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Sat, Dec

Do our Honourables deserve police protection?

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The notion that a legislator is undeserving of police protection but suddenly becomes deserving of same when he is appointed a deputy minister is one I find difficult to swallow. I mean, ...
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The recent murder of the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Mfansteman Constituency, Ekow Quansah Hayford, has led to predictable demands by the parliamentary leadership that MPs should be given personal police protection paid for by the state.


Of course, the horrible death of the MP has shocked many to the bone, with questions being asked about general security in this country. After all, if such high-profile persons can be easily gunned down in such a brazen manner, it naturally makes the rest of us feel nervous.

Particularly, coming almost on the heels of the rather grisly and highly publicised murder of Prof. Yaw Benneh of the University of Ghana, a sense of a breakdown of security is created and heightened, even if the evidence and the data do not bear out such an assertion.

With the murder in 2016 of another sitting MP, J. B. Danquah Adu still unresolved, one can understand the jitteriness of some of our Honourables.

It is heart-warming that in both recent cases, the police have made some arrests. Of course it is early days yet, and that is only the beginning of what could be a rather long haul towards justice.

Protection for MPs

On Wednesday, October 14, 2020, it was reported online that the Minister for the Interior, Mr Ambrose Dery, had assured Parliament that some 800 police personnel would be deployed to provide security for members at home at all times.

It was further reported that “another 200 police personnel would be deployed to the Parliamentary Protection Unit to serve as bodyguards for Members of Parliament (MPs) from October to the end of 2020.”

The public reaction of outrage was quite predictable. On social media platforms, there were sneers about our politicians not caring about the rest of us and rather putting up structures for their personal comfort and luxury, while leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves in an increasingly dangerous society that they had helped create through poor oversight, underinvestment and sheer incompetence. The vitriol kept pouring.

Perhaps the fact that the National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) flag bearer, Mr John Mahama, announced that he supported the call for police protection for MPs while calling for improvement in security when he visited the bereaved family poured more petrol on the raging fire.

After all, the conventional wisdom is that the only time the NDC and New Patriotic Party (NPP) MPs agree on anything is when it is to their mutual benefit, as they are at each other’s throats over everything else.

Three arms

Of the three arms of government — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary — it is the executive within whose direct ambit in so far as the day-to-day operations of public security falls, and yet there is hardly a public whimper over Ministers of State and Municipal, Metropolitan and District Chief Executives (MMDCE) enjoying the police protection that they do, in spite of complaints about crime and security in the country, with paucity of police presence being one major strand of the complaints.

Instead, public ire is directed at the legislature at the suggestion of police protection for its members.

On a personal level, I find it difficult to summon any outrage at the idea of police protection for parliamentarians. Indeed, I am rather ambivalent about the whole idea.

If I were forced to summon anger from within my bowels on this matter, I would rather direct it at those directly in charge of public security and call for the withdrawal of police protection for them instead.

The notion that a legislator is undeserving of police protection but suddenly becomes deserving of same when he is appointed a deputy minister is one I find difficult to swallow. I mean, what is it about a deputy ministerial position that is intrinsically more dangerous than that of an MP, such that it automatically requires police protection? What is it about the job description of a District Chief Executive (DCE) that makes it automatically more dangerous than that of an MP?

Roots

I think the resentment towards MPs on this occasion stems from a deeper resentment for the legislature in this country that perhaps needs unravelling.

I believe there is a public notion that our legislature is the least important of the three arms of government and the one we could do without if push came to shove. After all, during our phases of military governments, there was no parliament and yet the business of state thrived, whereas the executive was very visible, as was the judiciary (even if tamed somewhat).

Added to this is the perception that our parliaments are mostly rubber stamps that endorse the government of the day without more than a few howls from opposition benches.

Again, the fact that one does not require any special skill or qualification to enter Parliament has coloured public perceptions about the institution, together with a host of other factors that have got people wondering whether we really need 275 parliamentarians, each claiming various allowances and a handsome ex gratia at the end of every parliamentary cycle, whether or not they are returned to Parliament.

It is no wonder that there was a huge public outcry when there was talk of building a new parliamentary chamber for MPs, when hardly a word was breathed when government decided to build a new court complex on the Accra High Street. Indeed, we all celebrated the new building when it was inaugurated in October 2015.

Dispassionate discussion

I think it is important for our legislature to do a lot of introspection as the first step to turning around the adverse public image it suffers at present, and which makes it an easy punching bag. That introspection needs to be set in the context of a collective national conversation.

This is because the work of Parliament is hugely important, especially at committee level, and the perception, for instance, that an MP is working hard only if he or she is always on his feet in the chamber is terribly misleading.

However tempting it is, we must move away from understandable raw sentiment and have a dispassionate discussion on the rather delicate issue of parliamentary protection for our Honourables.

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