin for his readiness to support the organisation of workshops and training for media practitioners, an initiative which, he said, would place reporters in a position to play influential roles in information dissemination.