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Opinions of Thursday, 10 November 2005

Columnist: Agyepong, Benjamin Opoku

Why Can?t I Vote In Ghanaian Elections?

Perhaps most despicable article that I have ever come across in the debate over the diasporan vote was the article written by one Quarshie Mordecai which appeared on the news column of Ghanaweb on November 6, 2005 under the caption?REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION?. In that article, Mr. Quarshie sought to argue that allowing Ghanaians abroad to vote in Ghanaian elections will in his own words amount to ?dilution of the right of self determination of those of us who live here at home?. Before arriving at this argumentatively bogus conclusion, Mr. Quarshie advanced some fine arguments which may be quite appealing to the uninformed and to those who are politically obscured in their thinking, but to some of us, his arguments were nothing but mere academic exercise which together could be described as intellectually dishonest arguments that turn the laws of the land as enshrined in the constitution, the laws of economics and of taxation and the theory of migration all on their heads. I do not intend to be flippant about Mr. Quarshie?s academic prowess; however, I can?t allow his blind arguments to go unchallenged.

Who is a citizen?

After citing the constitutional chapters 3 Citizen Section 6(2) and chapter 7 (representation of the people) 42 Quarshie concluded that;

?These people need not ever have set foot on Ghanaian soil and their parents need never have set foot in Ghana. All they need is to be able to claim that one of their parents or grandparents was a Ghanaian. In other words third or fourth, generation emigrants will have the right to vote.?

This argument is an unnecessary hype of a fear that does not even exits to begin with. If Mr. Quarshie had ever traveled abroad to any of the countries with heavy Ghanaian populations, he would not have even advanced this argument. In the first place, third and fourth generation descendants of Ghanaian migrants who have attained voting age but never had set foot in Ghana will never claim to be Ghanaians. They therefore, will not bother to vote in Ghanaian elections, such people claim their citizenship in their country of birth and hold all allegiance to that country. Such people may not even know anybody in the Ghanaian body politics and may not even know whom to vote for, assuming they want to vote. Secondly, even in Ghana, nobody walks to the pooling station and register without proving his or her Ghanaianess. The so-called ?third and fourth generation Ghanaians? may not have anything to proof that they are Ghanaians; they may not have Ghanaian birth certificates, passport or anything to show that they are Ghanaians and therefore, can not be registered even if they want to. We are talking of first generation Ghanaians like me who holds a Ghanaian birth certificate and passport and who cannot vote in America here where I am residing simply because I am a citizen of Ghana. We are not even talking of second generation migrants, because by every measure, my children will not be interested in Ghanaian elections since they even have faint memories of their immediate extended family members let alone politicians who may stand for elections in Ghana. So why can?t I vote in Ghanaian elections after years of refusing to take American citizenship because I want to remain a Ghanaian?

Citizenship rights & responsibilities

Mr. Quarshie asked the following pertinent questions in his article which also require serious scrutiny;

?Why should Ghanaian citizens abroad, possibly second and third generation emigrants according to the constitutional definition, have the right to vote for a government that can impose taxes when they are not obliged to pay tax? Why should they have the right to vote for a President who can declare war when they cannot be conscripted to fight? Why should they have the right to vote for leaders who can make bad laws when they do not live under those laws??

What makes Quarshie thinks that we migrants do not pay tax? Let me start at the family level, at home, when there is a family tragedy like death and family members are contributing, our relatives home pay on our behalves, perhaps disproportionately because we live outside. At the village level, we are levied for any development project that the people will embark on, through direct contributions and sometimes through our relatives. Three years ago, whilst in Ghana, at my local church, tickets of the Otumfour education fund were being sold, whiles local people were buying one each, I bought 20 of them to help the education initiative of the Asantehene.

At the national level also, his argument is a non starter; if even we grant him his argument that we pay no taxes on our remittances, which of course we do indirectly, we pay property taxes on the houses that we build from such transfers. When we buy cement, iron rods and etc. from those remittances he claims we use for our buildings, I believe that Qurashie can not argue that we are exempted from excise taxes, vat. FCUBE tax and the many other taxes on such items because we live abroad. Also when we visit Ghana as I did two months ago, we buy petrol to run our cars, we do not bring the petrol with us from abroad to power our cars. And there are no different pumps at the filling stations designated for diasporans with all taxes taken from the ex-pump price. We all buy at the same price and therefore, pay the same tax on petrol. There is of course another tax that we pay which local residents do not pay, and that is import duty on the items we ship to our country Ghana. Almost every first generation Ghanaian migrant may have had one or more occasion to pay this tax which only a few local residents who are importers pay. Ever since I migrated, I have paid a total of approximately 500 million cedis in import duties on over 15 cars and trucks and vans I alone have shipped to Ghana as well as other personal items which were even not meant for sale.

So to Mr. Quarshie and all others who think like him, my simple question is this, if a gov?t increases petroleum taxes, and excise taxes, will I be affected or not? If yes then why can?t I have a say in electing that government? Recently, armed robbers attempted to break into a house in one of the suburbs of Accra to steal the items I shipped to Ghana to be used on the hotel I am building. So if a gov?t makes bad laws that do not fight armed robbery, and thereby allow it to flourish, will I be affected? If yes then why can?t I have a say in electing that gov?t that will protect me and my properties in Ghana? And lastly, why should anybody think that when Ghana is under attack by any external force and the lives of my parents and that of my relatives are at stake, I will shirk my responsibility in defending them and the properties that I have worked hard to put in place in Ghana? Why should anybody think that he is more Ghanaian than me simply because he lives in Ghana and I live in the States?

Brain Drain

On this issue Mr. Quarshie wrote;

?Let?s face it; many Ghanaians abroad are there because they believe life is better there. I do not begrudge them this right. There is freedom of movement and they have, probably wisely, chosen to leave Ghana. The fact remains though that the act of leaving Ghana to reside abroad, except for education, diplomatic or national assignment, or the act of permanently staying abroad when as a Ghanaian citizen you could be here at home can in itself be regarded as a vote of ?no confidence? in the country and its future.?

This argument likewise turns my stomach upside down and it is disingenuous to say the least. I believe Quarshie and his likes were educated at a local rural school, for their primary and possibly their secondary education and as somebody who was also educated in a rural school in Ghana, I know the contributions of local inhabitants to local schools, such villagers were also hoping that, after their education, people like Mr. Quarshie would return to the villages to help them but instead they chose to stay in Accra to enjoy the comfort of big cities, which according to Mr. Quarshie, constitute a vote of no confidence in the rural areas of Ghana. Does that mean that all those who live in the urban centers but had their education in the rural areas should not be allowed to vote because they chose to stay in the urban centers?

My argument is simply this, if migration is bad, then rural-urban migration is equally as bad as cross-boarder migration period!

Remittances from abroad:

The huge figure quoted by Mr. Quarshie notwithstanding, it is my submission that such remittances play a huge role in the economic development of our nation which cannot be dispensed with. Such remittances, besides the initial value we transfer, have profound multiplier effect in the economy that transcends all sectors of the economy including but not limited to the provision of infrastructure which are enjoyed by mostly local residents at the expense of migrants who contributed towards them. Why should anybody who believes that our remittances are helping to improve the economy turns around and says that we are not contributing to the economy so we should not be allowed to vote.

Transportation:

There is no question about the fact that the contribution of migrants to the transport industry in Ghana is approximately 80%. I think that I can safely say that perhaps Mr. Qurashie goes to work everyday in a trotro or a taxi that belongs to a migrant, or was shipped to Ghana by a migrant and sold to a local transport owner for passenger haulage. I do not intend to boast here but to lay bare the facts in plain simple terms. The contribution of migrants in the transport sector in particular can not be overemphasized.

Conclusion:

Considering all the foregoing and the many other contributions we make towards the Ghanaian economy which is acknowledged by the world bank and even the IMF, it is hard to comprehend why anybody in the right frame of mind will argue that we migrants do not pay taxes in Ghana and also do not contribute directly to Ghana?s economy so we should be denied our right to vote in Ghana. If voting right in Ghana is premised on the contributions citizens make towards the economy, then I humbly submit that we diasporans should be accorded that right first and foremost because we contribute more than most local residents towards the economy.

Benjamin O Agyepong
NY-USA


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.