4
Politics Tue, 27 Jan 2004

Debate on the creation of new constituencies continue

In continuation of the ongoing debate on the creation of new constituencies, the GNA reproduces below a contribution by Dr Kwadwo Afari Gyan. Electoral Commissioner of Ghana: THE DEBATE ON THE CREATION OF NEW CONSTITUENCIES


Controversy has arisen over the decision of the Electoral Commission (EC) to create 230 constituencies for the 2004 Parliamentary Elections. As a person intimately connected with the review of the existing constituencies, I wish to offer explanations in respect of three aspects of the controversy, namely; the timing of the review, the increase in the number of constituencies and the use of the constituencies for the 2004 elections.

The Timing of the Review

It is far from the truth for anybody to create the impression that the EC suddenly sprang the review of Parliamentary Constituencies on the nation. For purposes of demarcating constituencies, the Commission requires detailed population information that is disaggregated to the districts, towns and villages.


As soon as this information became available from the 2000 Population Census, the Commission began consultations with the Government in 2002 relating to the review of constituencies. In the same year, the Commission briefed the Council of State, Parliament and the political parties on the matter.


Further consultations took place in 2003. In February a roundtable discussion on the review was held in Accra, under the auspices of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD-Ghana. Thereafter, the Commission held discussions with District Assemblies and traditional authorities, particularly in areas where new districts had been proposed. At most of these consultations, the implications of different scenarios of review were presented.


The contention that the timing of the review is wrong, for any reason, is based on a misunderstanding. Article 47 (5) of the 1992 Constitution says:


“The Electoral Commission shall review the division of Ghana into constituencies at intervals of not less than seven years or within twelve months after the publication of the enumeration figures after the holding of a census of the population, whichever is earlier, and may as a result alter the constituencies.”


In accordance with this provision, following the release of the results of the 2000 population census, the EC had to review the division of Ghana into Parliamentary Constituencies. It would have been a dereliction of a constitutional duty not to do so. The Commission simply had no options whatsoever in respect of the timing of the review.

The Increase in the Number of Constituencies

The criteria and principles for establishing Parliamentary Constituencies differ from country to country. In some countries, either the total population alone or the voter population alone is used for demarcating constituencies. In Ghana, total population and land size are the basic elements in establishing constituencies. Additionally, it is permissible to also take into consideration factors like traditional areas and geographical features that present barriers to transportation and communication.

ADVERTISEMENT

The country owes this formula to the Siriboe Committee of 1967 that examined constituency demarcation and other electoral issues, and the EC had found no better one to replace it. In principle, a review of constituencies could result in one of three situations: * A reduction in the number of existing constituencies * Retention of the existing number of constituencies * An increase in the number of constituencies


Interestingly, nobody has seriously argued for a reduction in the number of constituencies in the current debate on the review; and, indeed, the EC did not contemplate that option at all. The two options seriously considered were either to retain or to increase the current number of constituencies.


The demarcation of the 200 constituencies that currently exist was done in 1987, based on an estimated population of 13,554,170. The 2000 census put Ghana’s population at 18,912,079, representing an increase of over five million people since the last constituency demarcation. Based on the regional distribution of the 2000 population census figures, if the current number of 200 constituencies were to be retained, the review of constituencies would yield the following outcomes: * Western, Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions would gain additional constituencies * Brong Ahafo and Northern regions would retain their current number of constituencies. * Central, Volta, Eastern, Upper East and Upper West Regions would lose constituencies.


On the basis of these outcomes, the Commission pondered whether it was politically prudent to retain the number of constituencies at 200. Another factor that weighed against the retention of the 200 constituencies was the creation of new districts.


One of the demarcation principles is that a district should have at least one parliamentary constituency, and a constituency should not straddle the boundaries of two districts. Some of the new districts have been carved out of districts that currently constituted only one parliamentary constituency.


In my view, the increase in the number of constituencies has three merits:


* It makes it possible to accommodate the creation of new districts. * Given the substantial increase in our population since the last demarcation, it will help to achieve more effective representation in a constituency-based parliamentary democracy * It creates a win-win situation in a young democracy where constituency demarcation is a politically charged activity

ADVERTISEMENT

The Commission made appropriate consultations with the Government regarding the financial implications of the increase in the number of constituencies. Featuring the 230 Constituencies in the 2004 Parliamentary Elections. In respect of whether the new constituencies should feature in the 2004 elections, it is important to indicate my understanding of the relevant constitutional provisions.


Article 47 (5) of the Constitution, quoted above, empowers the Electoral Commission, if need be, to alter the existing constituencies as a result of a review. Accordingly, as a result of the current review, the Commission has decided to alter the existing 200 constituencies by dividing the country into 230 constituencies.


Even though, the word ‘additional’ is used where a constituency review exercise results in an increase, in principle, what actually takes place is not a simply adding on but a fresh division of the country, the same territorial space, into new constituencies.


There are, indeed, two stages in the process of constituency review; namely, creating the constituencies and using them to conduct elections. Any alteration of constituencies requires a legal instrument to give it appropriate backing. In this instance, the instrument would cover not 30 but all the 230 constituencies. So, technically, all the 230 constituencies are new ones that have been proposed for the next Parliament, which would begin its life in 2005. The constituencies would have been created as soon as the existing Parliament approved the instrument.


The controversy as to whether or not the constituencies can feature in the 2004 elections revolves around the interpretation of Article 47 (6) of the Constitution, which says:


“Where the boundaries established under this article are altered as a result of a review, the alteration shall come into effect upon the next dissolution of Parliament.” Let us note that “the boundaries established under this Article” refers to the constituencies duly created during any previous demarcation, in this instance, the 200 constituencies that are now being altered.


Ghana’s Parliament has a four-year term of office, beginning from the date of its first sitting. The next dissolution of the current Parliament, whose first sitting took place on 7 January 2001, will be 6 January 2005. So, indeed, what this provision is saying is that new constituencies cannot come into effect until after 6th January 2005.

ADVERTISEMENT

But that is not the full story! I think the crux of the matter is: what does it mean for a constituency to come into effect? My understanding is that, since the constituencies would have been duly created some time back, their coming into effect refers to having their representatives in Parliament. If this understanding is correct, the constituencies cannot have representation in Parliament in 2005 unless they featured in the December 2004 parliamentary elections.


Normally, a legal instrument takes effect as soon as it is approved by Parliament. In my view, what Article 47 (6) does is to delay the effect of an instrument relating to changes in parliamentary constituencies until the existing Parliament has run its full term.


What this means in practical terms is that a review of constituencies, which may fall due at any point in the life of a Parliament, cannot be used to reduce or increase the number of Members of Parliament during the life span of that particular Parliament.


I think the confusion over the phrase “shall come into effect upon the next dissolution of Parliament” can be cleared with a simple scenario. Two persons, who are now Members of Parliament, decide to contest the 2004 parliamentary elections, so as to become members of the next Parliament, which will begin its life on 7 January 2005.


One wins, the other loses. Obviously, the loser will not become a member of the next Parliament, but he continues to be a member of the current Parliament until after 6th January 2005. On the other hand, the one who wins not only continues to be a member of the current Parliament, but will also be MP-elect who will become a member of the next Parliament upon the next dissolution of Parliament, that is, after 6th January 2005. As it were, a new life altogether begins after 6 January 2005.


In any case, if, indeed, the proposed constituencies will have been created once the existing Parliament approves the instrument, then the contention that the 30 “new” constituencies cannot feature in elections until 2008 risks a violation of Article 47 (1) of the Constitution, which says: “each constituency shall be represented by one Member of Parliament.”


Clearly, if that contention were valid, there would be 30 constituencies in the country without Members of Parliament, come 2005. Or, if you like, some Members of Parliament would represent multiple constituencies, in those areas that have gained additional constituencies as a result of the review. Examples are Bantama, Dangbe East, Ga, Gushiegu-Karaga, and West Mamprusi.

Equally incongruous would be a situation where one Member of Parliament represents two districts, in the instances where districts or areas that previously formed one constituency have now been split into two separate districts. Examples are Jaman, Kintampo, Krachi, Sissala, and Wa.


Conclusion


The drafting of Article 47 (6) of the 1992 Constitution may not be the best, but it is clear to me that its rationale and intent support the view that, once given legal backing, the so-called new constituencies should feature in the 2004 Parliamentary Elections.


On the other hand, if Parliament annuls the new constituencies, the Commission will have to prepare another instrument to redistribute the existing 200 constituencies on the basis of the 2000 population census figures, the outcomes of which would be what I have indicated earlier on.


The Electoral Commission is not challenging or daring anybody to go to court over its review of constituencies. The fact of the matter is that the difference between those who think, as we do, that all the 230 constituencies must feature in the 2004 Parliamentary Elections and those who think that the 30 “additional” constituencies cannot be featured are so fundamental that, if it persists, it can only be resolved with finality by the Supreme Court, which has the duty to interpret our Constitution in case of controversy over its meaning.


And, if it comes to that, I see no reason why the decision of the Supreme Court should hurt anybody; for there will be no winners or losers. The significance of the decision will lie in establishing a firm principle for the future work of the EC.

Source: GNA