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Politics of Friday, 9 January 2004

Source: Chronicle

Creation of 30 new seats is useless - Kwaku Azar

The announcement by the Electoral Commissioner (EC) that he proposes to increase the number of MPs by 30 has sparked heated debate. In our bid to add the voice of our brethren in the Diaspora to the debate, chronicle, phoned Professor Stephen Kwaku Asare, of University of Florida, Fisher School of Accounting in Gainesville USA. Here are excerpts of the phone interview.

Chronicle: Good morning Prof. I assume you have heard about the EC’s decision to increase the number of MPs by 30. What are your thoughts on the decision?

Professor Asare: As with most proposals, the first port of call must be the cost/benefit harbor. That is, how much will the proposal cost and what is the potential benefit? Thus far, I believe the debate on the proposal has largely ignored the cost aspect and so I want to spend a little bit of time on that.

Based on my conservative analysis, each MP costs the nation over ?427,308,889 for every term of parliament. This amount breaks downs as follows: Monthly Compensation of ?8,110,553 (which includes a basic monthly salary of ?2,375,147 and sundry allowances of ?5,810,553). The allowances include (Duty Allowance of ?1,150,000, which is non-taxable; Entertainment Allowance ?990,000; Clothing Allowance ?230,000; Constituency Allowance ?593,000; Mileage Allowance ?270,000; Car maintenance allowance ?150,000; Petrol Allowance (70 gallons per month) ?1,400,000; Rent Allowance ?460,000; Driver’s allowance of ?300,000; Domestic servant’s allowance ?339,000). That comes to ?97,326,636 per annum. For 4 years, that is a whopping ?389,306,544.

At the end of 4 years, each MP will receive an ex gratia equal to 3 months salary for each year served or part thereof (the so called Greenstreet formula). So an MP who serves 4 years will be entitled to ?38,002,345 (?2,375,147 x 12) in ex gratia.

Now add current compensation of ?389,306,544 to the ex-gratia of ?38,002,345 and you get ?427,308,889 for each MP!

In effect, the proposed increase by the EC will cost, at least, ?12,819,266,670 billion per election cycle. And this is before taking into account their so called “car loans.” Now, that is a lot of money, which calls for a very strict scrutiny of the decision.

Chronicle: What about the argument that increasing the number of MPs will lead to improved representation?

Professor Asare: That is a red-herring. With about 20 million people and 200 constituencies, our MP to person ratio of 1 to 100,000 compares favorably to any democracy on this planet. USA has a population of 250 million people but has 535 lawmakers or a ratio of 1 lawmaker to 467,289 people. So we are doing very well. Further, if representation must be enhanced at all, I believe it will best be accomplished by educating the populace and strengthening the district and zonal committees. I have on many occasions sent emails to various MPs. Seldom do I get responses. Now, if you sent an email to a congressman in USA, you would be sure to get an email response followed by phone calls, depending on your requests.

Why? Part of the problem is that the MPs lack the resources to carry out their job effectively. So we should focus on sourcing facilities for them to carry out their duties adequately. I believe our interests and representation aspirations will be better served by 140 well-resourced MPs than by 230 resourced-starved MPs.

If you consider the perennial absence from parliament, lack of quorum and rubber-stamping of executive decisions, it seems rather shocking that we have a proposal to increase the number of MPs.

Chronicle: But does the EC have the power to increase the constituencies?

Professor Asare: That is a tricky one. Under article 47 (1), “Ghana shall be divided into as many constituencies for the purpose of election of MPs as the EC may prescribe, and each constituency shall be represented by one member of Parliament.” Prescribe here could be interpreted as a power to “impose” or “recommend.” If it means the power to impose, then the EC could, as he is doing, just order us around and simply give legal backing to his orders by the use of constitutional instruments.

However, I doubt that any constitution will give an unelected bureaucrat such unfettered powers. Indeed, because any proposal for an increase in the number of MPs necessarily results in a charge to the consolidated funds, it is subject to scrutiny by parliament under article 108. Thus, I believe the proper interpretation of article 47 (1) is that EC can recommend an increase but it is the people, through their elected representatives, who can approve such an increase. As an aside, I believe we need a cap on the number of MPs, similar to article 20 of the 1957 constitution (and we need caps on the number of Supreme Court justices and ministers).

Chronicle: Then are you suggesting that we stick with the 2000 electoral boundaries?

Professor Asare: Not really. The constitution recognizes that population shifts will alter electoral boundaries over time and, hence, empowers the EC to alter the boundaries after the census to reflect the population changes. To this end, the EC is required to ensure that the number of inhabitants in each constituency is, as nearly as possible, equal to the population quota (total population/number of constituencies).

If, for example, the census reveals that the total population is 20M and we have 200 constituencies, then as nearly as possible, each constituency must have 100,000 people. Needless to say, and as recognized by article 47 (5), the number of inhabitants of a constituency may be greater or less than the population quota in order to take account of means of communication, geographical features, density of population and area and boundaries of the regions and other administrative or traditional areas.

The overriding principle here is that all votes are, as nearly as possible, to be weighed equally. Thus, any departures from the population quota must be justifiable, logical and reasonable. In effect, the EC must start by creating approximately 200 equal constituencies and make minor adjustments here and there to accommodate the article 47 (5) variables.

In my opinion, if the population quota is 100,000, it is unjustifiable for any constituency to exceed (or fall short of) this quota by 20 percent. That means constituencies should range from 80,000 to 120,000. It will be extremely difficult to justify situations where some constituencies have 200,000 people while others have only 20,000. That is facially absurd. The key thing to remember is MPs represent people!!! When the final register is compiled, I urge all stakeholders to scrutinize the register to ensure that we uphold the principle of weighing all votes equally!

Chronicle: Prof, the opposition parties seem to be challenging the timing of the proposed increase. But the EC claims the timing of his change is proper. Without prejudice to your views on the increase, what are your views on this timing debate?

Prof Asare: The EC is asserting that the changes will not affect the composition of the current Parliament and that those who are elected in the 2004 Elections will take their seats in the Parliament that will be inaugurated in January 2005. The opposition parties are asserting that it will be unconstitutional to use the review for the 2004 elections. They contend that the exercise must take effect in 2008 and not 2004.

The debate here focuses on article 47 (6), which states “where the boundaries of a constituency established under this article are altered as a result of a review, the alteration shall come into effect upon the next dissolution of Parliament.”

It seems to me that this article does two things. First, it is basically saying that the EC cannot alter the boundaries for bye-election purposes. Any boundary alteration must take effect at the next general election. As the proposed alteration will take place at the 2004 general elections, it will seem that the EC’s argument is correct.

However, it does seem to me that the second, and perhaps an equally important, purpose of the article is to put parties on notice. It takes logistics and preparations to contest an election and parties must be informed ahead of time of changes in the electoral boundaries. Here, the issue becomes when is notice timely?

As we speak, all the major parties have already held their primaries. They have emplaced an election machine based on 200 constituencies. The elections are forthcoming in November and there remains considerable uncertainty as to whether this proposed change will even come into effect. Under these circumstances, it hardly requires argumentation as to whether the notice is timely. It is not!

So the answer to the question is that new constituencies come into effect only at the next general election, provided that adequate notice of their creation is given.

What is adequate notice is unclear but an announcement so close to the election, as in the extant situation, is probably inadequate.

Chronicle: Prof, any thoughts on the Voters’ Register that is about to created?

Prof Asare: I heard that the EC would initiate a two-week voter registration exercise during the first quarter of the year to replace the current Voters’ Register. I also heard that the ?113B cedis exercise would produce a new Voters’ Register by September to replace the old one that has been discredited because of a number of flaws. According to the report that I read, the EC said he “found it difficult to understand the circumstances and manner by which previous Voters’ Registers got bloated mainly through impersonation, giving rise to claims of electoral fraud.”

This is truly a sad sate of affair. In 1992, we spent billions and ended up with a flawed register, which we had to throw away. In 1996, we spent billions and ended up with a flawed register, which we had to throw away. In 2000, we spent billions and ended up with a flawed register, which we had to throw away. Now we are about to spend another ?113B cedis and the EC is telling us he does not know why things went wrong in 1992, 1996 and 2000. My brother, this is no way to run a country and if we continue on this path, we must as well forget about making progress. Where is the accountability?

Chronicle: Any final thoughts on the elections?

Prof Asare: The current system, which encourages citizens to challenge the qualifications of duly elected candidates, as happened in Wulensi, is dysfunctional. This system invites defeated parties to “appeal” the decision of voters and empowers judges to set aside the wishes of the voters. Such a system, which led to the disqualification of honorable Samuel Nyimakan in 2003, is not only a recipe for abuse and mischief but also constitutes an imminent threat to our young democracy. The most fundamental principle of democracy is that it is the people who decide who should represent them. As a result, the wishes of the people, as expressed by their votes, should be respected and set aside rather sparingly.

The preferred timing for challenging the qualification of candidates must be before the elections, as happened in the Ekwam vs. Pianim case (1996 SCGLR), where Ekwam challenged the qualifications of Pianim to contest for Presidency, even before the NPP congress. That means, there must be a challenge-window to allow for any challenges to be resolved by the judiciary before the elections. Once this window is closed, no more challenges must be entertained.