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Opinions of Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Amendment To ROPAB Law: A Recipe For Peace Or Chaos?

A person shall not be deemed to be resident in a polling division if he has been absent from his place of abode for a continuous period of six months ending on the qualifying date. PNDC Law 284

The Kufuor government's decision to amend the legal provisions to allow Non-Resident Ghanaians (NRGs) to register to vote in future elections faces numerous challenges. Resistance to this bill is not new. The first time it appeared before parliament under a certificate of urgency, it faced the same unified opposition.

This proposed amendment bill had been gathering dust for more than a year on a mahogany table at the Attorney General Department's office before it was repackaged to for further deliberation.

PNDC Law 284 has become one of the legal vestiges in our statue books, but its relevance has been questioned in recent times.

In trying to examine this law, it is important to know the motivation behind its passage. Every law has its intended purpose. A school of thought believes that the PNDC Law 284 was to prevent many Ghanaians from exercising their franchise.

The NDC and the other parties have all joined forces to challenge the proposed amendment.

Argument against the proposed amendment seems to be lopsided. It may be true that poverty is endemic in the country but government wants to commit millions of dollars to allow NRGs to register. Democracy, of course, is an expensive enterprise. That is why only the rich countries, so far, appear to have working democracies. Let?s assume, for instance, that Ghana was so broke during the last election and that it decided to postpone the elections until 2007. How would this have been received?

The fact that in the last election there were shortages of voting material does not mean that we cannot allow non-resident Ghanaians to vote if the EC is well resourced. Even in advanced democracies, instances of shortages of voting materials in one place and excess supply in another may occur. Life is a continuous process of advancement. We learn from mistakes and make amends. Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution states in unequivocal terms that: EVERY citizen of GHANA (whether living in Ghana, China, Peru, Greenland or Alaska or Nsawam or even James Fort Prisons) of EIGHTEEN YEARS of AGE or ABOVE, 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 (emphasis mine).

Arguing from PNDC Law 284 that only resident Ghanaians can vote because there can be "no representation without taxation" is absurd. Current figures from the Bank of Ghana indicate that remittances from Ghanaians residing abroad are around US $ 1 billion. Can a nation like Ghana that relies heavily on external aid, survive without these remittances? This is not to talk about the indirect taxes paid through custom and excises duties on goods brought to the country. If this proposed bill is defeated in parliament, there should be people who would be ready to challenge the relevance of PNDC Law 284 in the Supreme Court vis-?-vis article 2 of the 1992 Constitution.

The decision to enfranchise non-resident Ghanaians is good but should be done with the right motive.

Shakespeare says "for sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds". If we decide to score political points with this proposed bill, then we will not be far from creating chaos.

However, if the motive of the amendment were rooted in truth and purpose of allowing all Ghanaians to be partakers of our democracy, then we would be injecting more doses of haemoglobin into the veins of our national democracy.

THE WAY FORWARD

There are more questions that need to be answered before we can move to the next stage of the bill. Who is a Ghanaian? Are we to base the definition of Ghanaian on Chapter 3 of the 1992 Constitution, which talks about citizenship or anyone holding a Ghanaian passport? What about the non-Ghanaians who have, by one means or the other, secured Ghanaian passports?

How can we know the total number of NRGs? Until we find answers to these basic questions, whoever opposes the bill would be right in doing so. If, for example, after the registration of NRGs in America, it is reported that the total number of people who registered were 3.5 million, how would one contest this figure?

To make things clearer to Ghanaians, parliament must mandate the Government Statistician, first and foremost, to conduct a census of all Ghanaians residing abroad and a comprehensive database (name, date of birth, place of birth, current passport picture, and thumbprint, country of residence) and their roots verified here via their relatives. This would even help government to offer appropriate details in the event of an emergency. It would give a fair idea of the total number of NRGs. Parliament could then make an informed decision. Political parties can make use of the database generated from the NRG census to establish contacts with NRGs. Political parties can use this to organize their members abroad and have their contact details. This may even help in raising funds to help individual parties. Party members should act as representatives at such registration as we do on the national level. A minimal fee of say US $10 could be charged for registration per NRG.

The issue that the time is not ripe for this amendment is neither here nor there.

When would the time be right? Who determines that the time is ripe? Is it the legislature or the executive or through random sampling of opinion from Makola, Kejetia or the Techiman Markets, or the fitters at Kokompe or Suame Magazine? Chaos and peace lie in the proposed amendment.

The way we do it could lead to a peaceful Ghana or a chaotic Ghana. And we have just about enough time to get it right. For as T.S. Eliot said, "The last temptation is treason; to do the right thing for the wrong reason"

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through:
Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation,
P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi.
Tel 027-740-2467 www.interconnection.org/lotfound


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