It has been a while since the New Patriotic Party held its primaries to elect candidates to represent their constituencies in the forthcoming general elections. Of course 40 sitting MPs of the Party were denied the opportunity to retain their seats in the forthcoming elections. The headlines of some of the newspapers posted fantastic headings which portrayed the delegates as game changers. The June 22nd edition of The Custodian bore a screaming headline which read “ NPP Kingmakers Dethrone Over 30 MPs’’. On its part, the Tuesday, 23rd edition of The Ghanaian Publisher had as its headline to the story “ `Ruthless` Delegates Hack Out 40 MPs“. At the end of the day, 40 sitting MPs who also double as ministers, deputy ministers, chairmen of parliamentary committees were denied another opportunity to contest in the upcoming general elections. An additional 17 MPs who had no additional portfolios either in Parliament or in the Executive were also denied by the delegates.
Indeed, the additional portfolios that some MPs on the majority side of the House carry are very heavy ones. Imagine the weight of responsibility that the Minister or Deputy Minister for Health carries during this COVID – 19 era, and having to add the extra burden of the CSSM outbreak in the Upper East Region. These two gentlemen are honourable members of parliament and certainly add all these duties to those expected of them as MPs.
Taking a leadership position in the House is also a tasking one. Talk of a committee chairman`s own portfolio. Piloting a bill in Parliament entails a number of tasks. It includes organising meetings and conferences with stakeholders to the policy, organising road shows to sell the policy issues in the bill, organising winnowing sessions on the bill in conjunction with the majority Leader and preparing and proposing all amendments to the bill in plenary.
The least said about the leaders of both sides of the House, the better. The office of the Majority Leader for instance manages the affairs of the majority caucus in the House, shepherds the agenda for business in plenary, spearheads government businesses in the House and is a member of the Parliamentary Service Board, which is the governing council of the Parliamentary Service. As an MP, he is also expected to belong to at least three committees of the House. More often than not, he is also a minister in the President`s cabinet.
These are activities that keep our ministers, leaders in parliament, including the committee chairmen, busy all – year round. The tendency therefore is for the MPs` own basic constituency engagement itinerary to suffer. But the fact remains that the occupants of these privileged positions in the service of Ghana are first and foremost members of parliament, and the Member of Parliament is anything else a representative / spokesperson of the people in the constituency.
As a constituency representative, the MP asks questions of ministers on matters pertaining to the development and wellbeing of the constituency`s diverse range of people. The MP could also make statements on the same issues. Where necessary, the MP could also liaise with ministries, departments and agencies of government on such development – related matters; the MPs` voice should be heard touching his people`s interests during deliberations in Parliament and beyond.
More important than these deliberative and canvassing activities of the MP is the need for the MP to touch base with the ordinary citizen of the constituency; what they want to see is the MP appearing among them often, relating to and listening to their concerns, and sharing with them information on the efforts that he is making in parliament and in government as a whole to find solutions to their problems and improve their general wellbeing. In other words, the ordinary Ghanaian is looking for an MP who is visible, close enough to meet them at town halls meetings, festivals and district assembly meetings. Far more than being a minister or a committee chairman, the ordinary Ghanaian wants a representative who is one of their own.
It may not for nothing that some MPs are acclaimed or run unopposed as their people`s representative conservatively. It may neither be because of the money that such popular MPs can spare that some MPs are considered to have bought their constituencies. It is most likely because they are constantly in touch with their people; they visit their communities and relate to the people. The Speaker of the House Professor Mike Oquaye, in his opening remarks to one of the Meetings of the House had this advice for MPs: “we should work hard to bridge the gap between the MPs and the people they represent“.
Indeed, Ghana needs our eminent representatives to be ministers, deputy ministers, chairmen of parliamentary committees and holders of other important offices in parliament and in government generally. But our honourable members must first and foremost do their duty to their people, and the fundamental one is reaching to them regularly. They are the kingmakers and they can be ruthless when they are taken for granted. One of the lessons that arises from the defeat of these 40 prominent sitting NPP MPs is the need to bridge the gap, as Professor Oquaye admonished, between the MP and the people who put them there; it should be a deliberate and sustained communication endeavour.
BY HAROLD WILSON HUBERT