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An overview of the committee system in parliament of Ghana

Committees of the First Republic

The Parliaments of Ghana from 1957 to 1966 did not develop a committee system that could offer effective solutions to some of the weaknesses in the democratic process.
The committees of these parliaments were classified into Sessional Select Committees and Ad hoc Committees. There were five Select Committees: the House Committee, the Business Committee, the Committee of Privileges, the Public Accounts Committee and the Standing Orders Committee whose traditional functions are well-known.

These Committees could only make recommendations for adoption by the House, but when so empowered by the House, they could take a decision. The Sessional Select Committees were appoint¬ed at the beginning of each session for the duration of that session. The Party Whips nominated membership to the committees. Ad Hoc Committees were appointed as and when the need arose.

The absence of a virile committee system prevented Parliament from exercising its effective scrutiny function of holding the Government to account in respect of its policies and administration and to ensure effective parliamentary and public scrutiny of legislative pro¬posals called Bills and loan agreements.

It may, however, be noted that Parliament faced several constraints. Among other things, it lacked space and committee rooms; it had a Reading Room that was called a Library, but without Research Assistants. There was a shortage of qualified staff to service commit¬tees. In fact there were only four Clerks: The Clerk to Parliament and his Deputy and two Assistant Clerks. Funding and government support to provide effective committee system was not a priority.

The only active Committee was the Public Accounts Committee which produced outstanding reports. It was the only committee that some Ministers and Public Servants dreaded and were reluctant to appear before. It was felt that, in that prevailing atmosphere, commit¬tees that delved deep into issues and whose reports were critical were not overly welcomed by the government.

Committee System Introduced in Second Republic

The 1969 Constitution of the Second Republic, the 1979 and 1992 Constitutions of the Third and Fourth Republics respectively, made provisions for the Committee System. The three constitutions recognized that in the past many Bills were passed upon Certificate of Urgency presented to the House by the President and too many decisions were taken without public consultation.

The Constitution makers recognized that the public, for whom Parliament exists, must understand how the institution makes laws that affect them and what avenues are open to them to be involved in the legislative process. The three constitutions reinforced the importance of committees as an ideal vehicle for public participation in the legislative process and public policy formulation. The Chamber of Parliament does not provide a forum for public participation in debates. The Committees offer less formal and less intimidating atmosphere for pub¬lic participation in policy-making and the legislative process.

An essential provision in the Constitution is that every legislative proposal (a bill), after its first reading, must be referred to a committee that invites public participation in the legislative process. The Committee to which a bill has been referred must report to the House before the second reading and other stages of the bill can be taken.

It is at the committee level that both the elected and the electorates can meet to discuss policies and legislative proposals. Such a meeting has an educational value for Parliament and the public. They learn from each other. An interaction of this nature is helpful to disabuse the minds of the electorate that MPs are aloof and divorced from the people they represent.

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