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Opinions of Friday, 8 July 2005

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Enfranchising All Eligible Ghanaians ....

...For Future Elections

This Constitution shall be the supreme law of Ghana and any other law found to be inconsistence with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
(Article 1 Section 2 of the 1992 Constitution)

Last year when the Kufuor?s government decided to amend the legal provisions to allow Non-Resident Ghanaians (NRG) to register to vote in the 2004 Elections it did not go well with opposition parties. To them, the government was abusing the certificate of urgency. For more than a year since the proposed amendment bill lied on a mahogany table inside the Attorney General Department?s office; it has now been refurnished and presented to Parliament for consideration again. Now the argument against the bill has changed from it been rushed through under a certificate of urgency to something different.

The National Democratic Congress (N.D.C) case for trying to become a Goliath to the government in enfranchising all eligible Ghanaians for future elections is not here nor there. The fact that in the last election there were shortages of voting materials does not mean that we cannot allow non-resident Ghanaian to vote if the EC is well resourced. Even in advanced democracies incidents of shortages of voting materials in one place and in excess supply somewhere is common. Life is a continuous process of advancement. We learn from mistakes and make amends. What is needed is the strengthening of the EC so that it can carry its duties as it is enshrined in constitution and no need for any empty philosophical debate and romantic illusions here. The fierce urgency of now demands that all eligible Ghanaians decide on the fate of this country.

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 added). For more than a decade of constitutional rule the right to vote still hinges on the Representation of People?s Law ,1992 (PNDC Law 284).

Before we can make a well informed and unbiased assessment of this issue, I think it is proper that we look at the background of the PNDC Law 284. When the PNDC was ushered in on the 31st of December, 1981, many Ghanaians who were at variance with the regime were arrested and some went into self-imposed exile. Although the ban on party politics was lifted on May 1992 not all Ghanaians returned to the country. Personally, I think the purpose of the PNDC Law 284 was to prevent non-resident Ghanaians from voting. It must be noted that by the time the ban was lifted, many who left because of the revolution found it unsafe to come and register. The PNDC Law 284 made the 1992 elections playing field uneven for the rest of the political parties.

It is quite unfortunate that the Electoral Commission has applied the PNDC Law 284 to the letter and has failed to recognise the sacred demands of the 1992 Constitution. Article 1 Section 2 of the 1992 Constitution states that ? This Constitution shall be the supreme law of Ghana and any other law found to be inconsistence with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.?. Article 1 Section 2 automatically repeals section 7 of PNDC Law 284 if I am not mistaken. Why am I saying this? The PNDC Law 284 puts certain restrictions in allowing Ghanaians registering and voting in an election and referendum. A typical clause is this: 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. With the coming into effect of the 1992 Constitution, the right to vote becomes a constitutional right and not a statutory provision decreed by a military regime to prevent a sizable portion of Ghanaians living abroad to take part in the democratic process.

The decision by Kufuor?s government to amend PNDC Law 284 was the right thing to do. The only questionable thing about is was the first time the bill came for deliberation: why should the government wait just less than a week before the commencement of a new voters register to place the bill under certificate of urgency? Of course most Ghanaians questioned how untimely this motive of the Kufuor?s government was. Quoting T.S Elliot?s ?the last temptation is treason; to do the right thing for the wrong reason,? we must understand that what the government was doing was constitutional even if the motive might have been political. This we know is a common practice in even advanced democracies.

But now that the certificate of urgency is not applicable to this bill we should build national consequences and subject this proposed amendment to proper debate before coming out with the best for the country. If we fail to do it correctly it will inject venom into our very democracy which will continue to torment us by day and torture us by night.

The word democracy comes from the Greek word demos meaning ?the people?; kratein, ?to rule?. Abraham Lincoln once said ?the government for the people by the people and for the people and it still remains the sovereign meaning of democracy?. The power of democracy resides in the majority and not the elite. What we practice in Ghana is democracy and not aristocracy. Currently, by the look of things it appears that we have indirectly disenfranchised many Ghanaians by the statutory provisions.

Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution states the conditions of the eligibility for the right to vote, one does not need to subject this constitution to the magnifying power of the electronic microscope to understand it. It is not stated in ambiguous terms for one to send it to Supreme Court in order to know who qualifies to register and vote.

If one criteria the PNDC Law 284 enjoins is that only resident Ghanaians can vote because there can be ?no representation without taxation?, this reason is absurd. Are we trying to say that the NRG do not pay taxes? 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.

THE WAY FORWARD

Procrastination is still the thief of time and is still true today. Thank God that the executive has risen from its slumber and has lighted the flame that can allow NRG to register and vote. Now is the time for the Attorney General to repackage the proposed bill to amend the PNDC Law 284. Measures must be taken to register people in our prisons. The constitution does not prevent them from registering and voting. Why should the EC do so? Until the Supreme Court of the land tells us the reasons why people in our prisons cannot vote, the Electoral Commission must as a matter of duty do this. The Commission for Human Rights and Human Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) must sound the clarion call for this.

There must be a national debate, district by district and region by region before parliament can finally decide on the proposed amendment. The Akans say that ? nyansa nnim obaakofour tirim? which means wisdom is not only in the head of one person. This should be so because the resident Ghanaians are those who will pay for the consequences of any agitation which will result from this exercise should the NRG votes become doubtful. So I was surprised so hear an honourable member of parliament saying that there will be no public debate on this issue. That was unfortunate.s The debate should be devoid of political colouration.

To make things clearer to Ghanaians, the proposed legislative instrument (LI) must allow the Government Statistician first and foremost to conduct a census on 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 root verified here by their relatives. This will even help government of Ghana to conduct evacuation of its nations in times of disaster and other emergencies. This will give us the fair idea of the total number of NRG. Parliament can then debate on how the whole thing should go. That is which type of elections they should vote: presidential, parliamentary and referenda.

Then the EC should be resourced financially and logistically to carry this exercise. Political parties make use of the database generated from the NRG census to establish contacts with NRG. 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 representatives at such registration as we do on the national level. Mind you, the tax payers? money cannot be used to send party members from Ghana to supervise electoral registration and voting abroad. A minimal fee of say US $10 be charged per registration per NRG. This is offset the cost incurred in enfranchising them.

The Electoral Commission should also commence the open system of registration of eligible voters locally so that people can register once one reaches the voting age of 18 years. This registration can be carried on at the district offices of the commission. This will save us the cost we incur when we try to register the public prior to elections. Post offices can be used as registration centers.

When this is done, then can we say that our representation of people in our democracy reflect the national character. The time has come for us as a nation to light the candle than to curse the darkness. Appiah Kusi Adomako is freelance writer, anti-corruption expert 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.interconection.org/lotfound



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