01.04.2004 Feature Article

The Diaspora Vote Fiasco: Govt should take the Blame

The Diaspora Vote Fiasco:  Govt should take the Blame
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The Kufour Government has done an about turn and an about face on an issue very critical and dear to the hearts of overseas-resident Ghanaians: the right to vote in Ghanaian elections.

Overseas-resident Ghanaians have been clamoring for two major rights to be restored to them since President Kufour and the NPP Government came to power three years ago. These are the right to dual citizenship and the right to vote in elections.

We have pointed out in various submissions that have been made to the government that the legal restoration of Ghanaian citizenship to those who lost them as a result of an unjust Legislation passed by the Rawlings regimes is an issue that should be tackled with the utmost despatch. These submissions had started during the historic Home-Coming Summit organized by the government in July 2001.

In his key-note speech to the Summit, President Kufour announced, to thunderous applause from the overseas delegates assembled, that he had instructed the Electoral Commission to start the necessary process to enable overseas-resident Ghanaians to have the right to vote in subsequent elections, starting with at least the Presidential Elections in 2004. This noteworthy declaration was carried in most of the newspapers in Ghana as well as The Ghanaian News

(July & August 2001 Issues). He also promised that his government will take the necessary measures to restore the Dual-Citizenship status to those who lost their Ghanaian citizenship. This was necessary, the President declared, trumpeting the fact that as a group, overseas-resident Ghanaians were the government’s "most important development partner".

We all believed then, three years ago, that all the necessary processes including the legal and legislative instruments will be put in motion immediately to achieve these two avowed objectives of the government. They did not happen. After much lobbying, the Dual Citizenship Act was passed in a very confused and almost meaningless form. Overseas-resident Ghanaians needing Dual-Citizenship status were required to undergo a very complicated application process which is not even worth trying. To add insult to injury, overseas-resident dual citizenship Ghanaians will be excluded from holding a long list of positions within Ghana. Included in these positions are those of Diplomats, Ministerial Positions, certain ranks of the Armed Forces and Police above the rank of Colonel and Inspector-General of Police, Director of Prisons among others.

Next on the government’s plate came the "right to vote". It waited until March this year, only eight months to the next elections, to introduce legislation to Parliament on this issue. But it has been done in a way that ensured that it got nowhere. The Bill, known as the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill was introduced to Parliament under a Certificate of Urgency on March 9 hoping to get approval for it by March 12. It was to repeal the Representation of the People Law, 1992 (PNDCL 284). It was quickly referred to the Committee on Legal, Constitution and Parliamentary Affairs for urgent consideration.

Rightly or wrongly, with or without any ulterior motives, the opposition parties quickly seized on the manner in which the Bill was been rammed through Parliament to cry foul. They accused the government of having an ulterior motive behind the Bill. Six Minority Political Parties called for a national resistance movement against the Bill. At a Press Conference in Accra on Wednesday March 11, 2004, they called for the immediate withdrawal of the Bill to give the Electoral Commission, political parties, and other stakeholders time to do sufficient consultations and preparation, so as to make the exercise all embracing, fair and transparent for future elections.

They further charged that, "the proposed amendment is to fit into a grand design calculated to give the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) an unfair electoral advantage and frustrate the true expression of the will of the Ghanaian people in the December 2004 elections". This charge may be stretching the truth too far but the government brought this on itself. Why did it have to wait for three solid years to introduce this simple piece of Legislation to Parliament? In the hullabaloo that followed, the government announced on Friday March 12, only three days after introducing the Bill, that it was withdrawing the Certificate of Urgency so that the Bill be considered just like any other Bill. This process might take about six months or more to go through Parliament depending on what tactics the Opposition decides to adopt. Parliament is expected to rise "sine die" on Friday March 19 and will resume sitting only from May 25. Did the government originally intended to have exactly the same result that it has now received?

We have been left wondering whether the government is taking its "most important development partner" (overseas-resident Ghanaians) seriously. There have been a lot of publicity and bloating on the large cash infusion and other contributions that overseas-resident Ghanaians make to the Ghanaian economy and the country’s development. But when it comes to enjoying and asserting the same rights as local-resident Ghanaians, almost everyone in Ghana, government, opposition and ordinary folks want us to shut up. "Just bring in your money and goods, this country belongs to us", they seem to say.

I am entreating overseas-resident Ghanaians NOT to give up. We need to exert every pressure that we can muster on our folks back home: on ALL Members of Parliament, the President, and on our relatives. We need to get the simple message in their heads that Ghana belongs to us all. They cannot simply expect us to be contributing massively to the country’s development while shutting us out of the basic rights that every Ghanaian citizen should enjoy regardless of where they reside. Email Author: [email protected]

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