General News of Saturday, 5 July 2014

Source: Public Agenda

Door can't be shut on Constitutional Amendment process - Varsity dons declare

Two law lecturers of the University of Ghana have declared that the door for inputs on the constitutional amendments cannot be shut on Parliament and Ghanaians in general.

Distinguished Professor of Law, Kofi Quashigah, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ghana and Dr Peter Atudiwe Atupare, also a Lecturer of the Faculty of Law, made the submission in a paper they jointly prepared. The submission was presented by Prof Quashigah at a public forum organised by the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG), Civic Forum Initiative (CFI) and partners, in collaboration with Joy FM on Wednesday. “The 'door is closed' view is incorrect and is not supported by the general reading of the constitution.” The forum was on the theme, “Taking the Process of Amending the 1992 Constitution Forward-A Legal Perspective.”

A total of 41 entrenched provisions have been proposed with the government claiming the process is closing while civil societies argue it is still open and will not close until after the referendum. Prof. Quashigah and Dr Atupare propose that all the clauses under Article 290 should be read together to prove the importance of nullifying this government's belief.

The two speakers had other concerns with the timeframe and the possibility of lumping all the provisions in issue together and subjecting it to a yes or no vote. The Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) examined the provisions in 2010 long before the 2012 election. Prof. Quashigah believes it would be beneficial to reexamine these provisions to ensure they best represent the concerns of the Ghanaian people. For example, Prof. Quashigah argues, “The biggest fear of the average Ghanaian citizen is the election process. The elections are fought with pure venom.”

They outlined in their presentation both the timeframe of the constitutional amendment process and the different provisions that are often clustered and passed together.They believe each provision needs to be given it's own separate consideration and should be divided based on content. If these concerns are not addressed they could lead to an unnecessary hold on the referendum process and a higher pressure to vote for provisions they may not necessarily believe in.

Prof. Quashigah and Dr Atupare also gave some suggestions on how Ghana can “move forward” in the constitutional amendment process. First, the amendment process is not closed when the bill goes towards the speaker. Second, Parliament must proceed with gazette of the bill. Third, Parliament will consider the bill. Fourth, enough time and consideration should be allowed in the process. Finally, proposed provisions be clustered into subject matters to allow for better consideration.

“The Constitution is our primary tool that mobilizes us as a national people,” said Dr. Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Director of IDEG.

Dr Emmanuel Awkwetey, Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Governances, explained the current constitutional amendment process and the problems associated with it. Dr Awkwetey described the true basis of the problem, “The challenges we are facing are not just a matter of leaders or parties. It is the structural problem of the government, especially the executive branch of government.”

Major General Nii Carl Coleman (Rtd), Chairman of the Civic Forum Initiative, welcomed the public and gave opening remarks regarding the importance of this issue. He explained how the current amendments do not address fundamental issues such as sustaining peace and a national identity.

After the presentation, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions and give their own opinions on the issues raised. Moderator Kojo Yankson, host of the Super Morning Show on JOY FM, served as moderator for the duration of the discussion. Kojo Yankson closed the discussion with a reminder that these discussions are “only the beginning of these efforts.”