Opinion: Election of Speaker of Parliament; what to look out for
By Ras Mubarak, MP.
The position of Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament as I know it, historically, has been reserved for persons above 60, except on two occasions when Aaron Eugene Kofi Asante Ofori-Atta, the fourth speaker of the first republic and Edward Doe Adjaho, the fifth speaker of the fourth republic were elected to the position respectively. By convention, it has also gone to persons with a law background, though not a prerequisite. And I shall come to the reason why lawyers have always been favored.
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In the UK, age and education do not count as much as years of service in Parliament as MP.
The current Speaker of the UK parliament, Sir Lindsay Hoyle is 63years. He became Speaker in 2019 after serving for 22years as an MP. He has no law degree.
The Speaker before Sir Lindsay Hoyle is John Bercow. The Rt. Hon. John Bercow was MP for Buckingham from 1997 until 2010 when he became Speaker. He had a BA degree from the University of Essex. He also had no background in law.
The late Michael John Martin, Baron Martin of Springburn, was a steel metal worker with Rolls Royce and a trade unionist until his election as MP at the age of 33 in 1979. He was MP until the year 2000 when he got elected as the 156th Speaker of the British Parliament. He had no University degree.
While age and law background are not the barometer for electing speakers of Parliament in the UK, all past and present speakers of Ghana’s parliament have been older and with legal education.
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It has been so because of our colonial history. The Speaker of the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly from 1951 to 1957, Sir Emmanuel Charles Quist, was a barrister and a judge.
Sir Emmanuel Quist, later served as Speaker of Parliament when Ghana attained independence in 1957. He was succeeded by Augustus Molade Akiwumi, - 1958 to 1960. Akiwumi was also a lawyer & a judge before his election as Ghana’s second speaker of parliament in the first republic.
The Rt. Hon. Joseph Richard Asiedu, another lawyer was the third speaker until 10th June 1965 when Aaron Eugene Kofi Asante Ofori-Atta, the fourth Speaker of parliament was elected. He held the position until 22nd February 1966. He was also a lawyer, MP for then Abuakwa Central and Begoro Constituencies, and held the positions of Local Government Minister and Minister for Justice before becoming the fourth Speaker of Parliament until the suspension of parliament after the 1966 coup.
The second republic had only one speaker - Raphael Nii Amaa Ollennu. Justice Ollenu served from 1969 to 1972 when parliament was dissolved as a result of the military coup. He had been a justice of the Supreme Court before coming speaker at the age of 63.
The third republic had another judge, Jacob Hackenburg Griffiths-Randolph, who before his appointment as speaker served under Kwame Nkrumah as Commissioner of Income Tax (the first African to hold that position in Ghana), and a judge in the second republic.
From Justice D.F. Annan, through to Peter Ala Adjetey, Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi-Hughes, Joyce Adeline Bamford-Addo, JSC, Edward Doe Adjaho and Prof. Mike Ocquaye, it is clear that every speaker of parliament has either been a judge or a lawyer with many years experience at the bar.
Choosing lawyers as Speakers of Parliament is one of the vestiges of colonization we are yet to shed off.
As far as I’m concerned, the nominee for the speaker of the 8th parliament of Ghana should be someone who knows the standing orders (the rule book of parliament) thoroughly.
It should also be someone who has been a former or a current MP and commands respect from both sides of the aisle. Above all, someone who can help build bridges, and get the job of running parliament done.
Parliament is not an offshoot of the judiciary and the colonial culture of bringing in retired justices of the Supreme Court must be shot down by MPs. A speaker MUST be one of our own.
It is in the institution’s best interest to bring in someone who’s been MP before. Not doing so will starve parliament and the nation of institutional memory and the experience and knowledge required to navigate through a-never-seen-before moment, as about to happen in the 8th Parliament.
It has never been in the best interest of parliament to elect persons without parliamentary background as Speaker. It’s like asking a non lawyer to be Chief Justice and I hope we do not revisit the practice of bringing outsiders, persons who’ve never been MP to run parliament.
All the names that have been bandied about and speculated would do a good job. But Alban Bagbin, the outgoing MP for Nadowli Kaleo and Second Deputy Speaker of the 7th Parliament, Joe Osei Owusu, the first Deputy Speaker of the 7th Parliament and MP for Bekwai, Dr. Dominic Ayine, MP for Bolgatanga East, Papa Owusu Ankoma, the High Commissioner of Ghana to the UK and former MP for Secondi, former speaker, Edward Doe Adjaho, and current speaker Professor Mike Oquaye would all make fantastic speakers.
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Prof. Mike Ocquaye would go down in history as one of the great reformers of our parliament. I have enormous admiration for him - the opportunities he gave backbench MPs who were willing to learn and rise to the occasion; the landmark private member’s Bill he supported us to get through and many others. I think he’s been very responsive to new ideas and suggestions on growing parliament as an institution.
I have had personal disagreements with him about some of his ruling in the House, but history would undoubtedly judge him very kindly, especially when it comes to reforms he has continued or started anew. If I were to advice him, I would suggest he bows out now, while the applause is loudest, and not to seek to be nominated as speaker in the 8th parliament.
Joseph Osei Owusu commands a lot of respect from both sides of the aisle. He has an infectious smile that make any backbench MP attempting to be rowdy think again. He could be the bridge builder that the 8th Parliament would need more than ever. There’s never a dull moment when Joe Wise, as he’s affectionately called, is in the chair as speaker.
The only danger is that, unlike the two deputy speakers who must be MPs, Mr. Joe Wise would have to resign as MP if he wants to be the main speaker. In the UK, the main speaker is an MP, whereas in Ghana the main speaker cannot be a sitting MP.
From the NDC, how could names such as Edward Doe Adjaho, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin and Dominic Ayeni not make it into the top three.
Bagbin is well loved by MPs from both sides of the aisle. We love it when he’s in the chair. Flexible, engaging, easygoing but tough when it comes to instilling discipline. The 63year old Bagbin has spent twenty-eight year of his adult life in Parliament. You can’t look past him if experience and likability are what you are looking for, especially in a hung parliament that will require a certain finesse to get things done.
If the nation is looking for a John Bercow type of Speaker - younger, gifted, a clean break from the past and someone who appeals to both sides of the aisle, then Ayine is the man. John Bercow became Speaker when the UK had a hung parliament in 2010. Having had an older Speaker in the person of Michael Martin, there was quite an appeal for a younger but experienced Speaker.
Ayine may not be as young as John Bercow. Dominic Ayine will turn 55 on the 6th of January 2021. John Bercow became speaker of the Commons at age 47.
Ayine’s name has come up highly as a Deputy Speaker. He’s a good listener and knows his standing orders and law inside out. He would make a fantastic speaker.
It is however important to note that the Speaker in Ghana is not an MP. If an MP is recommended to be a Speaker, he has to resign. In so doing the number of the Party in Parliament is reduced and to be filled by a by-election. In the current circumstances, it is not advisable to recommended an MP of the 8th Parliament to the position of a Speaker.
Rt. Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho was Speaker for the 6th Parliament. Well respected, with a calm demeanor.
At nearly 64years now, he has age and energy on his side. He did some fantastic work as Speaker, some of which got continued by Prof. Mike Oquaye.
But who knows, it might as well be one Johnson Asiedu Nketia, three term MP and former Deputy Majority Whip. Many may have forgotten that he was solid as a legislator and could as well hold the house together in the 8th Parliament. Witty, no-nonsense and capable of cracking the whip when the house gets nasty.
Parliament and the executive must do everything to get a consensus candidate for Speaker of the 8th parliament.
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