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Opinions of Saturday, 27 June 2020

Columnist: Cameron Duodu ,contributor

When the law dodges common sense

The Supreme Court of Ghana The Supreme Court of Ghana

There is no organisation whose work is more vexatious in Ghana than the Electoral Commission.

This is the body that facilitates voting by citizens to put a Government in power. And, of course, once in power, a Government is given control over all the resources of the country.

So, politicians are extremely interested in what the Electoral Commission does, or does not, do. The Commission cannot accede to all demands but it must be seen to be trying its best to assure all the contesting parties that any decisions it takes are fair, and in the public interest.

The wider public interest sometimes needs to override the narrow laws that govern the work of the Electoral Commission. For instance, when law and order have broken down in a country, it would be suicidal for an ElectoRAL Commission to operate as if everything were normal.

In my view, where a pandemic has struck a country (AS NOW) and people are at risk of losing their lives unless they strictly adhere to protocols put in place by the state for their protection, it would be remiss of the Electoral Commission to ignore the pertaining health situation and carry on as usual, because the law is on the Commission's side.

I urge the Commission to view with the utmost seriousness, the open letter sent to the Commission on 24 June 2020, by a group of doctors and other health care professionals.

In the letter, they warned of the potential health dangers that the proposed registration exercise upon which the Commission intends to embark, may "foist on the nation." The recent wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to stretch the capacities of health care facilities (says the letter) and “we are steadily reaching breaking point”.

“As healthcare providers”, (the letter continues) “we are confronted, on a daily basis, with increasing counts of infected patients. We have never expected our work as health professionals to be easy, but neither do we expect it to be SUICIDAL! We wish to advise that caution is exercised, in undertaking any activity that has the potential to accelerate the spread of COVID-19.”
The letter adds: “The impending mass registration exercise has the potential to compromise the health and well-being of the population, leading to unwanted pain, trauma, and possibly deaths”

“A mass voters’ registration exercise that would promote the gathering of people, will inadvertently undermine the principles of social distancing and therefore facilitate the community spread of the disease.”
Voter registration (the letter points out) “is very important for our nation’s democracy and governance, but... nothing can be prioritized over the sanctity of human life. “The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, was right when he said “What we do not know is how to bring people back to life”. Indeed,..preserving the lives of those governed must be regarded as a first priority, and then all other things may follow.”

The letter further warns that “a mass registration exercise at this time and the resultant public gatherings that will ensue, will lead to the relegation of the principles of social distancing, a key weapon in mitigating this pandemic.”

Such gatherings would only serve as a channel for the spread of the disease through person-to-person contact, as well as contact with contaminated surfaces. The anticipated clustering of polling stations would only serve to increase the likelihood of person-to-person contact, “triggering a new wave of infections. This is inevitable.”

It should be remembered that in a factory in Tema, one “super- spreader” was the source of [over] 500 new infections. “There are many super-spreaders who may turn up on registration day.” the letter predicted.

In the opinion of the letter's writers, Ghana is so far, “one of the worst affected cases of COVID-19” in Africa, in that, as at 24 June 2020, “the Ghana Health Service had recorded a total case count of 14,568 with 95 deaths.”

“Our country had been recording an average of over 200 COVID-19 cases daily, with frightening consistency, since the early part of June 2020, the letter specified. It described the sudden rise of “over 200% in the number of our citizens who have died from COVID-19, as indeed “a worrying concern” that illustrates “the quagmire our health care infrastructure is saddled with”.

The letter writers declared that “We presently carry a heavy burden of guilt and fear. Guilt because such deaths leave us with a feeling that we did not do enough to protect our own colleagues; and fear because we worry that we may also succumb to this contagion, in the performance of our duties.”

They revealed that “Currently, 25 doctors in the Ashanti Region are infected by COVID-19, according to reports by the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) and over 100 nurses are infected in the same region. This situation closely mirrors what is going on in other regions.”

“Our lives as healthcare workers matter too, and our prayer is for you to reconsider your decision to conduct a new voters’ registration exercise”, they told the Electoral Commission.

The letter-writers did not hesitate to point out that the health situation in the country was already dire. They mentioned, in particular, “the limited number of ventilators and the limited number of qualified staff to man this equipment round the clock. For a country with only about 200 ventilators serving a population of 30 million, the worst mistake would be to treat this pandemic with soft gloves... Lessons from Brazil [and Burundi] should be very instructive about the effects of disregarding social distancing protocols. " the letter stated.

Now, informed Ghanaians often criticise Ghana's professionals for keeping silent over situations in our public life that can embarrass powerful institutions. The letter-writers, therefore, deserve congratulation for proving to be an exception to this horrible rule. They certainly must be listened to.