The country must adopt measures to derive maximum benefits from its natural resources instead of allowing foreign companies to take control of a chunk of the resources, a Member of the Council of State, Sam Okudzeto, has said.
He said contracts signed between the state and foreign companies relating to natural resources such as gold, bauxite and oil put the country at a disadvantage.
He said things must be done differently to help the country to obtain the needed resources to fund its development instead of the current system of excessive borrowing.
Speaking at the Institute of Economic Affairs’ (IEA) dialogue on constitutional review yesterday, he said the 1992 Constitution had made it clear that natural resources belonged to all Ghanaians and therefore it was important that the resources benefited the country.
He quizzed: “If the Constitution says that the natural resources belong to all of us and the President holds it in trust for us, why do we allow foreigners to come for them and give us peanuts?”
Of course, he stated, the companies that retrieved the resources have to be compensated, adding, “We can come to some share systems whereby a small percentage can go to the foreign companies and we take the rest of the money.”
The Council of State Member, who is also a legal luminary, said the country must emulate countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Norway that had taken charge of their natural resources and derived enormous benefits from them.
For instance, he said, in Saudi Arabia, the state oil company, Aramco, used to be a foreign company but the country decided to take matters into its own hands and now the company was one of the most valuable companies in the world.
“How come oil producing countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are so rich? I am not sure they would be rich if they had allowed foreigners to take away most of the money made from the resources,” he said.
The event, which was on the theme: “A seminar on amending Ghana’s 1992 Constitution: Views and Reflection,” formed part of a series of lectures by notable individuals on the need to review the constitution.
It was attended by a former Chief Justice, Justice Sophia Akuffo; a former Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, who was the chairperson for the event; the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu, and the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Jean Mensa.
Others were a Deputy Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, O.B Amoah, and the Dean of the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Prof. Vladimir Antwi Danso.
Mr Okudzeto’s lecture touched on the role of the constitution and many of its components such as lands and natural resources, judiciary, local governance, checks and balances, the legislature, the executive and the council of state.
Other personalities who have mounted the IEA constitutional review platform include former President John Agyekum Kufuor; Justice Sophia Akuffo; the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, and the immediate past Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu.
Touching on Article 243 of the 1992 Constitution, Mr Okudzeto explained that the provision, in its current form, needed to be amended to pave the way for the election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs).
The lawyer said the provision in its current form only made MMDCEs loyal to the President instead of the people.
He noted that in other democracies, MMDCEs were mayors elected into office, hence the need to ensure that people with aspirations of leading the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) were given the opportunity to stand on a political platform to seek election and be elected into office.
That, he explained, would make the MMDCEs answerable to the electorate instead of the President.
Council of State
With regard to the Council of State, Mr Okudzeto said he did not share the opinion that it should be scrapped as suggested by others.
During an IEA seminar in November last year, former President Kufuor advocated the scrapping of the Council of State, to be replaced by a second chamber of Parliament.
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”.
However, Mr Okudzeto said scrapping the Council of State would not be ideal because it played an important advisory role not just for the President but important institutions such as Parliament, resolved disputes, and served as a form of check on the President.
“Our system has it that so much power is given to the President such that even Parliament cannot sack the President. We also have this system called checks and balances which means, in any case, there should be someone who will keep the President on his toes.
“So the Council of State is meant to be there to counsel and advise not only the President but also Parliament, Ministers of State and all other individuals,” he said.
Mr Okudzeto said the Council of State was supposed to be apolitical and therefore turning it into a second chamber of Parliament could turn it into a party political institution.
“Former President Kufuor suggested that we turn the Council of State into a second chamber. On the surface, it sounds fantastic but there is the likelihood this will be like a Parliament where the political parties think that they are at war,” he added.
He said many people were calling for the scrapping of the Council of State because they did not really understand its role.
“There is a lot of controversies on the Council of State, with some people, including professors, arguing that the Council of State should be scrapped and I believe that much of this arises from the lack of understanding of the basis and the functions of the Council of State,” he said.
Sharing his views, the Deputy Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Mr Amoah said the constitutional review process started by former President John Evans Atta Mills was laudable but unfortunately, the procedure was wrong.
According to Mr Amoah, the then government established a commission of inquiry, with the recommendations of the commission diluted by a government white paper, which was not the best.
“That white paper decided to agree and disagree with some of the recommendations and that is why we are still where we are. Properly, we should not have chosen the path of commission of inquiries to review the constitution,” he stated.