On my recent visit to Ghana, I came face to face with the proposed Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill dated 19th April, 2005 and signed by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. J. Ayikoi Otoo. I have listened to the arguments being put up by the government in support of the proposed bill. I also had the opportunity to listen to a faceless and unknown group calling itself the Diaspora Votes Committee (DVC), that claimed to be representing those of us Ghanaians Living Overseas (GLO) and who was in Ghana to seek public support for the passage of the bill. All their arguments suggested that a Ghanaian citizen resident outside Ghana by virtue of his/her location has lost the right to register and vote in public elections and hence, the need for this new bill to restore this right.
As a Ghanaian resident in Canada and one of the people the government and the DVC claimed to be fighting for, I have every right to set the facts straight. Article 42 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, 1992 clearly states and I quote; “Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.” Again Section 2(1) of the Political Parties Act 2003 gives right to every Ghanaian to participate in political activity which can influence the composition of government and her policies. None of these laws made mention of geographical location as a limitation to this right. The constitutional provision granting the right to anyone to register and vote in public elections and referenda is simply to be a Ghanaian. Hence, for Mr. J. Ayikoi Otoo and the DVC to suggest that we need a whole new law to restore this lost right is a gross distortion of the facts and out of place. I want every Ghanaian to understand that regardless of geographical location, be it Greenland, Iceland or even the Mars, once you are a Ghanaian, you still have the right to come to Ghana to register and vote in public elections and referenda if you so wish.
There is no need in amending Section 8 of the Representation of the People Law, 1992 (PNDCL 284) that provides Ghanaian citizens employed in the service of the Republic or in the service of the United Nations, or of any other international organization to register and vote. This is because; we have the statistics on these people who are on service and diplomatic passports and working in the service of the Republic of Ghana and they still pay taxes to Ghana even though they work in a foreign land. The rest of us Ghanaian citizens living abroad, carry ordinary Ghanaian passports. We work in the service of the countries of resident and pay taxes in the service of these countries and not the Republic of Ghana. Hence, there is no justification to demand this right.
Their main argument in support of this bill is that Ghanaians abroad remit their families in Ghana. They however, failed to differentiate between what individual families benefit and what the state benefits. Lets us look at this simple example. Kodjo Mensah is a Ghanaian resident abroad. His remittance to his family is an individual benefit and not a state benefit. Kodjo Mensah does not contribute anything by means of taxes regularly as legally require of every citizen of a country. Therefore, there is no justification whatsoever to use the taxpayers' money of the already suffering Ghanaian to carry election materials chasing Kodjo Mensah around the globe for him to register and vote to decide the composition of a government whose policies good or bad do not affect him.
The double standards here is that, the government takes pride in saying that remittances from Ghanaians outside are a huge boost to our GDP and at the same time lashes at our professionals who due to slave wages and poor living conditions in Ghana chose to seek greener pastures abroad so they can remit their suffering families and thereby boost our GDP. In my opinion the passage of this bill implies that, government is seeking to encourage and open the flood gates for more illegal migration outside this country so the country can benefit from more remittances to boost our GDP. Aside the right to register and vote, there are other rights like the right to free education that every Ghanaian is entitled to. Why are some Ghanaians outside only demanding the right to register and vote but not these other rights?
Article 46 of the constitution says among other things that the Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority. But over the years our nation depended and still depends on donor support to fund elections in this country. Our Electoral Commission is so cash trapped and lacks the capacity to effectively carry out its functions even within Ghana. Why can't we use the little resources we have in strengthening the capacity of the EC to work as expected of all ECs the world over, instead of using our borrowed resources to be going around the globe claiming we are consulting people who contribute nothing directly in terms of taxes to Ghana so we can pass this bill? If this bill becomes a law, who would be required to fund its implementation? Would our government as usual carry bowls going around the globe begging for alms so she can be able to carry election materials to every Ghanaian around the globe to exercise his/her right to register and voted?
I have visited several parts of the country during my stay in Ghana. I have come face to face with reality of hardcore poverty that bedevils our people for which reason those of us living abroad do well to remit our families back home. Hence, instead of raising money to fund elections outside, we should rather use that money to eradicate poverty in Ghana and improve upon the living conditions of our people. Let us take a look at some of the real issues why this bill is of no immediate importance and should not even be considered at all:
1. Food and Agriculture The food situation in Ghana is very alarming. The evidence of food shortage is obvious. Food prices are sky-rocketing and many families cannot even afford a decent meal a day. Our agricultural sector has completely collapsed and there seems to be no clue as to how to revamp this sector. Can you imagine we are so blessed with large fertile lands with water running the length and breath of this country, yet we depend on food aid and food import from countries which do not even have one hundredth of the land and water resources we have to supplement our food demands in this country? It's shameful that in the 21st century, the Ghanaian farmer still depends on cutlasses, hoes and the mercy of weather to produce food. There is absolutely no reason why our people should be hungry and I think government should rather invest the money for Diaspora elections in agriculture to improve upon the food situation. I also think it is unfair to use the contribution of the already impoverished Ghanaian to carry election materials chasing Ghanaians around the globe so they can register and vote to determine the composition of a government whose policies good or bad do not affect them in anyway. A small fraction of this Diaspora elections money can be used to cultivate all the cereals, to revamp the tomato sector and grow other vegetables and food items in all parts of Ghana to feed our population and the surplus exported. Not forgetting the employment that can be generated, the boost for the economy and to curb rural-urban drift which is a big problem.
Part of this money can also be used to revamp our fishing industry, source modern ways of agriculture, train and educate our farmers and assist them to form co-operatives so they can easily access bank loans, to procure modern agricultural equipments and logistics, to develop irrigation, build storage facilities and renewable source of energy to help boost our food production in this country. The neo-classical policies of the government to slavishly import every garbage into this country is killing our local industries and lowering the morale of our local manufacturers.
2. Housing The housing situation in Ghana leaves so much to be desired. Many families live in crowded single rooms with no toilet facilities, poor sanitary conditions and lack of drainage, no proper access to drinking water and its attendant health problems, no access roods to their houses and unreliable power supply that is unheard of in this modern age. The slave wages of our workers cannot pay for the high rents and utility bills. The poor conditions of our people are itself a gross abuse of their basic human rights. The money to be used to fund Diaspora elections should rather be channelled into providing the non-existent housing facilities for the poor taxpayer. Our people deserve to live better and in humane conditions.
3. Health and Medical Care A visit to Korle-bu Teaching Hospital and other hospitals around the country tell all about the state of our health sector and medical care delivery. Babies born for this country are spending their first days in detention and their only crime is that their suffering mothers cannot pay for the cost of delivering them. There is no regard for the aged and our senior citizens when it comes to health delivery. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) bill which was passed for over years now is yet to take off because the scheme cannot raise the initial seed money. There are no ambulances and taxis are used to carry people in times of emergencies. There are no paramedics and the doctor to patient ratio is incredibly high. The working conditions of our doctors, nurses and other health workers are very appalling. The money to be raised to fund Diaspora elections should be used in the rationalization of our health and medical care delivery to make it more accessible and affordable to every Ghanaian.
4. Education Our education system needs a more serious attention. Our streets are littered with many children of school going age hawking and trying to make a living instead of being in the classroom. This is against the fact that Ghana is a signatory to the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and other conventions regarding the rights of the child. The Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) has no real meaning and education has become more and more only accessible to the rich. My look around the country has revealed that many communities lack the basics for education like classroom blocks, furniture, toilet facilities, good sanitation and many more. Even where structures exist, there are problem of visibility and ventilation because these classrooms are built with designed blocks as windows. No one seemed to recognize the effect of this on the eye sights of our children nor do we even think about the event of emergencies such as fire outbreaks. When I asked my member of parliament why classrooms were built this way, I was given the usual reply; “we need to reduce cost since we don't have enough funding”.
Our university campuses are begging for proper funding. The taps are not running, the toilets are all choked, the lecture halls are ill equipped and the accommodation facilities have collapsed. The libraries are less resourced hampering research and access to the Internet has a ratio of one computer to over two hundred students yet students pay for Internet services as part of their school fees. Our university professors and our teachers are low on morale due to the slave wages they earn and the poor conditions of service. Education is the backbone of our country and if we are to make any progress as a nation, we need to revamp this sector. Considering the state of our education, I think it would be more prudent to invest money into education instead of the idea of funding Diaspora elections which does not benefit Ghanaians in anyway except being a recipe for chaos.
5. Unemployment and Job Creation Ghana has no statistics on unemployment and job creation. However, a mere look around Accra shows that the streets have been taken over by children, men and women of all ages hawking in search of daily bread gives anyone a good idea of the unemployment situation in Ghana. Local industries all over the country are collapsing, no new ones are being built and everyone is simply doing buying and selling which is less sustainable. Churches and drinking bars are found in every corner of this country which is an actual indication of the level of frustration of the people who are in search of divine and other solutions to their problems. Those who even have jobs are living on slave wages and their take home pay cannot take them home. If we can raise money to fund Diaspora elections, then we should channel this money into building factories to provide jobs the people of Ghana.
6. Crime and Security The crime situation in Ghana is very alarming with everyone living in fear as to whether he/she can wake up alive the following day. The rate of armed robbery has increased while the police are ill equipped to fight this terror. Individual and law abiding Ghanaians cannot go about their daily duties without fear of being attacked. Many have lost their lives, many have been manned, many women have been raped and many have lost their hard earned properties. Yet government seemed helpless on how to fight this terror. Are we serious as a nation to be debating Diaspora election bill when our people who pay the taxes continue to live in fear and terror? I see no justification in using money meant for development of the living conditions of the Ghanaian taxpayer to organise elections outside this country. We should rather use this money in procuring logistics for the police and other security services and to improve upon their general welfare.
7. Environment One important asset we have taken for granted and failed to make good use of is the environment. Let us start from the Kotoka International Airport, the gateway to Ghana, the country we always claimed to be the gateway to West Africa. The whole front view of the airport is bushy, sanitary conditions in and around the airport is so appalling. It is so amazing that in the 21st century, cleaners at the Kotoka airport still use short brooms and primitive tools to clean the yet airport yet this is the first call of any investor to Ghana. The sight of Accra city is disgusting. Filth everywhere open and choked gutters no proper drainage system, no toilet facilities, no taps running, roads constructed without any regard to the people with disabilities and the pedestrian, mosquitoes breeding all over, no proper waste system in place and unreliable power supply.
My visit to the ministries and other public offices leaves me at a lost as to whether we are serious as a nation. Filthy toilets with no toilet rolls and paper towels, broken furniture, dirty walls and many more disgusting sights that leaves one wondering whether there are people responsible for such offices. I believe these ministries and public offices are in this state because of lack of funds. I also believe that the modernisation of the capital has become a mere word on paper because of lack of funds. Personally, I think we should use this money required for the implementation of the new bill to improve upon our environment and to fix the basic facilities in these public offices.
We have no statistics on Ghanaians living outside this country so what criteria are we going to use to determine who is eligible to register and vote outside this country? Where are we going to use as polling stations and who is going to supervise these elections? Are the political parties going to recruit and send their polling agents all over the globe to supervise the conduct of registration and voting and who is going to fund this? Which court in these countries outside Ghana has the right to determine cases of electoral malpractices and will the rulings of these courts supersede the rulings of the courts of Ghana? Have we looked at the scenario where those living in Ghana have voted, and by results declared here expected a particular person to win and all of a sudden Diaspora votes were brought in to change the final results? Would this not be a good recipe for chaos and a threat to our young democracy? We can go on and on with many more of these real issues that this little piece cannot contain and we can never find any immediate answers. This is why I think Ghana as a country is just not ready to even consider organising elections outside this country.
Ghanaians abroad can for example ask government to help us so we can assist in the building of this nation in many other ways. For example, the exorbitant taxes we currently pay on cars, hospital equipments, computers, etc that we bring into this country for the benefit of the public should be reduced and in some cases waived. Asking the suffering Ghanaian taxpayer whose living condition is so appalling to fund Diaspora elections now, I personally think is way too much a demand. I hope the powers that be are listening and would switch this debate now to more real issues.
God Save Our Motherland. Charles N. Nkansah Montreal, OC Canada. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.