Protecting the public purse - Time for minimum qualification for MPs

Source: Ghana| Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse
Date: 3rd-january-2018 Time:  11:36:37 am

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The Legislature in the Westminster system and the Republican system of the USA is not only a forum for ventilation of citizens' grievances, but more importantly, it is a foremost platform for making laws for a given state. So, the Legislature, whether a Diet (Kokkai) in Japan, Duma in Russia, Knesset in Israel, Bundestag in Germany, Commons in England, Congress in the USA and  Parliament in Ghana has a duty of protecting all public finances by way of revenue and expenditure through its oversight responsibilities and law-making functions. The role of guardian angel or shepherd of the public purse is a very important, but a sophisticated one. This growing sophistication in the protection of the purse demands members with sophistication in very specialised fields. This resurrects the age-old question of whether Parliament should be a place for every citizen or there should be some minimum educational qualification for those who intend to enter it.

The debate is not a new one; it dates back to the era of James Madison and John Adam. Debating the merits of republics and democracies in Federalist No.10, James Madison argued that delegating government to elected representatives should, "refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country." But by 1776 as the colonies were faced with creating new governments, John Adams said that the representative assembly, "should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them," (Smallwood & Richard, 2011). These are dichotomousschools of thought on the composition of the legislature. To the extent that both sounds appealing, we can only situate the thrust of their argument in the context of time and the realities of a given country.

The growth in technology, human sophistication and increase in knowledge have put the fight against graft a notch higher. So, for states including Ghana to effectively combat corruption, they ought to have legislators with equal or advance knowledge in the fields of finance, procurement, forensic science, IT, Administration, specialised fields in law, insurance among others as the civil servants and the technocrats whose work they are expected to supervise.  We should not have civil and public servants who appear more competent than the institution that is supposed to oversee their work.We cannot afford to have technocrats who have more in-depth understanding of the intricacies of budget preparation than the institution mandated to scrutinize the budget. In equal measure, Parliament cannot afford to rely on the same technocrats and civil servants it is expected to provide oversight to help proffer it advice or education on the budget it is supposed to scrutinize. The point is often made that for matters of corruption, the civil and public servants are more at fault than the politicians who are rather accused by the public. The civil servants know all the in and out of the public financial system.

They prepare the budget and help implement it. They draft the bills that Parliament considers. This means that much as Parliament is a House of everything since it is a microcosm of citizens' wishes and aspirations, not everyone should qualify to enter it. It should be a House of individuals with esoteric knowledge in a specialised area. In other words, if the constitution itself in article 94 (1) (a) recognizes the need for age limitations for members at a time twenty-year-olds are finishing their first university degrees, and at a time less-than-twenties are more erudite in information, communication and technology more than their older parents, then we can reason that though we are all citizens and with equal stake in the affairs of the country, not all of us can be members of that august House. There should be some other distinguishing requirements such as a minimum educational qualification say, a Diploma or First Degree that every aspirant to the privileged House must meet. There can be no debate over the germane nature of educational requirements for members of this important House. Whilst it made so much sense in 1991/1992 for the framers of our Constitution to exclude educational requirements for members of Parliament because of very low literacy rates at the time, same cannot be said for today.

Today, not only are greater numbers of our people receiving formal education in all its forms, but first degrees or B.A/ B.Sc degrees are becoming equivalent to SSCE/ WASSCE as more country men and women receive tertiary education as a consequence of our policy to promote massification in higher education in the country. This enviable feat should not only be a statistical fact in UN records, human development indicators or records of the Ghana Statistical Service. This must reflect in the quality of our governance system. It should reflect in the quality of our laws. It should reflect in the policies and programmes we churn out. All these can happen only if we are willing to appoint the best of our human resources into positions of responsibility. For Parliament, it means the election of more competent, knowledgeable and skilled citizens to the august House.  Our efforts at fighting graft will not withstand the vicissitudes of the financial, technological, auditing and procurement sophistication if the guardians of the public purse are themselves not well equipped with the skills and knowledge of unraveling potential acts of corruption. The time requires that Parliament is populated by men and women of academic steel; men and women who are specialists in chosen fields, but not generalists. Thank God, our Parliament in the Fourth Republic has seen a lot of transformations since its inception in 1993. After all, much of what the generalists can offer in the House can be gotten from consultants and some specialists themselves, but the expertise of the specialists is not easily gotten, not even through long service in the House.

The realities of today demand that the Finance committee of the House should be composed of Chartered Accountants, Chartered Tax experts, Insurance experts, crack forensic science experts, and Chartered Auditors to mention but a few. The House in general requires lawyers with critical specializations; Administrators; policy experts; educationists with PhDs, Masters or First degrees. The House also need crack engineers, Medical Doctors, Land Administrators,  lawyers with corporate experience and individuals with impeccable background and training in defense, security and counter-terrorism.

Thus, the time has come for us to officially consider educational qualifications as basic prerequisites for our members of Parliament. We can no longer gloss over the importance of educational qualifications for our members of Parliament if we expect all of them to be effective  gatekeepers of the public purse.The recent exposé by the Minority regarding the Ghc 800,000 alleged inflation of prices for website creation by the Special Development Initiatives Ministry is a pointer that if our august House boasts of a lot more financial experts, we can do a lot more in unraveling corruption and minimise it. Like the field of medicine, law, engineering, accountancy,or clergy, legislative work is also a specialised one. It is rigorous, painstaking, and accordingly calls for special knowledge and skills, the absence of which not everyone can perform the roles creditably. It does not necessarily come about through long service in the House, though I bemoan the high attrition rate of our august House.The fight against corruption should not just be curative with the establishment of key institutions as the Office of the Special Prosecutor, Economic and Organized Crimes Unit ( EOCO), CHRAJ and others; but, it should also be preventive with the strengthening of institutions such Parliament.


Whilst we debate the plausibility of constitutional amendments on the matter, our political parties especially the two giants - the NDC and the NPP - can take the lead by initiating such protocols at their levels. They should go beyond factors such as candidate's popularity, oratory, financial soundness, ethnic considerations to look out for key specialised skills and expertise of their candidates, and how that can help the cause of the party in the House and in government. This is further important because the quality of our legislators determines the quality of our cabinet or Ministers of State since the constitution enjoins the President to appoint majority of her/his Ministers from the House. The quality of our Ministers further determines the quality of the policies governments formulate and implement. It determines the quality of the public goods and services governments provide.

Therefore, if our political parties especially the NPP and the NDC are really committed to the fight against corruption, it should start with the calibre of candidates they field in parliamentary elections especially in their strongholds. If they are interested in composing competent teams for the execution of their mandates, then they should be interested in fielding in Parliamentary contests their best candidates with expertise, competence and skills.

The two giant parties can for instance resolve that in a given election, they will field five Chartered Accountants, five Engineers, five policy experts, five insurance experts, five procurement experts and five high-level educationists all in their strongholds where they are sure of winning the seat. For seats they are not too sure of winning, they can prioritize considerations such as popularity or fame, wealth, ethnic balance, oratory, among others besides those of competence.

This call further means that the parties must invest in the self-development of carefully selected and identified individual members. Such members should be sponsored by the party to pursue relevant courses in some specialties locally and internationally. Upon completion, such individuals can then be fielded to contest all but more especially the party's safe seats. This if done, will enrich our legislative and governance systems.

Meanwhile, we the public must also reckon the fact that we cannot want to eat our cake and have it back. If we truly want to fight corruption, then our expert accountants, auditors, procurement experts, policy experts among others who prefer to sit on the fence for the fear of being tagged, must leave the comfort of their private practice and consultancy to join political parties. They can then put themselves up for election to the august House where they can bring their knowledge and expertise to bear on the work of the House. We cannot afford to always do postmotern analysis of the work of Parliament without getting involved in its work. Also, we the electorates cannot continue to vote for some candidates based on ordinary issues as beauty/handsomeness, oratorical skills, church membership, gifts and wealth of candidates and then turn round to blame the work of the legislature as being unsatisfactory. Let us understand it that the quality of Parliament is a stark reflection of our votes. We cannot get good laws, or stand up to corruption if we fail to elect candidates with the skills and knowledge to do such things. We the public and masses must also share in the blame.

The proposal also means that our Parliamentarians should be assigned very competent and qualified research fellows or assistants even with the qualification of Masters Degrees. The selection and appointment of these special assistants or Research Fellows should not be based on any other considerations other than those of competence, expertise and knowledge of the work of Parliament. These individuals should form strong research backbone for our legislators. Such individuals should have impeccable knowledge in budget formulation, implementation and analysis. They should be well versed in the legislative process; they should have knowledge in auditing and forensic science among other relevant fields of endeavor.

Finally, individuals with ambition of becoming Parliamentarians must do long term grooming and development of themselves through education, training and role modelling. It should be an ambition cultivated and well thought through for long.

Our august House deserves to have more men and women with self-confidence, self-efficacy, attention to detail and investigation as we are beginning to see. We need a Parliament that is a 'trustee of the public interest, but not a 'delegate of special interests,' (Lowi, et al., 2010). We need, in the famous phrase of Richard Neustadt, an executive and a legislature which as he put it, "separated institutions sharing power," (Lowi et al., 2010). We need not a Parliament that will appear subservient to the Legislature. This remains the advice of Hon. S.K Bagbin and Hon. Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, Second Deputy Speaker and the Majority Leader and Leader of Government Business respectively. We cannot have a system where most of the excellent materials are represented in the Executive whilst the Legislature is left for anybody at all. That will not augur well for our preventive and curative fight against corruption. In the words of Lowi et al. (2010), our Parliament must possess, " thorough powers of governance."

The writer, Nicholas Mawunyah Gborse, is an Educational Consultant; Political and Social Analyst; Leadership Incubator; Social, Educational and Political Researcher and Public Speaker.

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