Former President John Agyekum Kufuor has advocated the composition of an Upper House of Parliament to replace the Council of State as part of constitutional reforms to promote good governance and development in the country.
He said given the current stage of the country’s development, and the fact that it had committed itself to democratic governance, the Council of State, at the moment, “is not fit for purpose”.
“I have gone through the 1969, 1979 and the 1992 constitutional periods, and I have come to the conclusion that perhaps what our Constitution should have, to be able to tamper with the extremes of democracy, is not a Council of State but a well-composed second chamber,” he pointed out.
Former President Kufuor made the suggestion at his residence at Peduase, near Aburi in the Eastern Region, last Tuesday when he took his turn at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) stakeholder engagements on constitutional review.
Dubbed: “Time with President John Agyekum Kufuor”, the event attracted notable personalities and journalists, representatives of political parties and the media, who listened to the presentation by the former President.
They included the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Jean Mensa; a former flagbearer of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Dr Abu Sakara Foster; a politician and businessman, Joseph Osei Yeboah; a former Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo; the Chairperson of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), Kathleen Addy; the Chairperson of the CPP, Akosua Frimpomaa Sarpong Kumankumah; the Campaign Manager of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the 2020 Election, Peter Mac Manu, and the Dean of Academic Affairs at the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Dr Vladimir Antwi Danso.
The engagement with former President Kufuor took a different format from the usual presentation by the speakers.
This time, the engagement saw a former Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, interviewing the former President on various topics in relation to the 1992 Constitution.
The issues included the Council of State, the powers of the President, the appointment of ministers from Parliament in a presidential system, the local government system, the economy and constitutional arrangement, as well as the financing of political parties.
The dialogue, being spearheaded by the Oquaye Centre for Constitutional Studies at the IEA, is not to rewrite the whole Constitution but study and recommend areas where appropriate amendments, additions and subtractions may be made to strengthen the process towards democratisation, good governance, the rule of law, equity, justice and development in the country.
Mr Kufuor, who was the President of Ghana from January 2001 to 2008, in his almost three-hour extensive engagement, including a question-and-answer session, explained that the Upper House, when composed, must have the mandate of checking what he described as “democratic excesses”.
It must also possess vetting powers and help check pitfalls in debates or proposed economic policies laid before the Lower House of Parliament, whose members should be directly elected by the electorate.
He explained that the Upper House could be composed of between 80 and 100 members from identifiable institutions, civil society organisations (CSOs), the National House of Chiefs, religious leaders, free thinkers, as well as representatives from the three arms of government — the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
He said the House should include professionals, such as the media practitioners, often regarded as the fourth estate of the realm, lawyers, medical practitioners and academia.
Equally important were representatives of the youth and the private sector, made up of industrialists, traders, among others, former President Kufuor posited.
He further suggested that the tenure of the Upper Chamber should be different from all other democratic processes of selection, so that when a President’s tenure expired, the members of the Upper House should remain to help usher in or induct the incoming President to ensure continuity and stability of leadership in governance.
He observed that the stage of development demanded that “all of us must get exposed to mature opinions and it will enable us to read in between the lines, so that when democratic institutions, such as the Executive or the Legislature are going astray, there will be people to say ‘no’ to the Executive”.
Cost, good governance
Mr Kufuor, while admitting that the Upper Chamber might cost the nation more, said it would ultimately produce quality and serve the tenets of good governance.
“I tell you, the difference that body will make in governance will be superb; I am not saying it should be so powerful as to deny the Lower House its democratic purpose, nor the President the necessary authority to govern, using the Executive agencies effectively,” the former President said.
He emphasised that the Presidency was not a monarchy, as was the case of a traditional ruler, that needed advisors.
Rather, the President was the people’s servant and must be made to feel that when he was going astray, he could be checked because “power may be corrupt and we don’t want to saddle ourselves with a so-called ‘strong man’ who will not listen to the people and drag them anywhere he wants; that is not what we want,” he said.
“The Council of State could go wrong, but a second chamber may be able to put the people and drag them anywhere he wants; that is not what we want,” he said.
“The Council of State could go wrong, but a second chamber may be able to put the various organs of government on their toes,” he added.
Mr Kufuor said the four-year tenure of the President under the 1992 constitutional arrangement, although renewable for another term, was too short for any President to make any meaningful impact on development.
He suggested that a five-year term would be a better option because should the President’s mandate be renewed by the people based on his good works, he could eventually govern for a 10-year period, which could impact positively on development, as well as ensure continuity of projects.
In the view of the former President, due to the current stage of development, the nation needed to do something about the tenure through constitutional reforms.
He argued that the President might have a good team of well-educated, bright and smart people, but the reality was that it was not enough to, for instance “sense how to attract foreign investors”.
That was because, he explained, during the first year, the ministers would be studying the civil service structure and how it worked.
“They will now formulate policies and get to Parliament for approval, by which time about two to three years will be spent. The fourth year will now be used to prepare for elections and it is a period when every politician becomes busy,” former President Kufuor added.
“In effect, the first year is for induction, the second for mastery, and in the third year when things are beginning to work out, you are preparing for the next elections, and that is not good enough,” he pointed out.
Citing his regime as an example, the former President indicated that he could not continue three vital projects dear to his heart and important for the development of the country due to the four-year tenure issue.
The projects were the discovery of oil between 2006 and 2007, when the technocrats advised him that the country could only start producing oil from 2013, he said.
He, however, said by 2010 when the country produced its first oil, it was during the National Democratic Congress regime and the government used a different approach altogether for the project.
Mr Kufuor said he had plans of building a petrochemical industry on a 30-square mile stretch of land in the Nzema area but because he was out of power, that vision could not be realised the way he had planned it.
The second project he had in mind was an agreement with Barclays International to establish offshore banking under the International Financial Services Centre, with Ghana as the hub for overseas countries and Africa, but the project was cancelled, with the reason that it would promote money laundering, he said.
The third project dear to Mr Kufuor’s heart but fizzled out was the establishment of an integrated bauxite and aluminium industry.
“I regretted that all these projects could not see the light of day,” he said.
The former President observed that if the tenure were a five-year term and he had two terms, making up 10 years, he could have realised his visions, stressing that “four years is too short; I think we copied that from the United States blindly”.
Other proposals, capping ministers
Former President Kufuor further proposed reforms to avoid the appointment of municipal and district chief executives by the President and rather proposed that they must be elected, saying there was nothing wrong with political parties participating at the grass roots.
On the issue of the appointment of majority of ministers from among Members of Parliament, as enshrined in Article 78 of the Constitution, he called for reforms to halt the process.
The former President said MPs must concentrate on Parliament, while Ministers of State must concentrate on their Executive functions.
On the issue of cutting down the size of government, he suggested between 70 and 80 ministers, including deputies and Cabinet ministers, adding that anything beyond that he would not advocate.