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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Columnist: Kofi Ata

Is Charlotte Osei fit to be Electoral Commissioner?

Charlotte Osei, Chairperson, Electoral Commission Charlotte Osei, Chairperson, Electoral Commission

Last week, some faceless and nameless employees of Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC), through their Attorney, petitioned President Nana Akufo-Addo for the impeachment of the Chair of the Electoral Commission, Mrs Charlotte Osei under Article 146 of the 1992 Constitution. This article is a contribution to the national discourse on the petition and the ongoing undeclared open warfare between the key leaders at the heartbeat of Ghana’s democracy.

This unfolding spectacle began with reports of Mrs Charlotte Osei allegedly reporting the Deputy for Finance and Administration, Mrs Georgina Opoku-Amankwah to EOCO for what appeared to be some financial irregularities and the refusal of the Finance Director to proceed on leave over missing workers’ welfare funds, which then snowballed into a petition by some faceless and nameless workers of the EC.

Initially, there was suspicion that the petitioners were politically motivated or their Attorney had a personal vendetta against Mrs Charlotte Osei. The worst of it was that the contents of their petition were made public through the media. Immediately, some of us were of the view that the petition suffered from two constitutional hurdles of faceless and nameless identities of the petitioners and second, putting in the public domain the contents of the petition. In fact, whilst many were of the view that, under Article 146(3) the president had no choice but to forward the petition to the Chief Justice once received, on the contrary, I was of the view that, the two constitutional flaws committed by the petitioners rendered the petition null and void and therefore the president had a choice not to forward it to the Chief Justice.

By mid-week public response to the petition was an indication that unlike the case of the former CHRAJ boss, there was no public appetite for the impeachment of Mrs Charoltte Osei for a number of reasons. First, the former CHARJ boss was easy to impeach because there was a political consensus between NDC and NPP. Moreover, she was appointed by an NDC president (the late President Mills) and being impeached by another NDC president (the President Mahama). The Chairman of the Peace Council called for a dialogue between the petitioners and the EC boss. Prof Ransford Gyampo also called for cool heads in dealing with the petition. Senior Journalist and renowned street lawyer, Kwaku Baako almost dismissed the petition as dead on arrival. Then, NDC mischievously claimed they would resist any attempt by President Nana Akufo-Addo to remove Charlotte Osei as EC Chair, very symptomatic of their new-found position of the confused state of mind, yet to recover from the December 2016 defeat and too eager to oppose and criticise without the necessary facts.

Then, bizarrely, the EC’s Attorneys also publicly responded to the allegations contained in the petition and committing the same offence by the petitioners. This was followed by the publication of Charlotte Osei’s full responses to the twenty-seven allegations against her contained in the petition. What was disturbing and perhaps self-inflicting wound were not only the counter allegations but also insinuations against her two Deputy Commissioners (Mrs Georgina Opoku-Amankwah and Mr Sulley Amadu in-charge of Operations). When I read the responses on Sunday night, I could not believe my eyes that the EC Chair who is a lawyer would stoop so low.

In fact, the contents of the response portrayed nothing but a disorganised and dysfunctional EC led by squabbling adults in the struggle for who is who at the EC. It’s tantamount to the infighting at children’s’ playground when friends fall out with each other over nothing and everything. I could not believe that Mrs Charlotte Osei and her two Deputies were not on speaking terms. These are very serious allegations of criminal offences being levelled against each other.

In the same vein that I thought some of the allegations against Mrs Charlotte Osei by the petitioners were frivolous and vexatious, some of her responses were indeed infantile. For example, on the allegation that she goes on leave or travels without informing her deputies, her defence and justification is that she does not work for or under them. In other words, she does not need to inform them. How can the organisation operate effectively in such a situation where even those next to you in the hierarchy do not know your whereabout? Is Charlotte Osei not aware that in her absence one of her deputies must hold the fort for her and what happened to the concept of teamwork? Was she operating “one woman show”?

So far, the allegations, counter allegations and the insinuations by the petitioners, EC Chair and her deputies are such that the EC is nothing but being led by an incompetent bunch of indisciplined, waring and self-seeking individuals, who have nothing new to offer Ghana. In fact, they are a danger to Ghana’s democracy and should not be allowed near the smallest electoral unit anywhere in Ghana, let alone the EC’s head office.

In fact, I was one of those who opposed Mrs Charlotte Osei’s nomination and appointment by President Mahama in the first place, not because she was not qualified but because President Mahama breached Article 234 of the 1992 Constitution (“Except as otherwise provided in this Constitution or in any other law which is not inconsistent with this Constitution, the Commission [NCCE] shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority in the performance of its functions”), by removing her as Chair of NCCE and reassigning her to the EC. That was an abuse of his powers and a dangerous precedent that could be abused by future presidents for political expediency. Her removal amounted to interference and control of NCCE contrary to the above-quoted Article (see my article, “Has President Mahama acted Unconstitutionally with the EC Appointment”, Ghanaweb, July 1, 2015). There were also rumours at the time that she was arrogant and antagonised those she worked with at NCCE. She rebranded NCCE at a huge cost against advice and lo and behold she has the same at EC.

It is abundantly clear to all and sundry that Mrs Charlotte Osei and her deputies by their behaviour have shown that they are not fit to remain at the EC, let alone be at the helm of affairs. They have not only been childish, selfish, and incompetent but also brought the EC into disrepute and must resign without any further delay. Failure to do so, President Nana Akufo-Addo must forward the petition to the Chief Justice immediately and suspend them pending further action by the Chief Justice.

To restore public confidence in the EC there must be root and branch reorganisation of the entire commissioners. The remaining commissioners must be retired for their failure to raise the alarm regarding the dysfunctional leadership. The president in consultation with the Council of State, House of Chiefs, Civil Society Organisations, etc must reconstitute the EC commissioner with entirely new members from across the political divide, professional bodies, academia, civil society organisations and all key stakeholders. These rotten men and women must go before they plunge Ghana into civil disobedience or conflict.

Ghana owes a debt of gratitude to the faceless and nameless petitioners and their Attorney. By their bold and courageous action, they have prevented a future calamity that was waiting to implode in one election year, be it 2020, 2024, 2028 or 2032, it would surely have happened had the nation left these war mongers in-charge of the EC for longer.

Whatever happens, there should comprehensive investigations into all the allegations, counter allegations and insinuations for appropriate actions to be taken against those found wanting, including prosecutions and incarcerations.