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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Columnist: Arhin, Abraham

Is Mahama deliberately denying Ghanaians abroad the right to vote?

It is an election year, where citizens get the chance to exercise their rights of franchise in (re)electing a leader for the country. From 28 April, 2016, the Ghana Electoral Commission is beginning a limited voter registration exercise. Yet, for a deliberate action by the government (and its representatives in foreign missions), many Ghanaians abroad may not be able to participate fully and fairly in the 2016 elections. It is an established fact that the Representative of People Act (ROPA) has not been given attention by the Electoral Commission since it became law. But, that is not my focus in this article.

For more than three months, Ghanaians in many countries abroad (particularly those outside West Africa) who have wanted to renew or acquire new Ghanaian passports for various reasons (including travelling to partake in the limited registration exercise) have not been able to do so. For instance, any citizen who attempts to acquire or renew passports in the United Kingdom is greeted with the message that: ‘the Ghana High Commission informs all applicants for Ghana passport that it is currently experiencing operational difficulties which has adversely affected processing of Ghana passports. Efforts are in place to rectify the problem as soon as practicable’.

In the USA, a similar message is displayed that: ‘The Passport Office at the Ghana Embassy in Washington, DC, hereby informs applicants for Ghanaian Passports that, due to technical challenges, the issuance of Passports is temporarily on hold with effect from December 2015. While we work tirelessly to resolve these challenges, the Embassy takes this opportunity to express our sincere apologise for this inconvenience’.

Indeed, many are speculating that the problem causing the passport shortage is more political than the technical explanations provided by the Missions abroad. Whether this is true or not is still unknown but two main reasons back this assertion. The first is the very blame game going on with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Controller and Accountant General Department. Recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement to acknowledge the situation and attributed it to a shortage of machine readable passports, which it blamed the Controller and Accountant General for failing to supply them on time.

But the Controller and Accountant General Department has also come out to deny any wrong doing with the assurance that everything is right at their outfit—and they actually have stocks available. So, what is this technical challenge which is beyond the control of the missions and the foreign affairs ministry to continue to delay issuing and/or renewal of passport for over three months? Who is telling the truth? Could this linked to a deliberate attempt to deny many citizens abroad to take part in the voter registration processes?

Second, the seemingly lack of priority placed on getting the problem solved by the missions abroad or the government institutions involved lends some credence to the assertion that the situation is more political than technical. What technical issue would affect the supply of materials to the extent of this problem persisting for over three months? It is argued that this problem would have been solved had it been in the interests of government to get it solved. Thus, blame game and the continuous delay in getting the problem solved is lending credence to the assertion that the problem is political. Much commitment have not been shown in getting the problem solved—at least from an end-user perspective.

Since the Electoral Commission has failed to fully implement the ROPA, the only chance many citizens have in participating in the elections is to register in Ghana. It is very shameful that something basic as provision of passport for citizens is still proving challenging. Because of this delay (or shortage of passports), it is affecting travel plans and cover plan at work places.

It is my humble opinion that all political parties—NPP, NDC, CPP, PPP, PNC etc—should take interest in asking government to solve the problem before the limited registration by the Electoral Commission begins. If this is a political decision to deny Ghanaians abroad from participating fully in the elections, it may turn up to counter-productive. This is because President Mahama and his government might be the greatest beneficiary of the votes of the Ghanaians abroad who would be able to register and participate fully in the elections. So, please, Mr President and team, rectify the situation for us to be able to acquire or renew our passport to be able to travel to register and vote!