Feature Article of Sunday, 6 November 2005
Columnist: Quarshie, Mordecai
No Representation Without Taxation
The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill is currently at the Committee stage of Parliament which seeks to amend the existing law to give Ghanaians resident abroad the right to vote in Ghanaian elections. Certain categories of Ghanaians abroad already have the right to vote during an election, these include, diplomats, security service personnel on official duty abroad, students on Ghana Government scholarship and so on. This bill seeks to extend this right to all Ghanaian citizens abroad.
The American Revolution of 1773 which led to independence in 1776 was sparked off by the Boston Tea Party under the rallying cry ?No Taxation Without Representation?. I have reversed the slogan in the title of this piece. Even though I feel strongly about this I am in no way calling for a Ghanaian Revolution in opposition to it. I hope instead to broaden the scope of public discussion and stimulate more debate on this. I am aware that the opposition NDC has taken a stand in opposition to this bill. This article, though in opposition to this bill, is NOT in support of the NDC position.
The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill is clearly well intentioned, seeking to give Ghanaians abroad a feeling of belonging and empowerment. The proponents of this bill argue that it is in reality not granting Ghanaians abroad the right to vote. They assert that the Constitution has already given that right to all citizens of Ghana irrespective of location. The bill, they claim, seeks to amend certain aspects of the law (Section 8 of the Representation of the People Law, 1992 PNDCL 284) which make it difficult for non resident Ghanaians to exercise their constitutionally given right to register and vote in elections in Ghana.
My submission is firstly that Constitution intends the rights of citizenship to be inseparable from the duties. The right to vote as a right of citizenship is subject to the reasonable fulfillment of the duties of citizenship. Secondly the effect of the passage of this bill could be a situation which is basically unjust and impracticable. Much of the public opinion and comment on this issue have focused on the impracticable aspect i.e. the logistical difficulty of making it possible for all Ghanaians abroad to vote. To enrich the debate I will focus on the unfair aspects of the effect of the passage of this bill.
Who is a citizen
According to the 1992 Constitution Chapter 3 Citizenship section 6(2) ?Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person born in or outside Ghana after the coming into force of this Constitution shall become a citizen of Ghana at the date of his birth if either of his parents or grandparents is or was a citizen of Ghana?.
Chapter seven (Representation of the People) 42 Right to vote says ?Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda?.
Placing these two constitutional definitions together we can conclude that every one born outside (or inside) Ghana whose parent or grandparent is or was a citizen of Ghana, and is over eighteen years of age and of sound mind will be entitled to vote in a Ghanaian election if this bill is passed.
Most people tend to think of their relatives, old school mates and childhood friends abroad when this bill is discussed they therefore approach it with so much emotion that the facts are obscured. It is important to understand that should this bill be passed there will be people eligible to vote in Ghanaian elections whose only link to Ghana is that their grandfather or grandmother was Ghanaian. These people need not ever have set foot on Ghanaian soil and their parents need never have set foot in Ghana. All they need is to be able to claim that one of their parents or grandparents was a Ghanaian. In other words third or fourth, generation emigrants will have the right to vote.
Proponents of this Bill claim that the right to vote has been unconditionally given to all Ghanaians regardless of location. This may not be correct. The Directive Principles of State Policy which is supposed to guide the implementation of the Constitution makes it clear that the rights and duties of citizenship must go together.
Chapter 6 of our Constitution, The Directive Principle of State Policy states:
?34 (1) The Directive Principles of State Policy contained in this Chapter shall guide all citizens, Parliament, the President, the Judiciary, the Council of State, the Cabinet, political parties and other bodies and persons in applying or interpreting this Constitution or any other law and in taking and implementing any policy decisions, for the establishment of a just and free society?
?41 The exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms is inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of every citizen?(emphasis mine)
(a) to promote the prestige and good name of Ghana and respect the symbols of the nation; (b) to uphold and defend this Constitution and the law; (c) to foster national unity and live in harmony with others; (d) to respect the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of others, and generally to refrain from doing acts detrimental to the welfare of other persons; (e) to work conscientiously in his lawfully chosen occupation; (f) to protect and preserve public property and expose and combat misuse and waste of public funds and property; (g) to contribute to the well-being of the community where that citizen lives; (h) to defend Ghana and render national service when necessary; (i) to co-operate with lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order; (j) to declare his income honestly to the appropriate and lawful agencies and to satisfy all tax obligations; and (k) to protect and safeguard the environment.? Clearly the fulfillment of some of the duties of citizenship requires some degree of residence and or physical connection to Ghana. PNDCL 284 requires as a precondition for voting, a six months limited residence in a voting area possibly so that the prospective voter has the opportunity to perform his duties. To this extent it gives effect to this aspect of the Directive Principles of State Policy and therefore may not be as inconsistent with the Constitution as people generally believe. While residence in Ghana does not necessarily mean that one has fulfilled these duties, permanent residence outside Ghana is evidence that one has not. The rights and duties of citizenship go hand in hand, we should think carefully about exporting the rights without the corresponding duties.
Citizenship rights & responsibilities
Citizenship has certain rights and responsibilities. The right to vote is one of these rights. Some of the responsibilities of citizenship include obeying the law, no matter how obnoxious you deem it, paying taxes no matter how onerous and being conscripted in time of war whether or not you think the war is necessary. Currently, the above rights and responsibilities of citizenship are only effective when one is physically located in the geographical area called Ghana. With the proposed amendment, the rights will be exported but the responsibilities will not. The rights and responsibilities of citizenship should go hand in hand, we should not export the right to vote without the corresponding responsibilities such as taxation, obedience to the law, and conscription in time of war. Why should Ghanaian citizens abroad, possibly second and third generation emigrants according to the constitutional definition, have the right to vote for a government that can impose taxes when they are not obliged to pay tax? Why should they have the right to vote for a President who can declare war when they cannot be conscripted to fight? Why should they have the right to vote for leaders who can make bad laws when they do not live under those laws? Democracy does not assume that all of us will have the same interests but it assumes that because we all have to live with the consequences of our vote, we would exercise reasonable diligence in casting our vote. Democracy effectively assumes the local saying: ?country broke, country no broke, we all dey inside?. In giving the right to vote to Ghanaians resident abroad, we break this rule. ?Country broke country no broke they no dey inside? or worse still we create the unjust situation in which ?country broke they no dey inside, country no broke they dey inside?
This link between citizenship rights and responsibilities particularly relating to representation and taxation is neither spurious nor contrived. As mentioned above the American Revolution was ignited by this link which was summed up in the slogan ?no taxation without representation? that inspired the title of this essay. In response to those who counter that many voters in Ghana do not pay tax, we need to remember that in addition to those in the formal sector who are within the income tax net everyone who buys goods and services in Ghana probably pays VAT, everyone who uses transportation in Ghana whether public or private probably pays petroleum tax, everyone who buys beer in Ghana probably pays excise tax, every cocoa farmer probably pays export tax, every Ghanaian Voter pays one tax or the other.
Recently the drain of African or Ghanaian brains to the Western world has become a global issue. As a nation our response should be to create incentives for brains staying at home and disincentives for brains staying abroad. Giving Ghanaians in the Diaspora the vote runs counter to this logic. Let?s face it; many Ghanaians abroad are there because they believe life is better there. I do not begrudge them this right. There is freedom of movement and they have, probably wisely, chosen to leave Ghana. The fact remains though that the act of leaving Ghana to reside abroad, except for education, diplomatic or national assignment, or the act of permanently staying abroad when as a Ghanaian citizen you could be here at home can in itself be regarded as a vote of ?no confidence? in the country and its future. Though we understand and even sympathize with Ghanaians resident abroad, we cannot support their action for the simple reason that if we all emulated their example this nation would grind to a halt. It is also important to understand that brains that deliberately drain abroad have actually walked off with our social investment in them. They have in other words deprived society of legitimate return on its investment in their education and upbringing. Why should we now expend society?s resources in facilitating their right to vote when they have so clearly shirked their responsibility to society?
I have heard people attempt to justify the proposed amendment on the grounds that Ghanaians living abroad contribute immensely to the economy through the value of remittances, estimated at US$1.4billion for last year, they send home. These remittances, I admit, must be appreciated since they truly support our economy and help stabilize the cedi on foreign exchange markets. However remittances are NOT taxes. Those who send remittances receive direct value either personally or through proxies in return. Those of us who pay taxes do not receive any such direct benefit. Those of us who live here also remit monies to our relatives in the village and do not expect reward for that. If Ghanaians abroad do the same why do they deserve reward? Much of the remittances are for the purpose of acquiring land, homes etc. Why should anyone be rewarded for buying himself property?
Let?s look at the issue of remittances a little more closely. Whatever monies a person remits home is only a fraction of the person?s (hopefully) legitimate earnings. These earnings are a reflection of his value and are a measure of the return on society?s investment that would have accrued to Ghana had he not walked away with our investment in him. This is better seen when we set aside monetary values and replace them with real values. If a Ghanaian doctor saves 10 American lives we must understand that it is in lieu of 10 Ghanaian lives that could have been saved. The fact that he is paid US$100,000.00 for the 10 American lives and only US$1000.00 for the 10 Ghanaian lives is neither here nor there. The difference in remuneration can not be accepted as the relative value of Ghanaian and American lives. The real cost to us of him saving the 10 American lives is the 10 Ghanaian lives that he was not here to save. Period! If out of the US$100,000.00 that he earns abroad he uses $10,000.00 to buy a plot of land in Ghana, what is misleadingly referred to as a remittance, does he deserve to be congratulated for his service to society and rewarded with the right to vote in Ghanaian elections?
Granting voting rights to Ghanaians abroad amounts to a dilution of the right of self determination of those of us who live here at home. To illustrate this imagine a hypothetical election in which one candidate promises higher tax and the other lower tax. Assume that the majority of voters in Ghana feel overtaxed and want some relief. Will it be fair if the vote of our brothers in the Diaspora, who do not pay taxes here, results in the election of the pro-tax candidate? ?He who feels it knows it?, the saying goes. By granting the vote to those who do not feel it and therefore do not know it, are we not diluting or somewhat diminishing the right of self-determination of those of us here who feel it and therefore know it?
Our brothers and sisters abroad by reason of their superior economic and lobbying power already have political influence disproportionate to their numbers. We need to think carefully about whether we want, in addition, to grant them the direct right to vote without any of the duties of citizenship contained in the Constitution.
In conclusion let me say that the bill as it stands now even though clearly well intentioned could give rise to a situation that is unjust and impracticable. If we cannot export the responsibilities of citizenship abroad let us not export the rights lest we create an unjust system in which the majority of us living in Ghana are subjected to the tyranny of the minority living abroad!
Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.