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Opinions of Saturday, 12 November 2011

Columnist: Akoto, Akwasi A. Afrifa

Atta And The Forty Hypocrites.

When the Supreme Court ruled for prisoners to vote, it did not specify the date for implementation. The Court simply advised the Electoral Commission to "efficiently and effectively managed, controlled and directed to operationalize the registration of prisoners to enable them to vote in future elections and referenda such as will ensure harmonious interface with the Prisons Service Act 1972 NRCD 46 and all the other relevant stakeholders."

"Future elections", it said and not 2012, mandatorily. So why is President Mills rushing to implement it before the next elections?

As to the Case itself, filed by Ahumah Ocansey and Kojo Graham of the Centre for Human Rights and Civil Liberties (CHURCIL) on behalf of the prisoners and the Supreme Court ruling per se, the Court did not have much choice but to uphold Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution which guarantees the voting rights of citizens 18 years and above and of sound mind; as against the restrictive PNDC Law 284.
But with all due respect, the Supreme Court was morally wrong to render the ruling without qualification. The fact that the language of Article 42 is in general terms should have given the Court enough room to particularize, giving the local conditions and the essence of the punishment-prison term. In fact Constitutions are written in general terms for a reason.
Even the Court's argument that voting "remains an important means of teaching them democratic values" is very weak. Our constitutional democracy also grants the rights to associate, to unionize, to move freely and to attend meetings etc. Should we also give prisoners exeats? Would these rights be the next fight for Messrs Ocansey and Graham?
But this whole mess must be blamed squarely on the PNDC and their Chairman. They were the architects of both the PNDC Laws and 1992 Constitution and all the structural miseries which continue to plague the Fourth Republic.
A week ago, government raised the daily feeding fees of prisoners from 60p to C1.80. Noble on government's part, many must have thought then. Now we know better. Of course, improvements in prison conditions are always welcomed. However the timing of the increase and the president's zeal in his rush to implement a non emergency, non essential "project" -with no mandatory deadline - betray his true intentions: to buy prisoners vote in his desperate attempt to shore up his dwindling tally within the general public.
In a First Amendment case in the United States, a man, Ed Bello, argued that his rights had been violated because a judge had taken away television as part of his sentence. He won the case on the basis that lack of TV restricted his rights to free speech and free press guaranteed in the Bill of rights. Yet you don't see the Federal government rushing to put TV sets in every jail cell. (No votes for US prisoners by the way)
Some acts, rules and laws are so offensive to the sensibilities of ordinary men, that no matter how legal it might be, all moral men hesitate to voluntarily enforce them......unless it is absolutely necessary... or unless you are "Atta and the Forty Hypocrites."

Akwasi A. Afrifa Akoto