AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR HONOURABLE MPs

Dear Honourable MPs,

I humbly send you my warmest regards. 

To begin with, please kindly let me inform you that I have the greatest respect for parliamentary government. This is because from 1957 to 1960, I was a reporter on parliamentary proceedings for Radio Ghana. 

I loved Parliament for its own sake. I’d arrive for the morning sessions on my motor scooter, take down the important Questions and Answers, the “Statements” (if any); and then cover the all-important “Second Reading of Bills”. This was where the real debating occurred. 

Among the most important debates I covered were those on the legislation that enabled the CPP Government to deport Alhaji Ahmadu Baba and Othman Laramie to Nigeria; the Indemnity Bill (passed under a Certificate of Urgency) that saved Police Commissioner E R T Madjitey and his Minister of the Interior, Mr Krobo Edusei, from a charge of contempt of court, for deporting the two “Nigerians” whilst their case challenging the deportation orders issued against them, was being heard by a Judge called Mr Justice Smith.

I reported all these debates faithfully, and was confident, in my own mind, that so long as the country was given the facts upon which to form an informed opinion on them, public opinion would influence the Government to mind how it acted, when it felt like bringing in dictatorial measures. But I was wrong. Rather than mend its ways, the CPP Government brought in, instead, the Preventive Detention Bill that killed, at a stroke, any pretence that it wanted to respect the democratic principles under which Ghana had been granted independence. Yes – if it possessed a majority in Parliament, a Government could “do anything except change a man into a woman!” (Today, of course, democratic governments can allow “men to marry men and women to do likewise!” 

Anyway, the first Parliament of independent Ghana was reduced to a group of “Yes-men” as soon as the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) became operational. Great debaters like Joe Appiah, Victor Owusu, R R Amponsah and S D Dombo were put behind bars. Very soon – as Joe Appiah, in particular had warned – even CPP members of the House who publicly disagreed with some of the policies of their own Government (such as Patrick Quaidoo, MP and W A Wiafe, MP, were detained without having the benefit of a trial to determine exactly what they were supposed to have done wrong. 

Now, I don’t want to suggest, in the least, that some people did not entertain subversive ideas or act abominably. The point is that the courts have been set up, at great expense, precisely to sift any charges brought against any suspected individual(s) and determine their guilt or otherwise. To dispense with a trial, because the accused might be found “Not Guilty” (as happened in the conspiracy case against Ako Adjei, Adamafio and Coffie Crabbe) is just plainly wrong and undemocratic. 

I mean – what can excuse the fact that K A Gbedemah felt the need to run away into exile, after he had spoken his mind, in the very Parliament in which he had been, for years, the unacknowledged Deputy Leader of the majority party? Just imagine what an education in politics the pubic would have been provided, had Gbedemah been taken to court and publicly accused of maintaining unhealthy relations with the US embassy [for example] or his actions as a member of the Presidential Commission, during the workers’ strikes of 1961, when President Kwame Nkrumah was abroad? 

That the CPP was allowed to destroy itself by the silence of its own MPs against the Party’s excesses, shows that staying aloof from the opinions and concerns of the electorate is extremely dangerous for any ruling class. Our current National Assembly does not have authoritarian tendencies. But it does harbour an unconcern for the welfare of the people who elected its members, to which the MPs’ attention ought to to be drawn.

It seems to me that relatively speaking, more attention is paid to matters that concern the elite in our society than what can alleviate the hardships facing the ordinary men and women who voted our MPs into power. In the spirit of “constructive criticism”, I hereby offer the measures I would currently press the House to take if I were an MP. I would:

1. Ask for a monthly report (to be debated) about how the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources is waging the campaign against galamsey. Each report would have to contain an authenticated assessment of the quality of the water in our main rivers for the month.

2. How many road accidents had occurred in the previous month and what were the causes. How many operators of defective vehicles had the police arrested and what had been done to them? How many police patrols had occurred on our main roads, with the idea of observing and removing broken-down vehicles on them?

3. Discuss with the leaders of the House, the issue of allowing MPs time to bring to the attention of the House (and thereby, the Executive and members of the public) matters that MPs had discovered were affecting adversely, the lives of their constituents. Particular attention would be paid to the availability – and price stability – of food in the constituencies. Parliamentary attention would, in turn, force the District and Municipal authorities to interest themselves in such issues.

4. I would ask the MP from the constituency of Madam Ama Hemmah, the alleged witch who was burnt alive at Tema in November 2010, to keep asking the Minister of the Interior, and/or the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, to present progress reports on the following news item:

QUOTE: “A 72-year-old Ghanaian woman has been burned to death on suspicion of being a witch. Ama Hemmah was allegedly tortured into confessing she was a witch, doused in kerosene and set alight. She suffered horrific burns and died the following day….Hemmah was allegedly attacked by a group of five people, one of whom is an evangelical pastor, Ghana’s Daily Graphic reported.

“Three women and two men have been arrested. They are Nancy Nana Ama Akrofie, 46, photographer Samuel Ghunney, 50, Emelia Opoku, 37, Mary Sagoe, 52, and pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55. The suspects say the death was an accident and deny committing any crime. They claimed

they were trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the woman by rubbing anointing oil on her but it accidentally caught fire. 

“Augustine Gyening, Assistant Police Commissioner, told the Daily Graphic that Sagoe saw Hemmah sitting in his sister’s bedroom on 20 November [2010] and raised an alarm, attracting the attention of people in the neighbourhood. 

Gyening added that the suspects claimed that Hemmah was a known witch and subjected her to severe torture, compelling her to confess. He said Ghunney then asked Opoku for a gallon of kerosene and with the help of his accomplices, poured it over the victim and set her ablaze.” UNQUOTE

Is this a case that should die in a country where Parliamentary democracy is practised?

Again, Honourable MPs, I present my respectful compliments to you!

BY CAMERON DUODU

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