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Opinions of Sunday, 2 November 2014

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

Lessons from Burkinabe

Burkinabe reminds us of why our Constitution does not allow our Presidents to initiate Constitutional Reform. Burkinabe's Article 161 provides that "the initiative of the revision of the Constitution belongs concurrently:

(i) to the President of Faso; (ii) to the members of the Parliament by majority of each of the Chambers; (iii) to the people when a fraction of at least 30,000 persons having the right to vote introduces before the National Assembly a petition constituting a proposal written and signed."

It is a super flawed constitutional design to give one person, in the case of Burkinabe the President, the power to initiate revisions to the Constitution. History shows that such a power is always abused. It led Ghana to a one party state in the 1960s and probably led to the demise of the First Republic. This is why Ghana's 1992 Constitution allows Parliament, and Parliament alone to initiate amendments to the Constitution.

Constitutions are sacred documents. They should not be amended lightly. Where amendments are desired, the processes that the Constitution mandate should be followed to the letter. Any deviations are impermissible.

One person should not be given the power to handpick a few people (whether 1 or 10) to initiate amendments to the Constitution. In our recent history, the President has sought to initiate amendments to the Constitution by appointing a 10-man Commission. He could have used a one-man Commission. He could set up such commissions every year. There are no rules for using such Commissions other than the rules decided by the President. This is not just dangerous, it is also unlawful.

If the Constitution does not say amendment initiatives can come from Commissions then it is impermissible for a Commission to initiate such amendments. Where the Constitution permits Commission initiated amendments, it will also specify how such Commissions are to be staffed, how often they can be used, their processes, etc.

Let us follow the Constitution at all times and be spared a Burkinabe!