Opinions Fri, 11 May 2007

ROPAA and the Elections in 2008 – Part 1

ROPAA is an animal that would not die no matter how many times it is hammered by its opponents. A case in point is the recent call for “go slow and not in 2008” by NDC Presidential hopeful Prof Arthur Mills. This is his response to NPP’s Presidential aspirant and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nana Ado Dankwa Akufo-Addo who on May 1st called for ROPAA’s implementation in 2008. One election - two different calls by two leading candidates for the highest office of our land. What do we make of all this? Nana Addo has since retreated a bit by adding that he was emphasizing the role of the Electoral Commission to make the decision. Actually, the Electoral Commission is saying that they would wait on the government to give them the resources to implement ROPAA in 2008, 2012 or whenever. No resources, no ROPAA regardless of the law. So in circles we go and come 2008, Ghana will definitely have its fifth national elections under the present 1992 Constitution and Ghanaians Living Abroad (GLAs) may very well be told- “yes you have the law but until there is consensus that we in Ghana are ready for your votes to count in determining who runs your country- be patient- the ballot box is coming to you but it is walking and swimming and you know how long that takes “ Ironically, I expose no secret when I state that both men and all of their fraternity dreaming about occupying the Castle in Osu have and will troop abroad to raise funds for their campaigns not from the IMF but from GLAs. Oh “yes your money is always good but as for your vote, we are not saying it is not good but wait another round, just as you have waited four rounds before”

Back in the last quarter of 2005 and early 2006, a lot of arguments were forwarded for and against ROPAA. In the end the Representation of the People’s Amendment Act (ROPAA) was passed into law by Ghana’s Parliament and signed by the President on February 24, 2006. Was this a Pyrrhic victory? In other words, did GLAs win the battle but are about to lose the war because of selfish and unfounded fears among our politicians back home with no one taking responsibility to ensure that the law of the land is enforced?

One argument that keeps surfacing and rehashed by the Honorable Professor is that no one knows the number of GLAs so how do you conduct elections among them? Well no one knows the number of prospective voters in Ghana until a registration exercise is conducted. Since the last elections in 2004, many have turned 18, many have died and still many have been magically transformed into GLAs so all the learning of Prof Mills will not equip him to give an answer today of how many people IN Ghana will vote in 2008 just as we cannot guesstimate how many will vote OUTSIDE Ghana unless and until registration exercises are completed. To reemphasize this argument is simply dishonest. While we are talking about numbers, the fear behind invoking this unknown quantity argument is that one Party is feared to be in a more favorable position to benefit from GLAs votes than the other. On this let us state that GLAs are not of one mind nor do they all belong to one political Party. They are influenced by events going on in Ghana and will make their decisions based on their interpretations and perceptions of future leaderships just as their kindred in Ghana. Instead of shunning GLAs, why don’t the prospective candidates for Ghana’s highest office and managers of their Parties do the work of informing GLAs of their accomplishments and visions for the one country that belongs equally to all of us? Remember that the person resident in Ghana today will become a GLA tomorrow and vice-versa. The definition of a GLA is fluid but the one of a Ghanaian is more enduring regardless of residence. Prof. Mills cites the lack of a national identification system as one of the reasons to wait. Has that stopped elections in Ghana? However we determine who is Ghanaian in Ghana, the same could be used anywhere else. If we do not have confidence in our own passports, birth certificates and personal ancestry then we have a whole different problem that even a national identification system will not solve for that also will be fraudulently procured. The point is, yes there will always be a number of fraudulent documents in the wrong peoples’ hands in any system but when did the malfeasance of an insignificant few, trump the rights of the overwhelming majority? Democracy does not mean a 100% score on every count.

Here is the little secret about overseas voting – unless there are burning issues and enough lead time is allowed to properly inform citizens living abroad of all the logistics of the process, the participation is generally poor. I shall say more about this in a follow-up article. Effort then should be spent on making sure that Ghana does not repeat the low turnout experience of Mexico and the Philippines but the respectable turnouts of an experienced and tested place such as Cape Verde. If we spend all the precious little time we have between now and December 2008 on whether or not ROPAA should be implemented AFTER the law has been passed more than a year ago, then guess what? The overseas voting by GLAs will be low, there will be no impact of their votes and everyone will have their prophesy fulfilled or hopes dashed. We choose to argue out the implementation of ROPAA on account of no National Identification system but no one talks about informing GLAs of their need to register and apply for their dual citizenships which will serve as an effective identification instrument. In the meantime, those who apply for their dual citizenship complain of incessant and intolerable delays and there is no national effort to address this problem. We worry about priorities and cite the energy crisis as another reason to delay the implementation of ROPAA but forget the enormous fees that could accrue from mass information, and streamlining the dual citizenship application process. We have said this and it is worth repeating, we need the will and creativity to solve our problems. All the answers exist but if the mutual blame game and exclusionary tendencies are the preferred national pastime then where are we headed as a nation that needs every skill and contribution of its citizens on deck no matter where they reside?

Stay tuned.

By Kofi A. Boateng, New York

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

Columnist: Boateng, Kofi A.