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General News of Monday, 14 October 2013

Source: GNA

'Electoral reforms is national duty'

Mr Gabriel Pwamang, an Accra based legal practitioner at the weekend described the Electoral Commission’s (EC) invitation to its major stakeholders, including registered political parties, to submit proposal for electoral reforms as a national duty.

“Let us all accept the invitation of the EC and offer our proposals. We should consider it a national duty,” Mr Pwamang said at the Ghana Political Parties Programme (GPPP) and Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) workshop for electoral reforms, at Akosombo in the Eastern Region.

The IEA-GPPP initiative is to provide a platform for constructive review of the current electoral system and offer practical recommendations for reforms after the Supreme Court Verdict on the 2012 election petition.

Speaking on the theme: “The 2012 Ghana Elections and the calls for electoral reforms,” Mr Pwamang, explained that in the lead up to the 2012 elections, the EC engaged itself in so many activities of considerable constitutional and electoral significance, thus overstretching its capacity to accomplish all the assignments successfully.

He said the EC must avoid the crash time table in the future to ensure that this does not happen in the future.

Mr Pwamang suggested the need for the EC to have written down timelines to regulate its activities.

He said there should be a law to cap the number of constituencies to the current 275, which requires amendment of the 1992 Constitution.

Mr Pwamang noted that in Liberia, Nigeria and Brazil the elections authorities are given powers to investigate instances of serious breaches of electoral laws and sanction the perpetrators.

He proposed that the EC Act should be amended to give it enforcement powers.

Mr Pwamang who is a former People’s National Convention General Secretary, who spoke on recruitment of temporary electoral officials, acknowledged the critical role that presiding officers, polling assistants and returning officers play in the electoral process.

“Where they perform their duties efficiently the credibility of the poll is guaranteed but where they are incompetent they compromise the polls.

“There is the need to provide in the regulations for minimum educational qualification for those who apply to be engaged as election officials.

Currently the EC normally conducts written examination to select those to engage for voter registration or election duties. It is high time the EC reviews its syllabus and raises the standard of the examination.”

Mr Pwamang also suggested that provisions should be made to the electoral regulations to punish election officials who perform their duties negligently.

“The current regulations provide for election officials to take an oath administered by the district election officer before embarking on their duties but I will suggest that the oath be administered by the district magistrate to bring its effect forcefully to the officials.

“The regulations should also provide a minimum period for the training of election and registration officials before they are assigned duties. Voter education should be intensified such that voters will take advantage of the exhibition of names of proposed election officials and object to those that they know to be bias or incompetent.”

Mr Pwamang also called for reforms on biometric registration of voters in future elections.

“The EC should develop a better method of making clearer copies of the pink sheet available to candidates such that they can easily appreciate the results and easily accept them. The regulations should give authority to the returning officer to rectify clerical errors on pink sheets and serve copies of the rectified sheets on candidates or their representatives. This can clear misunderstanding early in the day and avoid disputing of elections on clerical errors.”

On the Election Petition, Mr Pwamang said the long stretched hearing of the petition affected not only governance but the economy as well.

He, therefore, suggested a change to the laws and provide for a faster way of dealing with presidential election petitions in particular.

He said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ghana is signatory recommends that election petition should be determined “without undue delay” and the proceedings should be expeditious.

Mr Pwamang revealed that if Ghana adopts a time frame similar to that of Kenya, within the context of the impending amendment, “we can conclude any election petition before the President is sworn into office on January 7 as we have it now”.

He said this would require an amendment of Art 64(1) & (2) of the Constitution and limit the time allows for filing of a presidential election petition to seven days after the declaration of the election.

“For a challenge to the election of a President to stand a chance of succeeding it must be based on documentary evidence.

“A presidential candidate who is expected to have representatives at each polling station across the country should be able to assemble his complaints within seven days and file his petition. The constitution should also provide for a decision of the Supreme Court on a presidential election petition to be final and after filing the petition should be head and determined within 14 days,” he stated.

Mr Pwamang said delays could weaken public confidence in a government and hurt the confidence of elected officials. It involves a balancing act between the petitioners’ right to access effective justice and the interest of the society to ensure certainly.

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