Ghana can’t afford more MPs period!
By Emmanuel Akli
THE NO nonsense Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, recently called a news conference in Accra to announce the creation of 45 additional constituencies, following the release of the 2010 Population and Housing Census.
According to the Afari-Gyan, the government had already created a number of district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies, but if the EC should look at that alone, not forgetting the gerrymandering that came with it to create the constituencies, it would not ensure national balance.
This pronouncement has been received with mixed reactions from the people of Ghana. My understanding is that a group of people have already gone to court to challenge the creation of these new constituencies. This group, I am told, claims if the EC is to rely on the population quota for the creation of the new constituencies, then the Greater Accra Region ought to get more seats than what has been allocated to it by the EC. On Friday last week, the Greater Accra Regional branch of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) also called a news conference in Accra to warn the EC to suspend the creation of the new constituencies, if it would not allocate the right seats to Greater Accra.
According to them, per the 2010 Housing and Population Census, the Greater Accra was the most densely populated region in Ghana, therefore, to award just seven additional seats to it, when some of the regions that are sparsely populated had been given five seats and even more, is unacceptable. I am yet to hear the official position of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), which is also a major stakeholder in the matter, but whether the argument being advanced by the aggrieved parties is deeply rooted in law or otherwise, would be determined by the courts, so I would not like to tread that path.
My concern, however, is whether Ghana, as a country, is ready to accept more Members of Parliament. Per Afari-Gyan’s pronouncement, Ghana is now going to have 275 MPs when Parliament resumes sitting in January next year, as against our little over 24 million population. Before I proceed with my argument against this gargantuan decision to create more seats, I must admit that Afari-Gyan and his EC have not breached any law in deciding to create more seats in Parliament.
Indeed, Article 47 clause 5 of the 1992 Constitution states, and I quote: “The Electoral Commission SHALL (sic) review the division of Ghana into constituencies at intervals of not less than seven years, or within twelve months after the publication of the enumeration figures after the holding of census of the population of Ghana, which ever is earlier, and may, as a result, alter the constituencies.” Now the population and housing census figures clearly indicate that Ghana’s population has jumped from… to 24 million.
This means that the EC has the obligation to create more constituencies, and failure to do that, would be in breach of the law. I, therefore, do not think Afari-Gyan has done anything wrong so far as the law is concerned. But, the big question is should we allow this particular article to stay in the constitution for us, as a country, to keep on increasing seats in parliament anytime the Population and Housing census is conducted? My answer is a BIG no.
I object to this, because if care is not taken, a small country like Ghana is going to have over eight hundred MPs in future, with its concomitant effect on the economy. MPs, as they themselves have admitted, are not development officers but law makers. Development at the local level of this country is always the preserve of the various metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies. That is why I support the creation of more districts, because it leads to the development of all parts of the country. The Kufuor government did it after the 2000 Population and Housing Census, and the Atta Mills government has also followed suit. But, using this method as the means to create more constituencies must be opposed from all angles.
Great Britain, our colonial master, has a population of 60 million people, yet has just 500 MPs, so on what logical basis should a country like Ghana, with a population of 24 million, be having 275 MPs, which is more than half the MPs in the British Parliament, as against their population of 60 million, which I have already indicated. I do not also think that the United States of America, with a population of over 300 million people, has more than 1,000 Senators.
What we must not forget is that the maintenance of MPs comes at a great cost to the state. Already, each MP is paid a whopping GH¢87,000 as end or service benefit every four years. This is besides the salaries and other fringe benefits they get. It is also an open secret that MPs have tabled to be paid a monthly salary of between GH¢7,000 and GH¢8,000. If this figure is finally approved by the executive, one can imagine the quantum of money the country is going to spend on her MPs alone. My information is that following the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS), the annual wage bill has jumped from GH¢2.5 billion to GH¢5 billion. The figure has been projected to hit GH¢7 billion by the end of the year, if salaries and allowances of all government sector workers are captured by the SSSS.
Despite this huge wage bill, there has not been a corresponding increase in revenue, because it is only a minute percentage of the population that actually pays taxes to the state. It is, therefore, not surprising that Ghana has always depended on donor countries to balance its budget, because we are unable to raise enough domestic revenue to become self sustainable. The end result of this is that we are always serving loans with the little taxes we are able to raise. Ghana has abundant natural wealth, but we export them in raw form without adding any value to it, thus depriving the country of the needed revenue to develop.
As a result of these setbacks, our road infrastructure is nothing to write home about. Go to the rural areas and one would see the nature of roads being used by these rural dwellers whose sweat feeds the entire nation on a daily basis. I had the opportunity to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently, and was amazed at their level of development. In fact, they have a five-lane dual carriage road linking their administrative capital, Abu Dhabi, to the commercial capital, Dubai. The level of development I saw will be a whole topic that I will treat in this column in the next few days.
Despite being an emerging oil exporting nation and a major producer of precious minerals such as gold, diamond, manganese, not to even mention cocoa and the likes, we are struggling to build a single lane road to link Accra and Kumasi, the largest and second largest cities we have in this country of ours. But, instead of brainstorming on how to resolve this nagging problem, what we are rather interested in is how to increase seats in Parliament to impose more burdens on the nation. It is my contention that Ghana cannot afford to have more MPs, because the resources are not there to cater for them.
The National Organiser of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mr. Yaw Boateng Gyan, and the vociferous Member of Parliament for Bimbila, Dominic Nitiwul, were seen on television over the weekend ferociously protesting against the EC’s decision to organise a bye-election in the Wulensi constituency. The two argued that Parliament would rise in July next month and reconvene in October, where they would sit for three weeks and then go on break for the conduct of the December 7 national elections. To them, the MP elected after the bye-election would be in Parliament for just three weeks, and that it would be a waste of resources to conduct such an election.
This is a brilliant argument coming from the two gentlemen, but as to why they have remained mute over the decision to increase the number of seats in Parliament from 230 to 275, with its accompanying financial burden on the state, remains a Gordian knot we all have to untie. But, trust me, as politicians they have envisaged the money they are going to spend to elect an MP who will be in Parliament for just three weeks, when such a resource could be reserved for the campaign in the same constituency for the national elections. You see how politicians are crafty as the biblical snake? If it is against their interest, they will kick against it, but will remain mute if the situation favours them. Obviously, creating more constituencies would help to create jobs for them, so why kick against such a laudable idea, even if it would have a negative effect on the economy.
But, I insist that we must not allow this financial burden to be imposed on our economy, and, therefore, suggest to President John Atta Mills to see to the amendment of Article 47 clause 5 of the Constitution to provide a ceiling for the number of MPs we can have.
If the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) has suggested the upper ceiling for the number of judges we should have at the Supreme Court, which suggestion has been accepted by the government through a white paper it has issued, then the same must be done for Parliament, instead of this madness of increasing the number of seats in anytime a Population and Housing Census is conducted. It is not the large number of MPs we shall have in Parliament that would determine the quality of laws they enact. If we have just 150 people entering Parliament with the right qualifications, they can make laws for this country that would help transform the economy.
The money to be spent on keeping the extra 45 MPs that are going to be admitted into Parliament could be channeled into other sectors of the economy that need financial support. It is my hope that civil society groups would also rise up against this phenomenon before it degenerates into something else, which situation would be very difficult to deal with. I fully accept the argument that democracy is an expensive venture, but that does not also mean that we should keep on increasing seats in Parliament, when those who have got the financial muzzle are even trying to merge some of their constituencies to cut down on the number of MPs in Parliament.
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