Atuguba considering legal action if Public Universities Bill is passed
The Dean of the University of Ghana School of Law (UGSL), Professor Raymond Atuguba, is considering legal action if the controversial Public Universities Bill is passed amidst the numerous calls for its withdrawal.
According to him, the Bill needs to be thrown out because it is unnecessary and infringes on the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.
Speaking on the Point Blank segment of Eyewitness News on Wednesday, Prof Atuguba explained that, “Our 1992 Constitution in various articles including Articles 68(1)(b) and 195 seek to ensure that public universities are insulated from governmental and partisan control. Article 68 bars the President of Ghana from being Chancellor of a public university. It states it black and white. The President cannot be a Chancellor because that is going to be an avenue for control.”
“Article 195 states that the President can appoint members and officers for the entire public services of Ghana. But Article 195(3) states an entire exception to that. The President cannot employ officers for public universities. So it is clear. What the Bill seeks to do is to undermine this. The Bill provides that the President appoints the chancellors of public universities. This has never happened since the Constitution came into force.”
He further stressed that the passing of the Bill is unnecessary because “you already have a regulatory system for the management of public universities that have run perfectly well.”
When asked what he would do if the government goes on to pass the Public Universities Bill, he said that he would send the issue to the Supreme Court so the Bill will be “struck down” on the basis of it going contrary to the Constitution.
“I am just a member of UTAG. UTAG is speaking against the Bill in the hope that it will not be passed in its current state and that both the Minister [of Education] and Committee for Education [in Parliament] will see good in withdrawing it. If they do not, there are many options. Once it is passed, it is possible to go to the Supreme Court and ask that the court strikes the entirety or parts of the Bill down as it is contrary to the provisions of the 1992 Constitution.”
“If this Bill passes, I have to decide as an individual whether to remain in the university and send all my university partnerships, research projects and proposals to the Minister for approval or get out. And if I’m getting out, I might then consider going to have the Bill struck down as unconstitutional,” he stated.
About the Bill
According to framers of the Public Universities Bill, it seeks to harmonize the finances, administration and governance structure of public universities.
The Bill, when passed, will give the government power to appoint the majority of members of the University Council.
The Council then has the power to appoint and fire public university officials.
The Bill also gives the President the power to dissolve the university council which will now have the power to appoint a chancellor.
It also gives effect to the University Council to control the finances of the university and determine the allocation of funds.
In addition, there is a proposal to rename four public universities after various personalities.
Rejections to the Bill
The draft Bill has so far attracted wide public criticisms from many people including former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Ivan Addae-Mensah.
Among the concerns raised over the Bill is the proposal for the number of University Council members to be reduced from 15 to nine, the power of the President to appoint five of the council members and the power of the President to dissolve the council in cases of emergency and put in place an interim committee.
The Minority in Parliament has kicked against it with the Ranking Member on the Education Committee of the House, Peter Nortsu saying the draft in its current form undermines the authority of universities.
A former Deputy Education Minister, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa in an article also said the Bill, if allowed to pass, could become “a crude attack on the sacred principles of academic freedom”.
In the most recent development, the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS) has also rejected the government’s proposed Public Universities Bill, claiming that the Bill accords the government and its agencies too much power to meddle in the affairs of public university administration and also serve as grounds for the sabotage of schools by the government.
Responses from government
Meanwhile, the Minister for Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh has dismissed claims that the government is trying to subtly take control of public universities in the country through the new universities Bill.
President Nana Akufo-Addo has also dismissed reports that the Bill is an attempt by the government to suppress academic freedom.
He said persons who make such suggestions are only being mischievous.