By Agnes Ansah
Owing to the brouhaha stemming from the announcement of a new 450-seater Chamber for Ghana’s Parliament, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, has justified why there is the need to construct the edifice.
According to Mr Mensah-Bonsu, parliamentarians need bigger space to conduct their activities, including the swearing in of heads of state, receiving local and foreign dignitaries, as well as providing security of its members and the head of state on inauguration days.
Detailing the reasons why there should be a new Chamber, Mr Mensah-Bonsu observed that there have been several expansions and refurbishments of the existing structures since the inception of the Fourth Republic due to the increase in the number of members of Parliament (MP).
This has led to a situation where some MPs sit at obscure places in the Chamber and are not able to contribute to discussions, hence, the need for a bigger place.
Mr Mensah-Bonsu also indicated that the tradition of swearing in heads of state at the Black Star Square is not in the right direction. According to him, a President is supposed to be sworn in at Parliament House or the forecourt of the House, and not at the Black Star Square or any other place.
Mr Mensah-Bonsu said that a new Chamber would enable successive presidents to be sworn in at the House as the law demands. He added that in the wake of a terrorist threat, a president should not be sworn in such an open place, where he or anybody could be easily attacked.
In addition to the above, the man, who is also the Majority Leader in Parliament, opined that there should be a proper place reserved for former presidents, speakers, diplomats and other dignitaries whenever there is an event in the Chamber.
He said it was not pleasant to see dignitaries seated just anywhere, hence, the need for bigger space that would ensure that these dignitaries are given the respect they deserve.
The legislature for Suame Constituency also stated that all other arms of government have their enclave with the exception of the legislature. He said the current location of Parliament is for State Protocol, hence, plans are in place to ensure that Parliament has its own enclave.
Mr Mensah-Bonsu stressed that if the majority of the MP’s oppose the idea, it would not be pushed through, because the decision is at the elementary stage and monies have not been paid to anyone.
On the issue of whether or not the Chamber foresees an increase in the number of parliamentarians in the near future, the Suame legislature said that such a forecast can only be determined by the Electoral Commission, and not parliamentary leadership.
He, however, suggested that the government should ensure that a limit is set for the number of people who should enter Ghana’s Parliament to avoid overcrowding and its related issues.
Meanwhile, the masses and civil society organisations, including the Center for Democratic Development Ghana (CDD-Ghana), have kicked against the idea of the 450-seater Chamber.
According to CDD-Ghana, it does not believe that the construction of a new and expanded Chamber is reasonable or justifiable at the present time, stressing: “We risk making our democracy unpopular when we make needless expenses.”
In a statement it issued yesterday, it indicated the construction was being promulgated at the time when the country is faced with the lack of basic necessities, including safe and decent physical structures and facilities, fixtures for many basic schools, and a chronic shortage of beds in public hospitals.
It added that the deplorable condition of many of the country’s roads and other basic infrastructural and material deprivations facing various populations of citizens does not warrant the construction of a new edifice, as it constitutes a misplacing of priorities.
Although it appreciated the current physical challenges of the edifice, it however added that over the past two decades, Parliament had benefited from the construction of an Administrative Block that includes offices and meeting rooms for its Select and Standing Committees, known as ‘Job 600’, and that they should make do with it.
Other benefits mentioned are the expansion and refurnishing of the Legislative Chamber to accommodate the increase in the number of Parliamentarians, following the creation of new constituencies in the 2012 elections.
CDD-Ghana further said it acknowledged the important constitutional tasks and roles assigned to Parliament, and believes, with many Ghanaians, that the Parliament of Ghana must be adequately empowered and resourced to discharge its responsibilities and roles effectively, however, the new Chamber proposal is needless.
It added that the proposal “will paint a political class that is either out of touch with the people’s everyday needs and struggles, or is more concerned with providing for their own material comforts than with the existential needs of citizens and deprived communities across the country.”
CDD-Ghana indicated that the government’s “Ghana Beyond Aid” vision would suffer a loss of credibility, as long as scarce public resources continue to be spent on self-serving projects of the political class at the expense of the persistent and widespread developmental challenges and needs of the people.