Opinions of Fri, 22 Dec 20173

The voting saga of Ghanaians in Diaspora

Legally, it goes by the codename Representation of the People’s Amendment Law (Act 699), and it’s termed ROPAL/ROPAA; either way, for short. ROPAL was enacted way back in the year 2006 under then Kufuor-led NPP government. Primarily, the 2006 law establishes the legal basis and spells out eligibility criteria for Ghanaians working and residing outside the country/abroad to be able to vote, especially, in general elections.

Keep in mind you’re nobly recognized if you belong to the group of fair-minded Ghanaians here at home wondering why after its passage in 2006, ROPAA is still stored in out-of-reach, dusty, legal cabinet somewhere in the Electoral Commission bureau? In fact, one of the most important explanations for the needlessly long delay in the implementation of ROPAL is complete lack of political will and genuine commitment toward the Act 699. To say the least, the successive administrations, till now, have shown lukewarm attitudes for ROPAA, the reason(s) for which is best known to them.

The fact is it is quite right to blame the Electoral Commissioners for the widespread clouds of corruption and mismanagement hanging over their office; but in the same vein, it may not be fair to fault the EC for the non-implementation of ROPAA. The onus of responsibility in terms of pushing for ROPAL‘s implementation must rest on the backs of the nation’s parliament, plain and simple!

In this political system—multiparty democracy—such as Ghana’s, the nerve center of power must be the parliament/legislative branch. In addition to passing laws, efficient legislature has powerful oversight subcommittees/mechanisms to ensure that laws passed are adequately funded and effectively monitored. If the country’s parliament isn’t weak, none of us we would be talking about the abysmal failure of the EC to implement the ROPAA.

It is confounding trying to come to grips with a political culture that is grounded in democracy like we have in Ghana, and yet the people’s main national house (parliament) almost always plays second fiddle not only to the executive branch `but also to the Electoral Commission, too? In America or Britain, the legislative body would have passed the law (diaspora suffrage legislation), fund it, and oversee that the appropriate bureaucratic body is executing the law.

Why should an elected body like the national parliament, passes a bill into law, and sits back for some years and allows an unelected bureaucrats comprising a three-member ECs to put bureaucratic impediments in the way of its implementations? If the EC wields that much constitutional power, does it come as a surprise, therefore, that the current Electoral Commissioner has been behaving as the “Colossus that bestride the world”? In many ways the EC strongly believes her commission is so independent that she doesn’t even have to respond to parliamentary inquiries of the EC’s activities.

Under these circumstances, does anyone blame the Electoral Commissioner for not having any sense of urgency, especially, with regard to implementing the ROPAL? Obviously the big takeaway or lesson in the aftermath of the ROPAA’s ordeal since 2006 is the fact that the country’s 4th Republican Constitution is far behind the times. It is hopeful that the leaders of all political persuasions in Ghana today may join forces sooner than later to effect some key changes to this constitution to help makes it mirrors through the actual time Ghanaians are living in. Ghana in the late 1980s and the early 1990s is different from the social media/Internet-inspired Ghana of the 21st century.

As of now, the phrase “Ghanaians in diaspora” only exists in name but not in actuality because the social media phenomenon has made international borders relatively porous and distances almost non-existent. Though many of us live abroad; still it’s almost like we all live here at home in Ghana because we are fully aware of what is unfolding in the country every minute/hour. The nation is socially connected everywhere in the world; we live in the global village of the Internet. The physical presence of people is just about irrelevant.

The ROPAL’s undue delay in the hands of the EC is a clear pointer that the 4th republic constitution needs amendments so as to make parliament more relevant with backbone and vigorous oversight powers. No determined representative democracy will allow unelected Electoral officials dictate or move at its own pace vis-à-vis implementation of an all-important ROPAL. Indeed, the part of the constitution that empowers the EC to treat Ghanaians in diaspora in such disdainful manner needs critical reappraisal.

We need to be mindful that Ghana’s current military-commissioned Constitution has notable traces of military dictatorship where power is not properly disbursed but heavily concentrated in the executive margins of the government. Ghanaians may recall that at the time of the composition of the Constitution, Ghana was under the military regime of (P)NDC. One could imagine the strong influences then one-man rule Rawlings government directly or indirectly brought to bear on the members of the Constituent Assembly tasked with putting together the present constitution.

In short, Ghanaians in diaspora’s money, talents, and expertise are sought after by potential office runners, including presidential candidates during major elections in Ghana. Yet these large groups of people living abroad are literally disenfranchised. Denying Ghanaian diasporans from voting offends the 21st century sense of basic human rights and international law.

Major/serious democracies encourage their citizens living abroad to vote; they don’t put obstacles or show some “love-hate” tendencies toward their overseas brothers and sisters! ROPAA, to some degree, has shown how Ghana treats its own sons and daughters residing overseas. It is a shameful shame in this social media universe!

Bernard Asubonteng is United States-based writer; send your comments to: detrio03@aol.com

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