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Opinions Sun, 11 Jan 2004

Creation of 30 new seats is useless - Rejoinder

I think Kwaku [Azar] is blowing hot air, period. The cost of running a government must never be used as the stumbling block for improving on the instruments of democracy.
If we accept Kwaku Asare’s flawed logic, we might as well bring the Armed Forces back. After all, under a military regime, we do not have to bother with paying for members of parliament or representation. Under the military regime, the commissioners who are largely from the military, would draw their military salary; so we would save quite a lot of money! So, why not invite the Armed Forces back!!
When Kwaku Asare opines regarding the additional 30 constituency seats recently created, thus:
“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.”
I would argue rather that it is Prof. Asare’s logic that is ‘red-herring’! His knee-jerk logic aimed at throwing away the additional 30 constituencies, by attempting to rationalize representation in the USA in terms of US national population, based on ratio and percentages is an outright misinformation.
In fact, what the Ghana Electoral Commission has done by creating additional constituencies, bring representation in Ghana, in line with what obtains in the USA; if we are to follow Prof. Asare’s comparison. It must be noted that, congressional representation (i.e. in the House of Representatives, usually referred to as US Congress), is NOT based on the totality of the population of the USA, as Kwaku wishes.
Rather, congressional representation in the USA is based on the population of each constituent state (there are 50 states that make up the union). Based on the population, a state is further divided into congressional districts (constituencies). The larger the population of a state, the more congressional districts, and therefore Congressmen, it has.
In the USA therefore, congressional representation is based not on the geographical size of the state; nor the total population of the USA; but on how many people live in a particular state! Every ten years, based on the national census, a state either gains or loses congressional seats depending on its population!!
Hence, very large states like Wyoming and Montana have one congressman each. Very populous state such as California has 52 congressmen. However, numbers change when a state either gains or loses population, due to population shift.
I believe that in Ghana (perhaps due to our political immaturity, and the tendency to see things through ethnic lenses), all hell will break loose if some areas were to lose parliamentary seats because their population declined. On the other hand, it would be most unfair for a constituency to have more than 300,000 people, and yet have just one MP, the same as another constituency with about 18,000 people! The Electoral Commission has fulfilled its constitutional mandate by creating additional constituencies.
We do face financial problems in Ghana. However, to attempt to use that as argument to undercut worthy programs is like the proverbial throwing the baby away with the bath water.
I would rather suggest STRONGLY, that we abolish the Council of State, now. This largely unelected body is a drain on public coffers, and was set up (when one reads the Constitution carefully), to undermine the role of the legislature. Millions of cedis would be saved from that effort that could then be used to provide the legislature with resources to enhance their work. The Council of State members are better remunerated than the MPs!!
Knowledgeable Ghanaians must do well to explain issues soundly to the people; rather than advocating policies that throw dust in the peoples’ eyes. Otherwise, it would be sound to argue that since a large number of Ghanaians who received free university education in Ghana (like Prof Asare, and myself), vamoose to seek greener pastures elsewhere; free education must be abolished!!


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Columnist: Ellison, Kofi