On the 12th of May 2020, our attention was drawn to some WhatsApp audios and screenshots alleging the UPSA SRC Welfare committee chairman, Simeone Mede Yao and the SRC Vice president, Nathaniel Jill Addo Juniorthey had taken various sums from some students to place them on the SRC welfare list expressly reserved for needy but brilliant students. With this allegation, the SRC President of UPSA, Mr Peter Mwin Zumah decided to set up a five-member committee to investigate the matter.
The setting up of the Committee has sparked a constitutional debate amongst various students of the University as to whether the SRC President’s setting up of the committee to investigate the allegation can be said to be unconstitutional, hence declared null and void. Others are of the view that a Committee was being set up and some say a commission of enquiry.
In this article, I wish to profer my opinion on this brewing Constitutional conundrum that has engaged the student populace within the last couple of days.
Having regards to the statement that was released by the SRC President on Wednesday, May 13 2020, it can be asserted that the committee that was set up is purely a five-member committee set up and not a commission of enquiry. A commission of enquiry is set up by the General Assembly. Taking reference from Article 1 of the UPSA SRC Constitution clause 4(a) and (f):
4(a) The General Assembly shall be the highest decision-making body of the SRC and all issues concerning students shall be decided at the General Assembly.
(f). The General Assembly shall have the power to set up a commission of enquiry into matters of student’s interest whenever the need arises.
From the combined reading of these provisions, it can be argued that the president did not set up a commission of enquiry, the setting up of a commission of enquiry is the exclusive reserve of the General Assembly as seen in Article 1 clause 4(a) and (f).
However, it can be submitted that the SRC president rather set up an ad-hoc committee, subject to the provision of Article 21 which states that:
(a.) Subject to the approval of the General Assembly, the Executive Council may set up such ad-hoc committees as may be deemed necessary to deal with specific situations.
(b). All provisions relating to Standing Committees shall apply to ad-hoc committees set up under this Constitution; except that an ad-hoc committee shall be dissolved upon completion of the task for which it has being established.
Since the SRC President is the head of the Executive Council, taking reference from Article 21(a), he has the power to setup an ad-hoc committee which he indeed established. It must however be emphasized that the setting up of such adhoc committee is not open ended as it is subject to the approval of the General Assembly, drawing inference from Article 20(2)(a)& (b), Article 20(2)(a) and (b) states that:
(a) Each Standing Committee shall be composed of five (5) members nominated by the Executive Council and approved by the General Assembly
(b) Without prejudice to (a) above, chairpersons of all Committees shall be appointed by the President.
On Wednesday, May13, 2020, the General Assembly also issued a statement which stated that the SRC President did not submit the five member ad-hoc committee, which is to probe the allegations of the School Fees Scandal by the Vice president and the Welfare committee chairman to the General Assembly for approval as established in the constitution and hence declared his action as unconstitutional.
Taking readings from Article 1(3)(c) which says:
3(c). Any enactment of any association, organization, club or movement which is inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be null and void. Also Article 4(3)(c)(d) states:
(c) Approve the establishment of Committees, Boards and other Bodies set up under this Constitution.
(d) Approve nominees as members of Committees, Boards and other Bodies.
With the combined provisions of Article 1(3)(c) and 4(3)(c)(d), the setting up of the five-member committee to probe the matter within five working days, starting from May 13, 2020, without prior approval from the General Assembly can be said to be inconsistent with the provisions of the above mentioned provisions of the UPSA SRC constitution.
However, there are some options available to both the Executive Council headed by the SRC President and the UPSA General Assembly headed by the Speaker to investigate the alleged School fees scandal between the SRC Vice President and Welfare Committee Chairman of UPSA, alleged to have approached some innocent students with a plot to place them on the SRC Welfare list meant for brilliant but needy students.
Option 1: A Commission of enquiry can be set up by the General Assembly as part of its powers listed under Article 4(12) which reads:
(a) The General Assembly shall set up a commission of inquiry into any matter of interest to students whenever:
i. Members of General Assembly are satisfied that a Commission of Inquiry should be set up.
(b) A commission appointed under Clause (a) of this Article may consist of at least three (3) and at most five persons, one of whom shall be the Chairperson of the commission. A person shall not be appointed as chairperson of a commission of inquiry under this Article unless he is:
(i) A person of considerable experience in students’ affairs; and
(ii) Possess special qualifications or knowledge in respect to the matter being inquired into.
Option 2: The SRC President can also set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the school fees scandal subject to the provisions made by Article 21 of the UPSA SRC Constitution and Article 20(2)(a) and (b), as it expressly states it should be submitted for approval by the General Assembly. If the five-member committee is not approved by the General Assembly, his action can be said to be inconsistent with Article 1(3)(c).
About the author
University of Professional Studies Accra
Faculty of Law