Feature Article of Sunday, 13 November 2005
Columnist: Okyere Bonna
Mordecai Quarshie has provided us with a well written article, (READ) on the Diaspora voting rights but unfortunately it falls short of principle. At best it can be called media sensationalism.
Most Diasporans don?t even care to debate the intellectual and economic aspects of the passage of this bill on the table. As Edward Kutsoati rightly puts it:
?My guess is that lots (if not majority) of diasporans do not care about voting. Now suppose the desire to vote is very strong, then the following action may resolve the problem: If family members ask for money/remittances, tell them to join a peaceful protest to demand a vote for diasporans first. If such demonstration gets big, the government might listen. That point of view is not true for some of us.?
So why are the NDC and people like Quarshie so much intimidated by this basic right of all Ghanaians like themselves?
Ghanaians are known to be so passive when it comes to debating policies and asking our authorities questions. I used to think the same, that our elders were/are always right.
Our leaders have hidden under this notion for far too long and put in little effort in managing Ghana. Rather some have looted from us and sent us into economic woes. It is very pathetic to know that most Ghanaians think like Quarshie when he says,
?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 is steep political sensationalism. Let Ghanaians who benefit from their relations in the Diaspora decide if what Quarshie is saying is true. Let them (and Ghana) decide if Diasporans don?t pay tax o contribute monetarily to Ghana?s economy. I wonder how the author understands about taxation and how justifiable he is in saying Diasporans don?t pay tax. Does he know how much the government of Ghana derives from these remittances?
This kind of political sensationalism should be stopped by the many Ghanaians who stand to loose should Diasporans be cut off from the affairs of their country.
This is a political arson and must not be condoned. Let us debate on principle not emotionalism. Let the people decide in a referendum.
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?.
Didn?t the Constitution say ALL Ghanaians who have attained the age of 18 are eligible to vote? Therefore the Constitution must be interpreted to the letter. Without a change in the provisions of the constitution nothing of the contrary must be accepted.
What, if Diasporans say, ?No participation no remittance.? Will Ghana take this? What is this thing going on among the elite back home who are being chased by their own shadows? Why do they think the Diasporans are coming to compete with them or pull the bone (bait) from their mouths? As of now the statistics indicate that there are almost 5 million Ghanaians living or working outside of Ghana. Is Quarshie or the opposition trying to say these Ghanaians who have left the jobless economy to find jobs to feed their relatives back home should be ostracized from their country?
Almost every family in Ghana has a relative outside of Ghana toiling to support relatives back home. Is Quarshie trying to say that anyone who wants to vote or participate in the governing of Ghana MUST leave and come home to depend on the government at the expense of their families/relatives and the nation? I challenge people who think like Quarshie to look at the general picture and try to put Ghana ahead of their selfish ambitions. People who reason like this are only afraid of the independent minds of Diasporans. Diasporans can think on their feet as they do not depend on hand outs from the government nor expect the government to put food on their table.
If GHANA needed some balance then it came and it will continue to come from the Diaspora. In a country where separation of powers and checks and balance is a myth the Diasporan voice, for sure, is an asset to the nation.
This author thinks the government of Ghana needs to think outside the box, embrace the Diasporan vote and find a meaningful way to attract their intellect and financial contributions. Even as I speak now Diasporans are considering several ways to help the country. One such major ways is establishing foundations to contribute meaningfully towards building better roads and to eliminate the killings of innocent Ghanaians. These are some of the issues that our government doesn?t seem to bother or have a clue. All we hear daily is propaganda not a plan. So long as the government of Ghana is not able to clamp the voice of Diasporans it will never be able to take the nation for a ride. Therefore the opposition which fear the 5 million Ghanaians will stop them from coming to power and question them of their past mal-practices would do all it can to silence them. It is not about Ghana it is about them when hey vehemently oppose this bill. Let the people decide in a referendum.
The greatest gift Parliament can give to Ghana in this decade would be to pass the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill. Amending the existing law to give Ghanaians resident abroad the right to vote in Ghanaian elections would be the greatest good and achievement of this administration. The benefits to the country are numerous.
Why are Quarshie and the opposition endorsing discrimination on the basis of economics and or location? To say that
?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?
implies that some Ghanaians are better than others and this is unacceptable in any democracy. 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?.
So be it.
?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?.
This quotation is out of place as the British did not see themselves as American citizens. It was the Americans who wanted to cut links with the Brits. At best the quotation is only suggesting to Diasporans to boycott sending any more remittance back home if their voting rights continue to be violated by the government of Ghana.
Can the opposition (NDC) really give Ghanaians a good reason why it has taken a stand in opposition to this bill? All we are hearing are excuses and unmitigated FEAR. Why is NDC so much afraid of Diasporan vote? They talked about money and we say we will pay and now they are saying Diasporans are not citizens of Ghana? Are they trying to call for a revolution or what?
If Quarshie and the NDC truly believe that ?The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill is clearly well intentioned, seeking to give Ghanaians abroad a feeling of belonging and empowerment,? then why are they opposing the bill?
At least if they (NDC) still think voting outside the country is not feasible, which I doubt as South Africa and other countries are doing it so well, why don?t they consider ABSENTEE BALLOT in order to justify their statement that ? the Constitution has already given that right to all citizens of Ghana irrespective of location.?
Quarshie submitted that the Constitution intends the rights of citizenship to be inseparable from the duties. May I ask Quarshie if Diasporans have neglected their duties to Ghana and how he can justify that? What in Quarshie?s mind constitute the reasonable fulfillment of the duties of citizenship? We need to know.
Quarshie has no basis to hide under logistical difficulty of making it possible for all Ghanaians abroad to vote. After all who foots Ghana?s bills? How much do Diasporans pump into the economy of Ghana annually? Almost $4 billion?
?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.?
This is ridiculous. Why is Quarshie so paranoid about this? I can assure him and the NDC that should the bill be passed all these? third or fourth, generation emigrants? nonsense would not be an issue because they would be so attached to Ghana as well. I need not ask Quarshie who stands the chance of benefiting, is it Ghana or these ?third or fourth, generation emigrants? who may be meaningfully employed overseas? Some may even have become Senators and high level officials overseas and Ghana can tap into that resource boldly. I refer Quarshie and the Opposition to read the story of Joseph and his brothers in the book of Genesis. Without going far let me ask Quarshie and those who think like him to take a look at the Jews. Had it not been the Jews in Diaspora what would have happened to the fate of Israel today, amidst the Arab hate. I need not explain further.
So what is the point when GHANA TODAY is begging African Americans to become part of Ghana?s economy, even installing some as chiefs and denying naturally born Ghanaian citizens the right of ownership? Where is this double standards stance coming from? FEAR.
Today, we live in a global village so we cannot be justified to restrict Ghanaians to one location. To rest his case this author would like to borrow a piece of wisdom from Yaw Okraku who rightly says,
?The important thing is to realize that we all have inner voices that speak to us and to whom we report. It is called, conscience. Let us respect the law and live according to our consciences. To deny voting rights to our people in the Diaspora is to be spiteful and vindictive. It can only serve to alienate some of our fellow citizens from our homeland.?