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Matters arising, Article 71 and the Chinery-Hesse Commission’s Report
E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Ghanadot

A constitutional issue was raised when a member of Parliament (MP) for Atwima Mponua, Mr Isaac Asiamah, described as “unconstitutional the current salaries being paid public office holders listed under Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution,” as reported on December 29, 2010 by a Daily Graphic on-line article.

Mr Asiamah questioned the constitutional basis for the payments since “President Mills had rejected the recommendations made by the Chinery-Hesse Committee,” the report said.

A new committee was sworn in by President Mills on June 8, 2010 to determine anew salaries for Article 71 office holders, including speaker and members of parliament. The committee has yet to complete its work.

It must be recalled that in October 2004, President Kufuor in the discharge of his constitutional duties (Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution) established the Chinery-Hesse Committee “to review, determine and make recommendations on the Emoluments for Article 71 Constitutional Office Holders as described in Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution.”

The Committee worked on two reports. One covering emoluments of all categories of workers under Article 71, including Members of Parliament and former President Rawlings, was completed in 2005 and implemented for all beneficiaries.

The second report, the executive summary, which was completed in June 2008, was made available to the appropriate parliamentary committee. The full report reached the then President (Kufuor) in December 2008.

Under Article 71, a report of such recommendations is subject to acceptance and approval by a sitting president and Parliament. It was, before President Kufuor left office in January 2009. As said, this report has been rejected by his successor.

If the illegality implied by Mr. Asiamah’s statement holds, then it does so because President Mills has removed, and therefore annulled without a replacement, the basis for the payments of officials as required under Article 71 of the constitution.

What has yet to be learned is not only whether the continuing payment of these salaries are illegal but also whether President Mills has the constitutional authority to render void what his predecessor (Kufuor) has already accepted and Parliament previously approved.

There may be another constitutional conundrum requiring explanation: the separation of the functions required by Article 71 and the apparent conflict that President Mill’s act has raised between the executive and the legislative branches of government.

A constitutional lawyer consulted had this to say: “One thing that is clear … under article 71(1) it is the President who determines the salaries of Parliament. Under article 71(2) it is Parliament which determines the salaries” for the president.

The lawyer also made clear that “in both cases it is NOT the committee which determines them.” Once the recommendations were made, the Chinery-Hesse committee, having completed its work, got out of the way for the constitution to work.

The separation studiously planted in the constitution, between the presidency and parliament on the matter of Article 71(1) and (2), is worthy of serious consideration. We are skating on thin ice when one branch of government starts stomping on the common pond.

But the conflict has been raised and it requires a resolution free of partisan concerns because the national interest is at stake.

On record to aid reflection is our constitutional history. The constitution has been abused in the past by military dictators and their desires, mostly for reasons of power lust and wealth. We must now demand a safe and reasonable course for our commonwealth. A fair, reasonable, rewarding Emolument Package, not a cheapskate one, ought to stem the destructive behaviors.

On the matter of the worthiness of the Chinery-Hesse report, it is the constitution that required the appointment of the five member committee, with the rationale that the process be put beyond partisan bickering.

This committee, now defunct, consisted of some of our most eminent citizens: Mrs. Chinery-Hesse, a Gusi Peace Prize (Asian Nobel) laureate and renowned international public servant, and other men and women of high esteem and stellar reputations in their fields, all of whom could easily have qualified to serve any of our administrations.

Subsequently, the reputation of this committee has been seized by the political process and their collective integrity questioned by the raucous reception of the report. Imagine then what will happen to us as a nation of honorable people when the next report of the new committee, also of stellar men and women, falls foul of a political interest?

The Chinery-Hesse report sought to improve the emolument and retirement package for our public officials on a basis that should induce fealty, better performance of duty, acceptance and preservation of dignity within these individuals while in or out of office.

Among the guiding principles for the committee was “What price are we prepared to pay for good governance?”

For the average citizen the consideration ought to be what cost are we prepared to suffer for the lack of the same principles in our public officials, especially those who would refuse “to relinquish power and to adhere to Presidential Term Limits” and good governance: weak, corrupt, ineffectual institutions, civil wars, coup d’états?

Others understand the problem we face, if we don’t. A Ghana News Agency report (January 13, 2011) , citing a statement from Ghana’s Ministry of Finance said; “The European Union agreed to give Ghana 26 million Euros ($34.6 million) to help finance the West African nation’s 2012 national elections. Should we refuse the offer because it is huge; after all it is only one election?

A commentator who read the full Chinery-Hesse report said: “This is a report for all time, well reasoned and with full justification for all the recommendations.”

The Chinery-Hesse committee said its report represented “a bold attempt to shift from the current regime of Emolument Packages ….that ultimately negatively impact on Retirement Benefits.”

Time will tell whether the Chinery-Hesse report deserved the abrasive rancor it received. But more telling will be if the new committee, set up by President Mills, would frame any of its reasoning on the reports’ assumptions and conclusions.

Meanwhile, the constitutional issue raised by Mr. Asamoah, with regard to the ongoing payments of public official salaries, deserves to be resolved. Parliament has a historic obligation to make a stand and to define what exactly the case is.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher, January 13, 2011

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