Empower MPs to introduce bills
A constitutional expert, Prof. Henry Kwasi Prempeh has called for the repeal or revision of article 108 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana to allow Members of Parliament to contribute more productively to the legislative process.
While acknowledging the fact that it is the universal practice for the Executive arm of government to prepare national budgets, he said article 108 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution denies parliament the right to independently introduce or consider a bill, motion or amendment if in the Speaker’s opinion that bill, motion or amendment would increase public expenditure or impose a charge on public funds. He has therefore proposed a revision of article 108 to free the hands of the Legislature to introduce bills, or propose amendments to government business.
Prof. Prempeh who is also a Board Member of CDD-Ghana and a lecturer at the Seton Hall Law School in the United States was speaking at a public forum organized by the National Constitutional Review Coalition (NCRC) in conjunction with KPMG and CDD-Ghana, at the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel in Accra. The forum brought together Members of Parliament, representatives of public institutions, civil society groups and the media to deliberate on how to address weaknesses in Ghana’s public finance management.
Speaking on the topic “The 1992 Constitution and Public Financial Management: Challenges and Opportunities for Reform,” Prof. Prempeh explored problem areas in the constitutional framework of public finance and how to address them.
Touching on article 108 which places limitations on Parliament’s power with regard to bills with financial impact, he said the ability to amend the government’s proposed budget—and not just by means of a reduction in proposed spending –is one of the most powerful means for a legislature to influence national policy.
“The ability to offer amendments is a powerful avenue for drawing attention to particular issues, needs and policies. MPs who cannot propose or offer any expenditure-positive amendment to the proposed budget are effectively prohibited from using the budget process to push for the provision of public goods for their constituents,” he stated.
Without the opportunity to offer or propose financially-consequential amendments, the legislature becomes merely a “debating chamber,” he stressed.
On article 179, which requires the Government to submit to Parliament “at least one month before the end of the financial year” estimates of the revenue and expenditure of the government for the following year, Prof. Prempeh said the timeframe of one month to the end of the fiscal year is too short and does not give Parliament and other committees sufficient time to “review, examine and deliberate upon the Government’s Budget proposal for the year ahead.” He proposed a period of two months before the end of the fiscal year as a reasonable period for such an important national exercise to be exhaustively carried out.