I am writing to add my support to passage and enactment of the Representation of the People Amendment Bill (ROPAB). I am also writing to express my disappointment in the tone of the debate surrounding this Bill. My concern reached the breaking point with the language of the statements issued on Tuesday, January 24, 2006 by the political parties opposed to the passage of this bill.
Simply stated, this bill, when enacted into law, will enable Ghanaian citizens like myself, to cast a ballot in national elections from our resident places outside of the country. Now what is so subversive about this? Why are some political leaders so adamantly opposed to the idea of allowing us Diasporan Ghanaians to participate actively in the running of the affairs of our dear country? Why would any serious political leaders say that they would make implementation of the bill, if passed, “impossible and resort to all constitutional and legitimate means to halt” it? The group of parties opposing the parties has issued a “warning” and a threat of “chaos and instability” that would follow the passage of the bill. One of the “leaders” characterized ROPAB as a bill that would “destroy the nation.” Why would sensible Ghanaians resort to chaos and destabilization of their democratic system of governance because their fellow citizens living outside the country were given their constitutional right to vote? Ghana would be destroyed because I cast a vote in the U.S.? The language of the opposition to this bill has deteriorated into polemics and plain irresponsibility.
I have not read ONE cogent argument that supports the denial of Ghanaians living abroad their right to vote, a right enshrined in the constitution of the country. All the opposing arguments seem to be related to the assumption that the ruling NPP would somehow subvert the external electioneering process to its benefit. And, that the Diasporan vote will be used fraudulently to favor the ruling party. There are absolutely no data to support these dire predictions. I am disappointed and frankly offended by the suggestion that merely giving me and my fellow Ghanaians abroad the right to participate in the political affairs of our country would lead to chaos. We Diasporan Ghanaians are not all members of any ONE political party. In fact, most of us are not registered members of any political party. I have certainly never felt that most of the Diasporan Ghanaians who participate loudly in political debate on issues related to our country are of the same political persuasion. We are just as varied in our opinions as Ghanaians at home. Do our leaders in Ghana believe that we will stand silently by and allow our votes to be counted and assigned fraudulently to any ruling party? Do those opposing the passage of ROPAB underestimate the political sophistication and understanding of democratic principles possessed by Diasporan Ghanaians? I submit that the majority of Diasporan Ghanaians have a greater respect for democracy, the ballot box, individual expression of political thought, human and constitutional rights, and civil liberties than most of our brothers and sisters living at home. It is simply ludicrous for anyone opposing the passage of ROPAB to assume that the NPP would automatically be the beneficiary of the Diasporan vote. Whichever political party attracts the highest share of the Diasporan vote would do so because in the judgment of the voters, that party deserved their votes.
What is the basis for the concern about the voting process? To the best of my knowledge, the ROPAB bill has not spelled out any specific process for Diasporan voter registration, casting and tabulation of the ballots, transmission of the data to the Electoral Commission, and announcement of results. The bill wisely leaves these procedures to the Electoral Commission to develop. The Electoral Commission, to its credit as acknowledged by international observers, has overseen successfully four consecutive “free and fair” elections in Ghana. It did so under the NDC government and it has done it under the NPP. Why can the Commission not be trusted to develop the means to translate the ROPAB bill into a “free and fair” process. Here, I submit that there are greater opportunities to conduct free polling in many of the advanced democracies where most Diasporan Ghanaians reside than there are in many parts of Ghana. While the Ghana diplomatic missions abroad will have to be involved in the authorization and funding of the electioneering process, there should be no prohibition against the use of independent polling agencies that can develop the secure means of registration and ballot casting that can stand the test of scrutiny by international observers. Speaking as one believer in democracy, fairness and justice, I would refuse to cast my vote from the U.S. until I am satisfied that my vote would be secure, secret, properly counted and assigned, and properly reported to the Electoral Commission in Ghana. If I am not satisfied with the integrity of the procedures, I will publicly denounce the process. I am sure I am speaking for many of my fellow Diasporan Ghanaians.
Do we Ghanaians living abroad deserve to exercise our right to vote? Of course, yes. We are citizens of Ghana, and our constitution guarantees us the right to vote. Ghanaians live outside of the country for many different reasons. Whatever their reasons for living abroad may be, Diasporan Ghanaians have no less legitimate claim to their citizenship than those who walk on the soil of Ghana everyday. While we may not contribute as much to the development of our country on a daily basis, we may also not contribute as much to the deterioration of our country. We are not second-class citizens by any definition. We should not apologize for living abroad. In fact, if we all plan and work together, our country should continue to benefit greatly from the human and material resources that Diasporan Ghanaians can bring to bear on the development of our country. Many of us participate in the famous formal and informal “monetary remittances” program that has become the major source of foreign exchange earnings for our country. Whether made on a personal or institutional level, these remittances spare our national budget and assist our fellow citizens with their daily sustenance. Many of us have talents that can assist our country in its development. We should find ways to harness those talents by bringing all our people together as we seek solutions to our many problems. We should not embark on political rhetoric that results only in turning our people away from their own country. If our country is willing to receive our remittances and other contributions, our country should expect us to have a voice in what is done with those resources.
Who should pay for the cost of the Diasporan vote? Opinions may vary, but I believe that most of that cost should be born by Diasporan Ghanaians. Like most Ghanaians living in Ghana, Diasporan Ghanaians do not routinely pay income tax to Ghana. But we do make some official contributions. We pay inflated duties on cars and other goods we send home and higher fees for passports than our people at home. One day, Ghana may find a way to ask for income tax from its Diasporan citizens. I would not be opposed to such tax. But if we make all these payments and also send all these remittances, do we not deserve representation? As a first step, our vote would be our representation. This is a matter of principle not partisan political skirmish. I believe that if we in the Diaspora want to vote, we should pay for the cost of the process that will enable us to vote. I would be in favor of a Diasporan voter registration fee that may be much higher than any similar fees paid by citizens at home. Our vote will not be more expensive, just more secure.
A final word on the silence of Diasporan Ghanaians. Often, the attitude towards Ghanaians abroad is negative and patronizing. We are often treated as if we have escaped from a burning house without caring to find water to help put out the fire. Sometimes, we are made to feel as if the only good we can do is to send money home. We quietly watch our country recruit foreigners to perform tasks at home that we can perform better. We quietly watch our country seek advice from others and not from us even on matters where we have more relevant and culturally appropriate expertise. On the other hand, we also quietly observe the mismanagement and corruption that infests government and institutional operations and wonder whether the resources we bring home are properly managed. We quietly read about the lack of accountability for the management of funds provided for national development by the World Bank and other donors. We also quietly observe the mockery of democracy, the intimidation, and suppression of dissent practiced by some of our political leaders. Our collective silence may have been taken as a sign of disinterest in the political affairs of our country. I believe that would be a miscalculation. The October 2005 visit of the thirteen-member delegation of the Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC) to press the issue in Ghana should serve as a sign that we do not intend to remain silent. Whether we get to vote or not, there is absolutely no reason why we should hesitate in marshalling our resources to influence more actively the political process at home. Our participation in the debate over the passage of ROPAB should serve as the first sign of our political awakening.
We will use our considerable collective resources to encourage democracy, fairness, and justice at home. We will stand up against waste, corruption, political repression, and any politicians who threaten the stability of our country. We have our own political interests and we will organize to promote those interests. Professor Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, MD January 28, 2006 Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.