Open Council of State meetings to public scrutiny - Kufour renews second chamber calls

Open Council of State meetings to public scrutiny - Kufour renews second chamber calls
Source: Ghana|myjoyonline.com|edwin.appiah@myjoyonline.com
Date: 16-08-2017 Time: 06:08:24:pm
Former President John Agyekum Kufuor

Former President John Agyekum Kufuor has renewed his call for constitutional changes to make the Council of State, a second Parliament.

"Left to me the Council of State should be turned into the second house", the former president repeated a personal campaign he started dating back to 2003 when he was in power.

He said the council's current status as an advisory body robs the country of the public contribution of well-meaning and accomplished citizens.

He was speaking at a forum organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and telecast on TV3 dubbed the Accra Dialogue where he joined another former president, Jerry Rawlings to share his views on the role of the council of state.

The Council of State is enjoined by Ghana's 1992 Constitution (Reference Chapter 9, Article 89) to "counsel the President in the performance of his functions".

The Council is required to “consider and advise the President or any other authority in respect of any appointment which is required by the constitution or any other law to be made in accordance with the advice of, or in consultation with the Council...”

The council, upon request or on its own initiative is to “consider and make recommendations on any matter being considered or dealt with by the President, a Minister of State, or any other authority established by the Constitution.

But it is believed that the Council of State is a mere appendage of the Executive and should, therefore, be scrapped because its role is merely advisory.

A recent Supreme Court ruling which suggested that the president was not under any obligation to accept the counsel of the Council of State even made the relevance of that institution questionable.

But president Akufo-Addo at the swearing-in of a new Council of State alluded to the rubber-stamping perception of the Council of State and challenged the new members to be frank, hard-hitting, not praise-singing.

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He used the Council of State under President John Agyekum Kufuor as the benchmark of how he expects the council to influence governance.

"I think it is fair to say that the most effective council of state we have had is the one that worked with former President John Agyekum Kufuor. We saw an intellectually vibrant and active council that took its responsibilities seriously".

“We saw a council that kept its members well informed and kept government officials on their toes, Members of the council, in my view, is not an extension of the executive…I look forward to working with a Council that will help all of us deepen our democracy,” he said.

At GIMPA where the governance dialogue was held, former President Kufuor also testified to the assertiveness of the council of state under his tenure and paid tribute to its chairman the late Prof. Kwapong.

He recalled that during his tenure 2001-2008, he had a council which was "so fearless and so critical" that he left meetings rethinking government position, policies and programmes.

"Sometimes after one hour or two meeting with them, I would go away even feeling hot under the collar," he said.

He said because their meetings were in-camera, their wise suggestions only hovered in the room without trickling down to the public domain. 

"I thought that that was not too healthy," he said pointing out the President was also free to ignore the counsel from the council.

He rejected calls to have the body scrapped indicating he favours a more empowered body of experts, chiefs, religious leaders and professional associations. 

He proposed a figure of not more than 50 unelected members of the Council of State in a strong chamber of a second Parliament.

He acknowledged because the body will not have the democratic endorsement of the people it does not have a binding say on governance. 

Nonetheless, the council as a second deliberative chamber "should be composed of experienced, objective people with proven wisdom and who the public has been privileged to know through their public service".

The former Ghanaian leader said partisanship tends to polarise and also obscure objectivity in public discourse.

"If such a council would be empowered in delaying some of the bills that the polarised Parliament tends to rush through, the general public would know whether the parliament was serving it with the necessary deliberations", he said.

He also rejected the view that the council of state as a second chamber will be a drain on the taxpayer.

"We have been rushing a lot but so far we don't stop to count the cost"."If you want to count pennies you may never gain pounds. You would be penny wise pound foolish" he said.

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