FEATURE: When Ghanaians truly become citizens!
There is a shift in the political landscape of Ghana and this shift for once has come about because the voice of the people was heard loud and clear across the length and breadth of the Nation. Over the past week, the condescension on how our taxes are used came to the fore when Ghanaians stood their ground and called for a public rejection of a proposed new Chamber for Parliamentarians designed by Sir David Adjaye, the same designer of the proposed National Cathedral Project.
SOCIAL MEDIA REIGNS
Many took to social media to voice their disapproval of the said project. Within a few hours the hashtag #Dropthechamber was trending. Voices from far and near drowned the struggling voices of the ‘Parliamentary Mugabes’ who tried desperately to defend the defenseless. Soon, national interest took over. Ghanaians who for so long sat on the fence and watched as project after project was decided by our representatives in Parliament found this pill too bitter to swallow. A new citizen was born. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp were inundated with photos, videos, text and cartoons. The sleeping citizen had become prolific in his condemnation of this project.
FACTS NOT FICTION
So, what are the facts of the present Parliamentary Chamber? The History of State House dates back to the colonial era. State House encompasses all the area behind what is known as Job 600, where today the Offices of the State Protocol and the Ministry of Chieftaincy are located. It housed the residences and offices of the Governor of the Gold Coast from the time of Gordon Guggisberg to the last Governor Lord Listowel. It was regarded as the safest compound in Ghana and probably still is. (When the new Presidential Palace was being built by President John Agyekum Kufuor, many thought that would be the site chosen). When the last Governor left on July 1, 1960 a few hours after Ghana became a Republic, State House was abandoned for a few years. It was given a lifeline in 1965 with the Job 600 project. The project included the construction of what was then Ghana’s flagship building to house delegates for the 1965 OAU Summit. The project also came with a banquet hall and a conference centre sitting on both sides of the former Governor’s office (Speaker’s Offices). Today, the main Job 600 building houses the offices of our parliamentarians.
The Banquet Hall remains part of the Presidential portfolio and the Conference Hall was converted into the new Parliament Building for use by the 4th Republic. Kwame Nkrumah’s plan was for the JOB 600 project to become the Offices of the President as well as the Presidential Residences. This plan never materialized for he was overthrown a few months later. Prime Minister Dr. Busia used the State House as his offices until he was overthrown. It is important to note that the Old Parliament Building used until the end of the 3rd Republic is situated opposite the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum on the High Street in Accra.
Is it absolutely true that Ghana needs a purpose-built Parliament House? The Old Parliament House was modelled on the British Commons Chamber. Indeed, if the planners of our democratic roadmap had thought through their plans properly, they could have killed two birds with one stone. The Presidency could have reverted to the original plan of Nkrumah to house the Presidency at State House and the New Parliamentary Chamber could have been built on the site of the Flagstaff House which houses the Presidency today. But that is a discussion for another day.
Since the original plan for the building that houses Parliament was for a Conference Centre, there are indeed certain challenges with reconfiguring the chamber to meet the demands of our 275 Parliamentarians. The 54-year-old building was originally a two hundred seat conference room. Today, over three hundred use the chamber on a daily basis.
Why are Ghanaians angry over the proposed new chamber? There are several reasons. Many think their Members of Parliament don’t deserve a new chamber because they have done little to alleviate the plight of their constituents. Dire situations of poverty, lack of potable water, lack of good education facilities, non-universal health care are but a few of the things we complain about. Some believe and rightly so that the so call two hundred-million-dollar facility could be used to change the fortunes of Ghanaians in these aforementioned areas of our daily lives. We have heard the cliché that “Members of Parliament are law makers and are not responsible for the development of their constituencies”. Such rhetoric only goes to spark a wave of anger when Ghanaians are aware of the pecks MP’s get and the ex-gratia payments, they receive every four years; all form the tax payers money. People expect a whole lot more from their MP’s. People expect change in droves. The days of just being a law maker is fast dwindling and MP’s must begin to think strategically about how to seriously effect change in their constituencies. For the first time in a
long while, there seems to be a clearly divided chamber with a penchant for rebellion in the chamber. The whips are no where to be found. Leaders are desperate to find reason and the RT, Hon, Speaker who leads this chamber is extremely quiet on the matter. Even as Government tries to distant itself from this quagmire, it seems to be caught knee deep in the bog.
CITIZENS NOT SPECTATORS
Clearly, there is a new order. Within the last week, a new Ghanaian has arisen. One who must be listened to. The days when Ghanaians spoke and no one listened is clearly over. A new dawn has emerged, new arsenals for change have been exposed and the voiceless no longer sits on the fence. Spectators have come full circle. The words of the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to all Ghanaians during his inauguration seems to have boiled over into a full-blown march to citizenhood. There is a clear change in course, a new path has been chartered and a people will no longer take no for an answer. The year of the citizen is here. No more Mr. Nice Guy! No more squandering of the people’s hard-earned money. Ghanaians just woke up from their semi-comatose state and I dare say that nothing can stop them now. Anyone who wants to go into politics must think again. The people will no longer be fooled.
Written by JOT Agyeman Media Consultant