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Opinions of Thursday, 3 March 2016

Columnist: Ghanaian Chronicles

EC’s stance is not only turbid, but turgid

The Electoral Commission (EC) has come under severe criticism from all but one of the political parties in Ghana, after announcing the formation of an 18 member Steering Committee to help conduct the November 7 presidential and parliamentary elections.

With the exception of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), almost all the registered political parties and civil society groups have questioned the basis for the setting up of the committee.

What has even exacerbated the situation is the alleged NDC members who have found their way onto the said steering committee.

Whereas the EC is arguing that the formation of the committee is purely administrative, the political parties and legal experts, including Professors H.E. Prempeh and Ansah Asare think otherwise. According to the electoral body, in setting up the committee, it was guided by Section 7 of Act 451, “which gives the Commission the power to form committees in the discharge of its duties”.

It also added that the committee will be coordinating the activities of the various institutions that are already working hand-in-hand with the Commission in the conduct of the general elections. But both Professors H. E. Prempeh and Ansah Asare – both legal experts, whose opinions are always respected, are punching holes in this claim.

In his recent Facebook wall post, Professor Ansah Asare noted, “we are told and asked to accept that the 18-person committee is to help ensure the smooth running of the November 7 general election.

“The constitutional responsibility of the 7-person EC is to ensure the smooth running of elections. Is the committee supplanting the Commission? Can the EC even appoint such a Steering Committee, given that the EC is exercising delegated power?”

He continued; “Assuming the committee is not supplanting the Commission, an obvious question is exactly how is the Committee going to do whatever it is supposed to do? Where is the regulation that describes the committee's responsibility?

“Depending on what the committee is tasked to do, it might be more helpful to allow the political parties and other groups, rather than the EC, to nominate its members. Alternatively, a different mode of appointment may be better if the committee is to play a security, fundraising, legal, education, etc. function,” he added.

Prof. Prempeh on his part observed; “there's a more fundamental question of mandate: What is this 18- member body going to do exactly? Who created it? The EC chair or by a resolution of the multi member EC taken at regular or special meeting of the Commission?

“What is the relationship of this committee to the Commission as a collective body? Since we have never had or needed such a 'steering committee' in any of our past elections, why now? Who determined the composition and membership and by what criteria or process were the members selected?” he asked.

Apart from the in house lawyers, the chairperson of the EC, Mrs. Charlotte Osei is also a trained lawyer. The Chronicle is, therefore, advising her and other members of the commission to critically study the arguments of Professors Prempeh and Ansah Asare before taking any entrenched position on the issue. We admit that the EC is an independent body, which must not be subjected to any control. This does not, however, mean that it cannot be reined in, if it is going wayward.

Looking at the controversy surrounding the 2012 elections, one needs not tell Mrs. Charlotte Osei that she should tread cautiously. Though she is not directly in charge of security of this nation, she has crucial roles to play this year, if Ghana is to enjoy peace and stability.

As noted by one of the legal experts, the EC has been conducting elections in Ghana since 1992 without the use of the so called Steering Committee, so why now?

As we noted earlier, because of the controversy surrounding the 2012 elections, much attention has been focused on November 7, and the least thing Ghanaians would expert from Mrs. Osei is to add fire to the already charged atmosphere. Yes, the independence of the EC is guaranteed by the 1992 constitution, but with the political parties as major stakeholders, it behooves the EC in the name of transparency, to involve them in all its activities.

It was wrong for the EC to have used administrative measure as a ruse to set up the Steering Committee, without informing the political parties. Clearly, Mrs. Osei and her team cannot exculpate themselves from accusation that they are in bed with the ruling party, especially now that it has been established that one of the Steering Committee members has even recused himself, when his membership with the ruling party was exposed.

These accusations wouldn't have arisen if the EC had involved the political parties through IPAC, when the decision was being taken, instead of seeking refuge in the administrative measures, which is being disputed by Professor Prempeh and his colleagues. It is the hope of The Chronicle that Mrs. Osei will listen to advice and inform herself accordingly. Any belligerent stand will not augur well for our democracy, especially with regards to this years' elections.