Parliament is as strong as its committees – Speaker

Ghana's Speaker of Parliament at a meeting in Westminster, London, with the Rt. Hon. Sir Stephen Timms

Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin has said that every parliament is as strong as its committees. Consequently, strengthening parliamentary committees to be able to deliver on their tasks and assignments should be the primary focus of all legislatures.

The Speaker of Parliament said this at a meeting in Westminster, London, with the Rt. Hon. Sir Stephen Timms, the Chairman of the Works and Pensions Committee of the UK Parliament. He is leading a parliamentary delegation to the UK Parliament to discuss cooperation between the parliaments of Ghana and the UK, approaches to conducting parliamentary business effectively, managing hung parliaments and narrow majorities, making parliamentary scrutiny and oversight more efficient, and promoting a collaborative work environment in parliament.

Rt. Hon. Bagbin said given the critical role of committees in parliamentary democracy, Ghana’s parliament was considering opening up the proceedings of such committees to the media for coverage. He cited the examples of the Appointments Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, which are the two that currently mostly offer public live coverage.

He also shared Ghana’s experience regarding the role of the Speaker or Deputy Speaker as a Member of Parliament vis a vis voting on issues before the House and how that has played out in recent times. What came out was that the Speaker in the UK Parliament only exercises the casting vote when required, which is always in favour of maintaining the status quo, and not necessarily to tilt decisions in support of partisan interests.

Rt. Hon. Timms said the select committees of the UK Parliament were mandated to undertake enquiries on issues of policy within the various government departments that the committees were expected to have oversight responsibility for. Beyond the government departments, the powers of the select committees clothe them with the authority to demand information and other documentation even from individuals outside the government.

The Select Committee Chair shared in Ghana’s Parliament’s ambition of bringing parliament closer to the people by making the proceedings of select committees open to the media. He spoke about the UK Parliament’s journey along that path and said since the tenure of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, the media had always had free access to the proceedings of the UK Parliament’s Select Committees.

Rt. Hon. Timms spoke about the path to chairing the various select committees in the UK and said it is determined by the composition of the House. The percentage of MPs that a political party has in the House determines the number of select committees that representatives of that political party can chair. As a result, both members of the majority and minority can chair select committees, which is determined by a simple majority vote of the members of the committee on eligible candidates.

With Rt. Hon. Timms during the meeting was Diana Atungire-Ocaya, the Strategic Lead for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s (UK Branch) Overseas Territory Project, and Niger Mills, MP, Procedure and International Development Committees.

Rt. Hon. Bagbin’s delegation included the Clerk to Parliament, Mr. Cyril Kwabena Oteng Nsiah, the Assistant Clerk, Mr. Ebenezer Djietror, Legal Counsel to the Speaker, Hon. Magnus Kofi Amoatey, the Director of Communication, Mr. Gayheart Mensah and the Deputy Director of Parliamentary Relations, Mr. Charles Dery Tenzagh.




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