Minority Statement On The Proposed Legislation ....
...On An Amendment To The Representation Of The People Billa) Ladies and Gentlemen of the press; we have invited you here to state our position on the proposed amendment to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill.
b) The Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Hon. J. Ayikoi Otoo, has presented a bill to Parliament, the purpose of which is to enable Ghanaians resident abroad to register to Vote in public elections in the country.
c) We in the minority believe that this proposed amendments is one of the desperate attempts by the ruling government to maintain its grip on power through the back door.
d) We are not opposed in principle to allowing Ghanaians resident abroad to vote or benefit from the provisions of the 1992 constitutions. They are legitimately entitled to all the rights, privileges and benefits guaranteed for all Ghanaians under the constitution.
e) Our major concern is the capacity of the electoral commission and the political parties, the key stakeholders preparedness for this exercise.
f) Even within Ghana, you all will acknowledge the problems and resources constraints of our Electoral Commission. There were acute shortages of registration materials during the registration; there were even serious shortages of voting materials in the last December general elections of 2004.
g) Under the current electoral law, some Ghanaians living abroad are eligible to register and vote at our elections. They include; persons who work in our diplomatic missions and their spouses, persons working with international organizations, students on government scholarships and members of the armed forces and the police on peace keeping duties. This category of registered. Voters can either vote in person in Ghana or vote by proxy. All of these persons are already registered with, or easily identified by, the Ghanaian Missions abroad; the numbers are fairly limited, and with the possible exception of the students they all pay taxes to the Ghanaian Exchequer. Besides this particular category of people were sent out to their countries of posting on special missions on behalf of the state. The situation is entirely different if the Pandora?s box is opened as envisaged under the Bill, with the large numbers of Ghanaians outside Ghana, largely unregistered with the Ghana Missions, and the difficulty of determining who a Ghanaian citizen is. We think for now the status quo must be maintained;
h) In any case, what has changed significantly, since the December elections, for the ? re-emergence of the bill or proposed amendments. It was withdrawn following public protest and the legal and administrative issues raised by the Electoral Commission in November 6, 2004. May I pose the following quotes?
a) We wish to know, in which of our elections (Presidential, Parliamentary and district level) will registered voters resident abroad be allowed to vote?
b) We are aware that there are Ghanaians in almost every country of the world. Unless the exercise will cover every Ghanaian living anywhere in the world then it will still represent a flawed system. Besides there is no reliable data on the number of Ghanaians living abroad.
c) How will voting take place, by proxy by mail, or in person at an embassy?
d) In any case is it appropriate for the amendment bill to seek to designate Heads of the foreign missions abroad as the returning officers for the electoral commission as being proposed? The largely partisan colouration of the Heads of Ghanaian Missions abroad makes it totally inadvisable for them to play any role in the registration and voting process. The Ghana High Commissioner to Canada, for example, is the immediate past National Chairman of the NPP. If the Bill should be passed at all, the EC should be left to determine who will be a registration officer and the Government should be ready to bear the cost involved.
As rightly pointed out by Electoral Commissioner the majority of countries that allow their citizens in the Diaspora to vote in Presidential and Parliamentary elections use a proportional representation system whereby voters vote directly for political parties rather than specific candidates.
The right to register implies the right to vote. The Bill is restricted to registration. What arrangements are envisaged for their voting?
The ?right to register? actually means a privilege to register, since registration is not compulsory. There are many similar ?rights? in the Constitution, which have not been actualized for various reasons. Why single out the ?right to register? and want to actualize that as opposed to all the other rights?
It is worth noting that the only legal impediment to Ghanaians outside registering is the residence qualification, but that applies to all Ghanaians whether inside or outside Ghana, since the requirement is for residence in the constituency, not in Ghana, so either the residence requirement is removed for all Ghanaians or exists for all Ghanaians. Removing it for Ghanaians outside Ghana and retaining it for Ghanaians inside Ghana amounts to discrimination
If Ghanaians are to be registered without reference to the residence qualification, how are they to be identified with constituencies, especially in relation to the counting of their parliamentary votes?
If the Bill only when passed comes into force on a date to be determined by the EC (clause 2), then there is no need rushing to pass it now. The EC itself has raised a number of issues that must be addressed before the matter of registration and voting by Ghanaians outside Ghana is broached. We should wait for the EC to advise of its readiness, before the bill is introduced in Parliament. This should then be a composite of both registration and voting provisions.
In any case as a part of the tenets of good governance, bills having far-reaching implications such as the one in question are by convention subjected to wide consultation with the public and civil society as in the case of the Domestic Violence bill, Freedom of Information bill, Whistleblower bill, National Health Insurance Bill etc. It will be recalled that the majority of members of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) rejected this particular proposal when it was presented last year. One wonders why in deciding to reintroduce this particular bill Government has not even considered a consultation with the political parties and the EC through IPAC.
At the end of the day, the bottom line is cost. Are we in a position to bear the cost associated with the exercise, and should it be a national priority now?
i) We are calling for a thorough National Debate and discussion on the proposed amendments: for now we will wish to call on the government (the executive) to withdraw the bill and the proposed amendments. As a first step, a public debate must be initiated on the subject.