Diaspora Vote: Understand the history .....

Wed, 1 Mar 2006 Source: Boateng, Kofi A.

... and do not be fooled

On Monday February 20, 2006 I returned from a one week trip to Ghana where I spent practically all my time debating the merits of the need to amend the existing PNDCL 284 ? ?Representation of the People Law?. I was accompanied by Alhaji Abass Adamu and we were joined by DVC members from Nigeria and Cote D?Ivoire: Mr. Kofi Atiemo-Gyan, Mr. Stephen Nyampong, Mr. James Kwegyir ?Aggrey, Mr. Tettehfio Joe Mordey and Mr. Samuel Teye Kumah. Ghanaians from Canada and the US who have returned home to establish businesses to employ fellow Ghanaians also joined us. We made appearances on the FM Stations; JOY, PEACE, GOLD, TOP, KASAPA (London), CITI, MERIDIAN and HAPPY. In Kumasi we were on NKOSUO and HELLO. Ghana TV, Metro and TV3 carried our press conferences in Accra and the newspapers made sure to announce our presence and message. The press conference in Kumasi drew thirty-five reporters. The simplest report is that at the end, leading opponents admitted publicly: ?In principle, we are not against ROBAP (Representation of the People Amendment Bill), but?.? Why this concession?

The DVC delegation of February 2006 convincingly established the timeline of the PNDC Law 284 that stands in the way of the operation of the Constitution of Ghana with respect to voting by the large number of Ghanaians living abroad. Here are the facts:

History of PNDCL 284- a timeline. In December 1981, Flt Lt. Jerry Rawlings overthrew the constitutionally elected government of Dr. Hilla Limann and suspended the then existing Constitution of 1979. Thenceforth, Ghana was ruled by decrees that were preceded by PNDC Law? There were no consultations with the people directly or through a parliament. After eleven years of military dictatorship and the ban on political parties, a constitution was finally approved in April 1992 in anticipation of the lifting of this ban that happened in May 1992. The existing military PNDC government headed by Chairman Flt. Lt Rawlings decided to contest the coming elections in November 1992. There was one problem.

Chapter seven titled ?Representation of the People? of the Constitution approved in April 1992 contains an article 42 that states that: ?Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purpose of public elections and referenda.?

It also lists six functions of the Electoral Commission (EC) who is charged with managing Ghana?s elections. Among these in Article 45 (e) is that the EC will ?undertake programmes for the expansion of the registration of voters.?

When the loud opponents of ROBAB say that the current 1992 Constitution of Ghana does not disenfranchise Ghanaians living abroad, they are precisely right. Left alone, Under Articles, 42, 45 and 51 of the 1992 Constitution, the EC would have had to expand Ghana?s voter registers to those abroad and include them in the November 3, 1992 elections, the first after the continuous reign of Rawlings and the PNDC. But no, this would not happen, not while the military had decided to change their fatigues for ?batakari.?. They had to do something quickly while they still ruled by non-consultative decree and could make laws at a whim regardless of whose cow was gored.

Thus in August 1992, two- and-a half months before the long- awaited elections of November 3, 1992 and a good five months before any newly elected government of Ghana had to make laws through a parliamentary democracy, PNDC Law 284 was born and immediately made effective. What did it do? It inserted a RESIDENCE requirement that is not in the Constitution. It further required that in order to meet this new residency requirement, one must reside in the prospective constituency for a minimal continuous period of six months. Then the coup de grace, it redefined ?Every citizen of Ghana? as enshrined in Article 42 and created a new class of Ghanaians to whom the intent of the constitution would be granted ? the insignificantly small number of Ghanaians employed by the government in its missions. Thus in one stroke, on August 17, 1992, hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Ghanaians living abroad whose votes could be crucial to the outcome of the November 3, 1992 elections were given hurdles to climb and effectively barred from exercising their constitutionally granted franchise. With this the new PNDC, now known as NDC and still led by Flt Lt Rawlings went on to win the November 3, 1992 national elections. How could one million Ghanaians leave their jobs to stay in Ghana for six months to meet this residency requirement? It is not practical or constitutional. The framers of the midnight PNDC Law 284 knew it.

You see, there would have been no need for all this heat about ROPAB had Flt Lt Rawlings decided that eleven years plus two were enough and there was no need to go from Chairman to President. Does something about the historical facts sound familiar fourteen years later? Are we circling the same issue and fear? When do we move forward as a nation? What is so wrong with removing this PNDCL 284 that, as one DVC member who was a member of the AFRC, described as ?smuggled in.? In less than three months from its inception, it went into effect and has excluded hundreds of thousands of bona-fide Ghanaians from four general elections. Why should something born out of fraud, selfishness and bullying be tolerated by a country that seeks to be a shining light in Africa?

Let us understand this simple history of PNDC Law 284 and not be fooled by all the noise and distractions that attempt to pass as cogent legal and practical implementation arguments. The DVC shall not relent in its pursuit to extend the voting franchise to ?every? duly qualified ?citizen of Ghana? regardless of place of abode just as the Constitution states in article 42. Last week, Cape Verde, also in Africa, held its Presidential elections where 20% of the votes came from their citizens abroad. As close as that election was, no one blamed anything on their Diaspora vote and the island country is very much at peace. The sky did not fall there and it will not in Ghana when ROPAB passes. The right time to do the right thing is right now. ROPAB is long overdue and 2008 has a good ring to it.

Kofi A. Boateng and the Diaspora Vote Committee
Interested in joining the DVC? Send your e-mail address to kboateng@aaionline.org

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

Columnist: Boateng, Kofi A.