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Opinions of Saturday, 6 August 2005

Columnist: Ampofo, Ofori

Enfranchising Eligible Ghanaians; How To Satisfy All Parties.

Since the Attorney General brought the peoples representation Amendment Bill back to parliament few weeks ago, there have been lots of opposition to the subject. The NDC Parliamentary group is believed to be against the bill which seeks to amend the PNDC Law 284, which restricts Ghanaians overseas to register and vote in elections and referenda.

A typical clause that a person shall not be deemed to be resident in a pooling division if he/she has been absent from his/her place of abode for a continuous period of six months ending on the qualifying date, automatically disenfranchises many Ghanaians and therefore unrealistic,and needs to be amended. FOLLOWING ARE MY COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS TO CONDUCT A FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS FOR ELIGIBLE GHANAIANS OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY.

Few months before the elections of 2004, the Bill to amend the PNDC Law 284 was introduced in parliament under a certificate of emergency by the NPP government. As it were, it couldn?t go down well with the opposition NDC; It was then very understandable. This time, the Bill is not under any certificate of emergency, but will still not go down well with opposition NDC. There have been numerous articles on the Ghana web, local and foreign news papers. There are debates on local radio FM stations around the country and there is a nationwide tour by the parliamentary select committee on legal and constitutional affairs, to listen to what the people think and have to say about the bill.

The beauty of democracy is allowing citizens to speak their minds about a subject of national interest without fear. After considering all the positives and negatives of the Bill, at the end of the nationwide tour, common sense will prevail.

WHY DID SOME GHANAIANS CHOOSE TO GO OUTSIDE? Nobody should dispute the fact that before the military adventurism into Ghanaian body politics, not too many Ghanaians were in overseas except the few that were on government scholarships. Therefore military brutalities and 40 years of economic mismanagement has brought about the subject for discussion; Enfranchising eligible Ghanaians overseas.

There are two categories of Ghanaian Diasporan ie Political and Economic.

1]. Those who left Ghana on political grounds, could have died prematurely in the hands of the various military regimes. They left Ghana for fear of being picked up one day, brutalized and killed.

2]. Those who left to seek for greener pastures, had to do so because there were no jobs for them no matter how hard they tried, not even after coming out of the Universities. In all sincerity, I will like to tell my fellow Ghanaians at home that, no one has ever been happier living overseas than in Ghana despite the academic, financial and material benefits we have acquired.

To every household in Ghana, the stark fact is that, the best that has ever happened to them, is the day a member of their family packed baggage and flew out of Kotoka Airport to any destination beyond Ghana. Today every conceivable financial needs of 90% homes in Ghana is provided by family members in overseas i.e. paying school fees, hospital expenses, water and electric bills, rehabilitating old and wretched homes, food, funeral expenses, clothing you name it. Diasporans have been of tremendous help to families, friends and Ghana as a country, bringing home billions of foreign exchange to boost the National economy.

Frankly speaking, if the estimated 2million Ghanaians in overseas had lived within the boundaries of the country, I cannot imagine the kind of hardships we would all be living in today; given our circumstances. Armed robbery and all other crimes of unimaginable proportions could have been so overwhelming that we would have ended up building more prisons around the country and employed 50% of the population as prison officers and warders.

Fellow Ghanaians, there is nowhere like home. Ghana is our country, Living outside the boundaries of Ghana should not alienate and deprive us of our natural identity and constitutional rights to vote in National elections and referenda.

THE 1992 CONSTITUTION.

It is unfortunate that the electoral commission has entertained the PNDC Law 284 so far against the demands of the 1992 constitution. Article 1 section 2 of the constitution states, quote ? This constitution shall be the supreme law of Ghana and any other law found inconsistent with any provision of this constitution shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void?. This automatically repeals Sections 7 of PNDC Law 284 expressed in paragraph two of this article. This doesn?t require constitutional experts to interpret.

DIASPORANS MUST PAY BEFORE THEY VOTE. Ghana web Wednesday 20th July 2005. In his contribution to the Peoples Representation Amendment Bill, Dr. Wreko Brobbery, Chairman of United Ghana movement, suggested that, Ghanaians resident abroad do not pay direct Taxes towards the development of the country and should therefore be made to pay a levy before being allowed to register and vote in elections and referenda.

It is a fact that about 60% of the local Ghanaian population do not pay taxes for national development but are allowed to vote. What is the difference between local and overseas Ghanaians who don?t pay direct taxes? We are all Ghanaians so why should the local ones be allowed to vote and overseas Ghanaians disenfranchised? Please Sir, the right to vote is constitutionaly unconditional.

PERMANENT TAXATION.

I will support any suggestion for Ghanaians in the Diaspora to pay taxes for national development but that should be subjected to debate by a bill in parliament and be made a permanent economic resource of the country if approved. That will be a good sell to the Diasporans, if their constitutional rights to vote in Ghana is not infringed.

In another contribution, Dr. Obed Asamoah, the NDC National Chairman told the Chronicle in an interview that :

1].Article 42 of the constitution Stipulates that every citizen has the right to vote; but such a right under the constitution operates within some geographical limitations. He stresses that such a right cannot be exercised outside the country. Please Dr. Asamoah, with all due respect, there was no mention of BUT under article 42. it was explicit to the point RIGHT TO VOTE without any geographical limitations.

2]. Dr. Asamoah again said, In Ghana, the constitution stipulates that every citizen has the right to own a property. But such a right does not operate outside the country. Please Dr. Asamoah, with all due respect, I don?t understand the reference you made here. How can the Right to own a property in Ghana operate outside Ghana?

3]. Dr. Asamoah contends that ? Some rights are enjoyed territorially. Ghanaian rights, were intended to be exercised within the country. He said the constitution was made for Ghana but was not made for the world. With all due respect Dr. Asamoah, I think you are confused with the issue. I don?t think the amendment Bill in question, seeks to want the whole world vote in Ghana?s elections. What it seeks to do is to allow eligible Ghanaians outside the country to register and vote in future elections. Why is Dr. Asamoah, a former Attorney General politicizing this simple rule of law? Is he really for the truth? I DON'T THINK SO.

Fellow Ghanaians those who are in favor of the amendment Bill will do everything to convince the mass of the people why they think the Bill should be passed. Therefore, those who are against it, should also do everything to come up with constructive debates, why they think the bill should not be passed. What Dr. Obed Asamoah and others have so far discussed are politics as usual and too hollow to convince the average Ghanaian.

Borrowing words from the President of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation Mr. Appiah Kusi Adomako, ?The word democracy comes from the Greek word ?demos? meaning the people and ?kratein? meaning to rule. Abraham Lincoln once said, The government of 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, it appears by the look of things, we have indirectly disenfranchised many Ghanaians by the statutory provisions. We should build a national consensus and subject the proposed amendment Bill to proper debate before coming out with the best for the country.

In doing so as suggested by the President of the Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, those for and against the Bill, should come up with suggestions as to how we can enfranchise Ghanaians outside the country in a process which results will be greeted with integrity and high admirations world wide.

The threats of unnecessary provocation, tension, upheavals, internal conflict, armed insurrection and military adventurism, if the Bill is passed as contemplated by Dr. Obed Asamoah and Dr. Anthony Mawuli both articles on Ghana web of July 21st 2005, amounts to instigation and creating fear in the minds of the people of Ghana. None of those opposing the Bill so far, has come up with suggestions as to how Ghanaians overseas can vote with a degree of 85% excellence; if their main concern stems up from the possibility of voter fraud and manipulations.

MY SUGGESTION IS AS FOLLOWS : I am not against the idea to establish logistics for Ghanaians overseas to vote because, it is an unambiguous constitutional requirement long overdue. However, I am concerned as to how all parties will eventually see the process as fair to all sides whatever the results. I suggest therefore, that the Electoral Commission, should conduct a census to determine eligible voters via e-mails to the commission with passport IDENTIFICATION number, photo page, name and address, scanned on a registration form. This is how the American visa lottery registration is done. There can be no duplications. There must be two months registration dead line. After close of registration, all party representatives should be invited to witness the daily entries for the two months. This must be endorsed by all representatives and be made public. All the registration forms must be assigned numbers by country codes e.g. America-- U.S.1 U.S.2 U.S.3 etc.

Great Britain-- G.B1 G.B.2 G.B.3 and so on will registrations from every other country be categorized. The electoral commission will then write each registered voter with reference to their assigned codes, and request them to contribute a one time 20 dollars through the Western Union or any other source of the commission?s preference to help set up the process.

The electoral commission on receiving these contributions must post the individual ballot papers to their addresses. These ballot papers, should be posted to the Commission via United States diplomatic mail bag two months ahead of local elections. This mailing via the United States Diplomatic Mail Bag should be worked out, all over by the electoral commission,with the United States Government; through the U.S. ambassador in Ghana. Counting of ballot papers can be done in the U.S. Embassy with representations from all political parties. There will be no need for the electoral commission setting up offices anywhere in the world. Simple cost effective and no unnecessary suspicions of electoral malpractices.

The major concern of critics of the peoples representative amendment Bill, is the fear of possible electoral manipulation in favor of the ruling government. All other concerns are politically motivated. Fellow countrymen/women, let us do it the right way and disabuse the minds of the critics. Article 42 of the constitution reads ?Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind, has the right to vote and entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda?.

THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO VOTE KNOWS NO GEOGRAPHICAL BOUNDARIES.LET US GIVE THE DIASPORANS AN UNCONDITIONAL RIGHT TO VOTE; BUT LET US DO IT, WELL ORGANISED; SO TRANSPARENT THAT IN THE END, EVEN DR. OBED ASAMOAH AND HIS NDC, CAN OPENLY SAY, IT WAS FAIR.

GOD BLESS OUR HOMELAND AND OUR PEOPLE.

AMPOFO OFORI [New Jersey]

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.