Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin’s speech on first sitting of 8th Parliament [Full Text]
I would like, first and foremost, to express my gratitude, once again, to all of you for your support in electing me as Speaker of the 8th Parliament of the Republic of Ghana, in accordance with Article 95, clauses (1) and (3) of the Constitution and Orders 8 and 9 of the Standing Orders of the Parliament of Ghana. As I pledged to you and the Nation on the occasion of my election as Speaker, I am fully committed to serving this House and this Country faithfully and conscientiously as the Speaker for Members of Parliament and indeed all Ghanaians.
SPECIAL WELCOME TO FIRST-TIME MEMBERS
Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate each and every one of you, once again, on being elected or re-elected as a Member of the eight Parliament of the Fourth Republic. I am particularly delighted to welcome the one hundred and twenty-seven fresh hands, who are assuming your seats as Members of this House for the first time. You have now earned the privilege to be addressed in this Chamber as “Honorable”.And honorable you must be.
Whatever may have been your inspiration for choosing to embark on this path, I would like you to know that the position you now occupy as a Member of Parliament is a position of leadership, of honor, of privilege, of trust, and, above all, of service. Your constituents have reposed in you, as in the rest of your colleagues, an enormous amount of confidence and trust in electing you to represent them and their interests in this House of the People of Ghana. You have a reciprocal responsibility and obligation to serve them and the Nation with honor, and integrity. Remember at all times, that you lead your people best by serving them with respect, with humility, and with diligence.
My office, together with the Office of the Clerk of Parliament and the Parliamentary Service as a whole, stands ready to assist you with a range of services and resources, including training, necessary to make your transition into your new role as smooth as possible. I am also confident that you will find among your returning colleagues many who are able and willing to help you navigate and learn the ropes here as quickly as you can so that you can contribute effectively to the business of this House and make an impact within the shortest possible time.
Ultimately, responsibility for having a successful career in this House rests with you. Remember that, this house is a house of rules and procedures. Thus, knowledge and, with time, mastery, of the rules and procedures that govern the business and proceedings of this House will be indispensable to your success as a Member, as well as make my job as Speaker, all the more effective. May your career in this House be as long and as productive as mine has been.
MEMBERS WHO BECOME MINISTERS
Honourable Members, by the dictates of the Constitution of the Fourth Republic, some of you will, in due course, be nominated and, with the approval of this House, appointed by the President to positions in his Administration as Ministers and Deputy Ministers of State. During my 28-year career as a Member of Parliament, I had the opportunity to serve as a Minister of State in different capacities. This so-called “hybrid” feature of our Constitutional system means, in effect, that a certain number of you will, at any given time, be under a duty to serve three Masters: Constituency, Parliament, and the President.
Hon Members, you are well aware, of the Biblical injunction to not serve two masters, lest you become “devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew6:24).In your situation, it is even worse. You are enjoined to serve three masters. Needless to say, our experience has shown that in the case of Members who double as Ministers, the master that is often sacrificed and left holding the shorter end of the stick is Parliament. Members who are appointed to Ministerial office generally prioritize their Executive Branch roles over their Parliamentary roles. Scholars and students of governance have observed and noted the myriad ways in which this arrangement has served to unbalance the relationship between the Executive and Parliament and affected adversely the ability of Parliament and of MPs to carry out faithfully their representative, oversight, deliberative, and legislative roles.
Until we reform this constitutional arrangement to improve the country’s governance, however, I believe all parties or players implicated in this arrangement, namely the President, Parliament itself, and those Members appointed as Ministers, have each a responsibility to take steps to minimize the negative impact of this arrangement on the business, mandate, and performance of the House. As a former member of this House, with a parliamentary career as long and as old as this 4th Republic, one thing I do know for sure is that drawing a large number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers of State from the Membership of Parliament is unhelpful to the business of Parliament and also weakens Parliament’s ability to perform its proper role in the promotion of good governance.
Be that as it may, Members appointed to serve as Ministers or Deputy Ministers must understand that, you are Members of Parliament, first and foremost. In fact, in most or nearly all cases, you will have earned your appointment as Minister of State on account of your position or standing as a Member of Parliament. It behooves such Members, therefore, to continue to take your Parliamentary roles and responsibilities seriously. Indeed, the anecdotal evidence suggests that, among Members who double as Ministers, those who strive to balance their responsibilities to both Branches of Government, as difficult as that may be, tend to have more successful and longer careers on both sides.
WHAT THE PEOPLE OF GHANA EXPECT OF THE 8th PARLIAMENT
Hon Members, in the General Elections of December 7, 2020, out of which this 8th Parliament has emerged, the People of Ghana sent a loud and clear message to the political class when they voted to deny both the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) single-party control of the Legislative Branch. The score of 137 for NPP and 137 for NDC, with one Independent, the decision of no Majority Party and no Minority Party, in Parliament, is a call for us to chart a new path, to embark on new ways of transacting Parliamentary business, which you know or ought to know, is the business of the people. I urge the leadership of both sides of the House to put their heads together to smoothen out any bottlenecks or challenges that may impede the conduct of business in the House.
The message which these results convey, I believe, maybe summed up in the common expression “enough is enough”. Or to put it differently, “No more business as usual.”
I believe that the People of Ghana, in voting as they did in the last elections, have signaled their frustration with and disapproval of the“Party First” mindset and the associated unbridled partisanship and partisan polarization that have taken root in our politics and are giving our option of multi-party democracy a bad name.I would like to believe also that the first indication that this message may have begun to sink is the very fact of my election as Speaker of Parliament, despite not being the nominee or preference of those Members whose party’s flagbearer has been declared by the Chair of the Electoral Commission as President-elect. I am sincerely grateful for the bipartisan approval of my speakership of this Parliament by you. God richly bless you all.
Hon Members, the People of Ghana would like us to prioritize the needs and concerns of the Country and of all Ghanaians above our own private or parochial interest or the narrow interest of one or the other political party. The People of Ghana are growing tired of politics as usual; of seeing their elected and appointed officials treat their political parties and political party identities as if those were bigger and more important than our common citizenship and as if those artificial identities were ends in themselves, as opposed to a means to the ultimate end, namely the collective progress and development of the country. The People of Ghana are demanding sound and effective solutions to their everyday problems, needs, frustrations, anxieties, and fears. The youth in particular wants to be inspired, motivated, and given hope for a better future of unlimited opportunities. They want this country to grow and to prosper; to realize and live up to its full potential; to use its bountiful resources to deliver opportunity and generate prosperity and hope for its peoples. And they are entitled to no less.
In case we are at a loss as to what this means for the substance of the work we must do here in this House, you and I would do well to refer to the Directive Principles of State Policy, contained in Chapter Six of the Constitution. The Directive Principles of State Policy stands as a constant reminder to us of what duty Parliament and Members owe, individually and collectively, to our dear Country and its People. In swearing fidelity to the Constitution, as we did on the occasion of our respective assumptions of office, what we undertook to do, at a minimum, is to use the public power, the privilege, and the associated opportunities and resources entrusted to us in ways and for purposes that would bring us closer as a Nation to realizing the ambitions, goals, principles, and policies we have set for ourselves in Chapter Six of the Constitution.
I entreat all of you, Hon Members of this august body, to make the Directive Principles of State Policy your primary guide to action in the discharge of the responsibilities and roles of your office. Together with the provisions of Chapter Five of the Constitution, including, notably, the provisions on economic rights, educational rights, cultural rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, rights of disabled persons, and rights of the sick, contained in Articles 24 through to 30 of the Constitution. The Directive Principles of State Policy are, in essence, our own domestic version of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whose realization we have committed ourselves internationally. Those ambitions, goals, principles, and policies are the barometer by which we must measure our service and performance in this House.
In addressing the issue of what the people of Ghana expect of this Parliament, I would be remiss if I did not express my deepest regret, both as a former Member of this Parliament and a citizen of this great Nation, at the rather unruly behavior and commotion that took place on the floor of this House last week, including the presence of armed soldiers on the floor, and the breaches of the sanctity of a vote, that would otherwise attract severe punishment in connection with the election of the Speaker of the 8th Parliament. It was, to put it mildly, despicable conduct unbecoming of people of honor. What makes it worse is the total absence of justification or reasonable excuse. As Speaker, I would like to believe that the spectacle of that historic day would not be repeated. Certainly not on my watch. I take a strong exception to such conduct and behavior and urge Leadership to take a serious view of it and take the necessary measures to restore the lost dignity of the august House. It is at variance with the message of the 2020 general elections.
THE CORE MANDATE AND MISSION OF PARLIAMENT: NEITHER OBSTRUCTIONIST NOR A RUBBER STAMP
Hon Members, the outcome of the recent General Elections implore us to re-dedicate ourselves to the true and core mandate and mission of Parliament. There appears to be some amount of confusion and misunderstanding as to what the appropriate role of Parliament is in our constitutional system. Much of this, is a result of the two-party structure and composition of the House, within the context of our winner-take-all politics.
Because of this, whenever Parliament is dominated by the same party that holds the Presidency and forms the Government, the common perception and expectation is that Parliament will automatically support the Government’s agenda, without regard to its merits. In short, we have come to assume that the Government is entitled to have its way in Parliament. And because this has been the Ghanaian public’s perception of how Parliament has conducted itself under various Administrations in the Fourth Republic, this current development of a House in which neither Party has a secure or dominating Majority, in other words, no Majority Party and no Minority Party, and of a Speaker who is not beholden to or endorsed by the President, is causing many of our citizens both in and out of Government, including in this House, a great deal of consternation. To them, if the Government is not guaranteed its way in a Parliament, then such a Parliament can only be obstructionist.
Hon Members, this concern is needless, as it is based on an incorrect view of what this parliament’s role is and indeed what its role has been in the Fourth Republic. Regardless of which party has the upper hand in the House, it would be wrong to see Parliament’s role as either obstructing or rubberstamping Government’s agenda. Parliament cannot discharge any one of its core mandates–deliberative, legislative, financial control, oversight, and representational–by being either obstructionist or a rubber stamp. As the foremost accountability institution in our constitutional system, Parliament’s role is to check-and-balance the Executive, not to obstruct or rubber stamp the Executive’s agenda. Parliament does its job, as it must, when it questions, investigates, reviews, and scrutinizes the Executive, its bills, its nominations, and its proposed agreements, and then proceeds to approve, to amend, or to reject them, as the case may be.
As one who comes to the Speakership with the longest record of the previous service as a Member of this House, I can recount instances of Parliament playing precisely this role and, thereby, helping to improve the quality of our Nation’s governance. Even in the First Parliament, when the NPP’s boycott of the 1992 Parliamentary Elections left the House with no real Opposition party, bills proposed by the Executive were not accorded routine, rubber-stamp treatment; they were subjected to close review, scrutiny, and modification, where necessary. A case in point is the bill that later became the law criminalizing “Causing Financial Loss to the State.” When it was introduced in the First Parliament, the bill as drafted had no “mens rea” requirement; it would have made “causing financial loss to the State” a strict liability offence. I recall, and the Hansard record will show, that the amendment to add the word “willfully” to the law came from the floor of the House. With its almost total control of the House, the dominant Party at the time could have simply rubberstamped the bill; it did not. I also recall that Parliament has had occasion in the past to decline to approve certain nominations of the President. A case in point was the refusal of the House to consider and to approve the nomination of a Court of appeal Judge to be appointed as Justice of the Supreme Court. As long as it is done in good faith and with transparent justification, such cases cannot be called rubber-stamping or obstructionist. As Speaker, I will not yield to pressure from any quarter to allow this august House to be turned into a rubber stamp or an obstructer.
IMPARTIALITY OF THE SPEAKER
Let me also say a few words about the office of Speaker as envisioned under our Constitution. While past practice might lead some to think otherwise, the truth of the matter is that the Speakership is not a partisan political office. Regardless of which party nominated or voted to elect him or her, and regardless of his or her previous political background, the Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana occupies a nonpartisan, impartial office. There is no NPP Speaker or NDC Speaker; there is only a Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana.
Unlike my counterpart in the American House of Representatives, the Ghanaian Speaker is not a Member of the House. The Ghanaian Speaker presides over but does not participate in proceedings of the House; and he or she has no vote, not even a casting vote, in matters before the House. In fact, the Speakership in Ghana is designed to be even more impartial and more apolitical than the Speaker of the House of Commons in Westminster. It is indeed to ensure that the Speaker remains impartial in presiding over the affairs of this House and Parliament that his election is done by secret ballot.
The independence and impartiality of the Speaker is particularly evident from one line in the Speaker’s Oath. That line is not found in the Presidential Oath, the Oath of Vice-President, the Oath for Ministers of State and Cabinet, or the Oath of a Member of Parliament. That line reads: “And I will do right to all manner of persons in accordance with the Constitution and the laws and conventions of Parliament without fear or favor, affection or ill will.” That last phrase, “without fear or favor, affection or ill will”, defines the office of Speaker as an impartial, nonpartisan office. I assure you I don’t take this Oath lightly at all. The only other Oaths in the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Fourth Republic in which you find this same language are the Judicial Oath and the Oath of the Auditor-General. This is because, like the Speaker, these offices too are meant to be nonpartisan, impartial, and independent.
Hon Members much has been made of the fact that I come to this position from a long career as a politician and member of the National Democratic Congress, one of the two parties represented in this House. As far as I am concerned, that fact is of no consequence to my new role as Speaker. In fact, it is not a novelty in this House. I myself have worked harmoniously with Speakers of diverse political backgrounds, including on one occasion supporting the nomination for re-election as Speaker of the 4th Republic, a well-known figure of the New Patriotic Party.
But more importantly, as I have made clear, the office I now occupy is an impartial, independent, and apolitical office, akin, in that regard, to the position of a Justice or Chief Justice. Just as a person with a known party affiliation like myself could be appointed to the Supreme Court, so it is with the Speakership. What matters, above all, is that once appointed as a Chief Justice or Justice or elected as a Speaker, that person, regardless of his political past, must conduct himself or herself in accordance with the requirements and ethics of his or her new office and, as expressed in the Oath of that office, without fear or favor, affection or ill-will.
Hon Members, I intend to live by the Oath I swore on the occasion of my election to this office, to respect, obey, and abide by the will of the House. I am fully committed to being fair and impartial. But I am also fully committed to being firm. Members must also reciprocity, respect, and abide by my rulings and instructions. When in disagreement, the Standing Orders of the House, has the answer. I will apply the authority of the House as symbolized by the Mace, to protect and defend the prerogatives, privileges, and immunities of Parliament, members, and staff as provided under the laws of the country.
Let me at this juncture, acknowledge the many contributions made by my predecessors, in whose shoes I walk today. The Rt. Hon Justice Daniel Francis Annan laid a solid foundation to anchor the growth and development of parliamentary law, practice, and procedure in the Fourth Republican Parliament.
I acknowledge with great appreciation and respect the contributions of Rt. Hon. Peter Ala Adjetey, Rt Hon Ebenezer Sekyi-Hughes, Rt. Hon. Justice Joyce Adeline Bamford-Addo, Rt. Hon. Edward Kobla Doe Adjaho and Rt Hon. Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye. I have worked with all these Speakers as a leader and a member of the Parliamentary Service Board, and I can attest to the tireless efforts each and every one of them made to consolidate, strengthen the Institution of Parliament and to build the capacity of members and staff of Parliament. I pledge to build on these achievements and to widen and deepen the frontiers of parliamentary governance even further.
Hon Members, some critical laws could not be passed by the previous Parliaments and these have gone into abeyance with the dissolution of the 7th Parliament. Draft Legislations such as the Affirmative Action Bill, Spousal Rights Bill, Standing Orders of the House which has been pending before the House since 2002, the Budget Bill, International Business and Agreements Bill, etc. calls fo0r urgent action. I call on the responsible sponsoring government agencies or Institutions to resubmit these Bills to the House early for consideration. In particular, I call on Parliament to expeditiously deal with the review of the Standing Orders of the House. I vision a bipartisan, inclusive, participatory, responsive, efficient, and effective Parliament. The eight Parliament will have to work to earn the respect of the people of Ghana and to restore the image and dignity of the Institution. There is nothing more noble and satisfying than to render service to the people.
I would like to end by echoing the words of President Akufo-Addo, when he delivered his Message on the State of the Nation on the dissolution of the 7th Parliament (and I quote): “The good people of Ghana have spoken and given Parliament almost equal strength on both sides of the House; we have no choice but to work with the consequences of the desires of the People. The House would have to be more accommodating of each other’s views and, probably, devise new ways of conducting its affairs.”
I fully subscribe to that view. No more, no less. Cooperation, dialogue, accommodation, and consensus-building must guide this Parliament in the conduct of its business. We must work together for the betterment of Ghana and Ghanaians. That I believe is the demand of Ghanaians and the loud and clear message of the 2020 general elections. That is the message in the votes of 136 in favor of Rt Hon. Aaron Mike Oquaye, as to 138 for Hon Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, with one spoilt ballot, which propelled me to this high office of Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana. The battle is always the Lords. Glory be to the Most High God.
I thank you for the patience and attention.