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General News of Friday, 3 February 2006

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ROPAB: Minority Statement

STATEMENT MADE BY THE MINORITY LEADER ON THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE (AMENDMENT) BILL

Mr Speaker, I rise to vehemently oppose the motion for the second reading of the Representation of the People?s Ammendment Bill and in doing so present the following statement which represents the view of the Minority on this particular piece of legislation.

Mr. Speaker we on this side of the house are resolutely opposed to this bill. Our opposition to the bill is motivated by several factors. Our love for our country?s peace, security and political stability and more importantly our commitment to the sustenance of multi-party Constitutional Democracy in Ghana. The bill has a potential for political friction and even possibly conflict. It may provide the basis for questioning the legitimacy and credibility of our elections. The manner in which the NPP Government wants to ram this bill down the throats of Ghanaians carries seeds of chaos that could undermine the constitutional democracy that we have all so carefully built and nurtured over the last 13 years or so.

Mr. Speaker, it is instructive to note that a Deputy Commissioner of the Electoral Commission has cautioned that if this bill must be passed, it should be done by a consensus of the political stakeholders.

Mr. Speaker, only recently on the floor of this house, the President declared the determination of his government to push ahead with the passage of the ROPAB and questioned the motives of those opposed to the bill and indeed expressed incomprehension of the nervousness of people opposed to the bill. Indeed we wish to question the motive of the President in trying to pass this piece of legislation as if it were a matter of life and death. Indeed why all the nervousness by Kufour and his cronies to see through this piece of legislation against all sensible advice and the expressed opposition to the bill by all recognized minority parties?

Mr Speaker, could it be that President Kufour is nervous about the acid test of accountability that must surely follow the completion of his tenure as President, that he is prepared to hazard the peace and stability of this country on a radical one-sided redrawing of the electoral landscape in order to ensure that he is succeeded by an NPP II Administration?

We in the minority believe that this proposed amendment is an act of desperation on the part of the ruling NPP to constrain the ability of other political parties and the EC to effectively monitor the polls and thereby create an avenue for manipulating the 2008 election.

Mr. Speaker, recently again, on this very floor, President Kufour said that in the State of the Nation Address of 1996, read by President Rawlings, he called for a consideration of ways to extend the ballot to our nationals abroad. Mr. Speaker if you take the State of the Nation Address for 1996, P1 Pg7, and with your kind permission I will quote

?The year also saw the successful conduct of the voter?s registration exercise. We commend the Electoral Commission which despite the criticism, performed in the constitutionally neutral and impartial manner expected of it. We expect the commission to expedite action on the registration of qualified Ghanaians abroad as well as the limited opening of the voter?s register that it has already hinted at.?

Mr. Speaker we wish to reiterate as in the quotation above, that the Minority is not against the enjoyment of any rights, privileges or benefit legitimately bestowed by the constitution on any Ghanaian, whether they reside in Bunkpurugu or in Azerbaijan.

Mr. Speaker, the difference between the two Presidents is that while the one of 1996, in the interest of peace and stability of the nation was willing to leave all action in respect of the external vote to the EC, unfortunately the President of today is willing to use a partisan majority in Parliament to force the legislation down the throats of Ghanaians.

Mr. Speaker based on the statement by President Rawlings in the 1996 State of the nation address, the EC commissioned a study of other jurisdictions and the practice in respect of the external vote. This report was included in the brief of the Electoral Commissioner to Parliament in a Committee of the Whole in the year 2002, where the Commissioner virtually showed that ROPAB was not a feasible option at the present time. Mr. Speaker, the NDC?s position is that in its present form, the bill must not be passed as it will not achieve its purpose, especially as all its implications and ramifications have not been carefully thought through.

Mr. Speaker the Representation of the Peoples Law (PNDCL 284) has been on our statute books since 1992. Mr. Speaker this law has been used in the conduct of 4 successful general elections and numerous bye-elections. Two different political parties have been elected under the ambit of this law for two 4-year terms in each case. As stated by the NDC flagbearer in the 2004 elections, and Mr. Speaker with your permission I beg to quote:

?What is so wrong with such a representation law as to warrant the infusion of a measure whose efficacy is uncertain, whose cost is unknown, and whose impact is unpredictable.?

Mr. Speaker, there is the vexed question of ?who is a Ghanaian citizen? for the purposes of the overseas Ghanaian voter registration exercise? That question is not so easily answered, even though the flippant answer will be to refer to the Citizenship Act. The prospect of the citizenship of many who claim to be Ghanaians being contested abroad is very real. Where these issues arise outside the territory of Ghana, who will have jurisdiction? Inside Ghana, various measures are instituted to confirm the identity of persons claiming to be Ghanaians. Agents of political parties, resident in that polling division, are present during the registration exercise to challenge the citizenship of persons who are suspected not to be Ghanaians or resident at the polling division. A District Committee exists to investigate the citizenship of persons whose citizenship is challenged, and there is recourse to the High Court from the decision of the District Committee. All these safeguards will be lost in the case of overseas Ghanaians registered abroad, and it is important that analogous measures be instituted before any registration of overseas Ghanaians is considered. It could be argued that passports are a certain means of identification of Ghanaians for purposes of such registration. But it is a notorious fact that Ghanaian passports have been and are counterfeited worldwide and cannot be relied on for such an exercise. Besides, if passports are to suffice for overseas Ghanaians, then they should suffice for resident Ghanaians as well, and not only passports, but any other form of acceptable identification such as Driver?s Licence, Birth Certificate, etc.

Mr. Speaker, the NPP Government has embarked on an ambitious multi-million dollar National Identification Project. Hopefully at the end of that exercise, every Ghanaian living everywhere would have been identified and issued with an ID card. Logic will therefore dictate that as a first step, we concentrate on implementing the National ID Card Scheme and use the data to prepare the grounds for the possible external registration of Ghanaian citizens for purposes of elections.

Mr. Speaker, an important matter worth considering in all discussions about voting and voting patterns is the issue of statistics. It is possible to know the total population of the country. In fact, it is known. It is possible to determine the total number of registered voters. It is possible to determine the total turnout at the polls, the percentage voting for or against particular political parties or candidates etc and therefore pronounce on the political legitimacy of parties and candidates.

Mr. Speaker, however, no such information is available about the total number of ?Ghanaians resident outside the Republic? either globally or on a country-by-country basis. This makes it very difficult to pronounce on the likely impact of the votes of non-resident Ghanaians on Ghanaian elections.

Mr Speaker, again for purposes of planning for any elections, it is important to have an idea of the numbers of overseas Ghanaians that one is talking about.

Mr Speaker, the ROPAB itself is fraught with serious difficulties. To begin with is the nature of the amendment sought to be effected.

Mr. Speaker, the section of the ?Representation of the People Law?. 1992, PNDCL 284 that prevents Ghanaian citizens resident outside Ghana from registering and voting at elections and referenda is section 7(1)(c), which requires that a citizen must be resident in the polling division where he intends to register and vote. However, the ROPAB does not seek to amend section 7(1)(c) of PNDCL 284 but rather section 8, which exempts Ghanaian citizens employed ?outside Ghana in the service of the Republic? or in the service of the UN or other international organizations from the residence requirements of PNDCL 284.

Mr. Speaker, thus if the ROPAB passes, every Ghanaian citizen living everywhere in the world, except Ghana, would be exempted from the residence requirement of section 7(1)(c) and would be able to register and vote everywhere in the world in all elections and referenda in Ghana.

By amending section 8 instead of section 7 of PNDCL 284, it becomes clear that the actual motive of the NPP Government is something other than the removal of what they themselves say is the cause of the denial of the Article 42 right to citizens abroad. After all, if section 7(1)(c) is the impediment, why not amend section 7(1)(c)? Why amend section 8 and allow section 7(1)(c) to stand?

What is known is that several thousands of Ghanaian citizens abroad do come to Ghana to register and vote in all elections, section 7(1)(c) notwithstanding. Some have even contested elections in Ghana. Indeed, we are yet to be informed of any cases where Ghanaian citizens resident abroad have been refused registration or vote because they were challenged on the ground of not being residents of their intended polling divisions.

Mr. Speaker, the reason the NPP Government is seeking to amend section 8 and not section 7 of PNDCL 284 is that amending section 7 would not achieve the purpose of the party. What the amendment of Section 8 of the ROPAB seeks to do, actually, is to create a special dispensation and modalities for citizens abroad who choose not to travel to Ghana to register and vote, to do so in the countries of their residence. This, of course, would be funded, whatever the cost, by citizens in Ghana who must comply with section 7(1)(c) of PNDCL 284.

In effect, by seeking to amend section 8 instead of section 7 of PNDCL 284, it means that if the ROPAB is passed, the resident requirement of section 7 of PNDCL 284 will still stand. Since citizens abroad would be exempted from this requirement by the amendment of section 8, the residence requirement would apply to citizens resident in Ghana only. The question is, can or should the law be amended to achieve such a discriminatory result?

Mr. Speaker, take a person who ordinarily resides in Accra but during a registration period finds himself in Tamale. The polling division residence requirement will compel him travel to Accra to register. The only difference between him and the overseas Ghanaian traveling from say his London or Kano base to register in Ghana is that the cost and inconvenience our friend who finds himself in Tamale suffers is less than that suffered by the London or Kano based Ghanaian. To that extent therefore, the waiver of the residential requirement for non-resident Ghanaians alone is discriminatory. If that requirement is to be waived, then it must be waived for all Ghanaian citizens and not for overseas Ghanaians alone.

Mr. Speaker, these legal difficulties must be weighed against the very practical problems that arise with any attempt to remove the ?residence? qualification. The conduct of elections is an important part of democratic practice and the credibility of election processes is vital to the sustenance of democracy. Indeed, the very stability of the nation is threatened when the electoral machinery becomes a tool for a Government bent on perpetuating itself in power.

The brazen way in which it is being sought to undermine the democratic process in Ghana by forcing through the ROPAB must be a source of concern even to those Ghanaians abroad that the Bill, on the surface, appears to be favouring.

Mr. Speaker, for Ghanaians at home, the Bill and the potential it creates for anarchy must be of particular concern since they, unlike Ghanaians abroad, will be at the receiving end of any anarchic situation that erupts. Anyone interested in good governance in Ghana ought to pay attention to the dangerous situation that is being created for the country should the Bill become law.

The Electoral Commission of Ghana has established the polling divisions where Ghanaians are to register and those divisions are located in Ghana. The practical and legal reality is that the power of the Electoral Commission in respect of this crucial administrative role is over the territory of Ghana. It is not a worldwide power. Even the operation of this administrative role within Ghana has had its challenges, how much more if, as the Bill seeks to do, the Electoral Commission has to take the whole world as its orbit and to create polling divisions worldwide!

Mr. Speaker, the crucial question is, does the provision governing the conduct of elections in Ghana take away the right of citizenship of a Ghanaian who, by virtue of residence abroad, is unable to meet the requirement of being resident in a polling division? The obvious answer is, ?of course not?!

Yet it is this argument about the so-called rights of overseas Ghanaians, which is being used in order to justify a possible manipulation of the electoral process and an undermining of the credibility of the election results. In the Memorandum to the ROPAB, the Attorney General states: ?Article 42 of the Constitution empowers every citizen of sound mind to register as a voter?. He then goes on to refer to the mandate of the Electoral Commission under Article 45 ?to, amongst other things, compile the register of voters?.

Mr. Speaker, essentially, therefore, what the Government is seeking to do with the ROPAB is to interfere with this mandate of the Electoral Commission by proclaiming a so-called ?right? of all non-resident Ghanaians not to be required by the Commission to show residence in a polling division as a precondition of registration to vote. Where did this ?right? come from?

It is important to stress that there is no legal bar to non-resident Ghanaian fulfilling the legal requirements for registering as a voter in Ghana, except where by virtue of residence outside, that Ghanaian is simply incapable of meeting the requirement of residence in a polling division. Yet this requirement is crucial to the administration of elections in Ghana and has been the basis of all elections conducted under the 1992 Constitution. Can non-resident Ghanaians question the validity of all the elections held under the 1992 Constitution on the grounds that they are disfranchised?

Mr. Speaker, your partisan committee report makes nonsense of its own argument when it recommends that Ghanaians abroad be given the half right of voting only in Presidential elections. Mr. Speaker, I thought the argument of proponents of this bill was that The Representation of the People?s Law 1992 (PNDCL 284) was in conflict with Article 42 of the constitution and therefore disenfranchised Ghanaians living abroad.

The proposed amendment bill therefore seeks to give meaning to Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution. ?Every citizen of Ghana, 18 years and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purpose of Public Elections and referenda?.

At the same time the Committee seeks to qualify this right to only Presidential Elections and not for ?purposes of public elections and referenda as required under Article 42. This defeats the arguments of the ruling NPP about discrimination and calls to question whether they sincerely want to see every Ghanaian exercise the right to vote in an unfettered and unqualified manner. The Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs recommends that:

Until otherwise determined by law, registration and voting by Ghanaians abroad shall relate to only Presidential elections? In other words the NPP government has decided within just six months that expatriate Ghanaians sacred and unqualified rights no longer apply with respect to parliamentary and District ?Assembly elections and referenda! Behind this is the admission that rights can indeed be qualified, but only when it suits the NPP?s sinister agenda. No, this is not acceptable to our parties.

Mr. Speaker, aside from all the identified difficulties, there is also the question, when is an overseas Ghanaian ?resident? outside Ghana?

? What is meant by ?resident? in this context?

? How long must such a person have been ?resident? outside Ghana?

? Is a person who finds himself outside Ghana during a period of registration ?resident outside the Republic? for purposes of this clause?

The point about ?resident outside the Republic? is that it may require having recourse not only to legal difficulties of ?resident? in Ghanaian law but also definitions in the laws of the country where the Ghanaian claims to be resident. There will be questions about, for example, whether a person is resident in the UK if according to UK law he is not resident there. There will be issues about illegal residents abroad, which will give the Electoral Commission the additional burden of liaising with foreign immigration authorities. The difficulties are numerous.

Mr Speaker, elections are part of a broad political process of determining who should take decisions for a country. It is a critical element of that process that voters should have access to those who propose themselves for office and for the latter to also access the voters. If we allow citizens abroad to vote, we are likely to have a situation where many candidates and parties will not have access to the electorate abroad. The ruling party, through the High Commissioners and the Ambassadors, will on the other hand easily have access to the electorate abroad at the expense of the state. Will this be fair?

Mr Speaker, Clause 2 of the Bill vests the power to determine the commencement date of the law, once passed, in the Electoral Commission. Presumably, this is to ensure that the Electoral Commission will be ready to implement the law when it says it is ready. Article 51 of the Commission is the only article which vests power in the Electoral Commission to make regulations, and those regulations are to be made by Constitutional Instrument. It is the NDC?s contention that the Electoral Commission can only use a Constitutional Instrument to give effect to provisions of the Constitution or any other law, but this does not include the power to bring into operation a law passed by Parliament when it chooses to do so.

Mr. Speaker, there are many other issues that I could raise such as the cost of this exercise, the proposal to use heads of mission abroad as registration officers, jurisdictional issues and the question about which countries would be covered by external voting. Due to the constraint of time however, I will say in conclusion that it is our unequivocal demand that the NPP immediately withdraw this bill and address their proposal to the EC. The EC can then create a credible plat form on which the concerns raised by political parties and other stakeholders can be considered and a report presented to Parliament for consideration. It is then, and only then that consensual legislation can be introduced into the house for amendment of the existing electoral arrangements. The integrity and credibility of our electoral process is critical to the maintenance of democracy and stability in Ghana. We must achieve consensus before tinkering with an electoral arrangement that has served us well in four successive elections. This is important if we are not to descend into the chaos of disputed elections and the accompanying instability associated thereof.

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