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07.02.2006 Feature Article

Will The NDC Ever Give In To Reason ...

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...On The Representation Of The Peoples Amendment Bill (ROPAB)? Ghana's Constitution in Article 42, gives all Ghanaians aged 18 and above and of sound mind, the right to register for the purpose of voting in elections and referenda. There are no additional qualifications. Any reasonable Ghanaian, including the National Democratic Congress (NDC) would agree that extending democratic rights to her citizens in the Diaspora would not only show a good sign of Ghana's embrace of true democracy but also that will or could yield the nation some sound economic benefits.

The Electoral Commission manages the elections of Ghana by means of another document called PNDC Law 284 entitled - Representation of the People Law, 1992. The link between the Constitution and PNDCL 284 is that the Constitution of Ghana, in citing the laws of the country says that it includes “the existing law.” Here is where the problem begins. First section 7 (1) (c) of PNDCL 284 says that a Ghanaian qualifies to vote if “he is a resident of the polling Division” Section 7 (4) of the same document, states that “a person shall not be deemed to be a resident in a polling division if he has been absent from his place of abode for a continuous period of six months.” By practical definition of PNDC Law 284 in order for someone who generally lives abroad to register at Ghana, that person would have to abandon work and come to live in Ghana for six months. However, other groups of persons like the relatives and employees of Ghana Missions abroad are exempt. This section PNDCL 284 alone is worth amending because it has led to a situation where for four elections, thousands of people, if not millions of Ghanaians have violated the law without knowing it including members of Parliament as argued by the DVC. On this principle alone, we may question the legality of Ghana's past four elections. Does PNDCL 284 need to be amended to forestall a future constitutional and election crisis? You bet it does.

In his opening statement in the second hearing on the ROPAB the opposition had this to say: “Mr. Speaker, I rise to vehemently oppose the motion for the second reading of the Representation of the People's Amendment Bill. Mr. Speaker we on this side of the house are resolutely opposed to this bill.” This author finds the Minority Leader's Statement to Parliament mind boggling and a suspect. Then he went on to say, “Our opposition to the bill is motivated by several factors.” Several factors indeed! And these he should have added include the statement that “those the P/NDC had wanted to eliminate fled to the Diaspora and may now payback in kind so please spare our lives.” This author thinks Ghanaians in the Diaspora are more sensible to embrace peace like Kufour is vigorously pursuing than to think of revenge since a country is not built on hatred.

Is it not ironic that the NDC use these words- “Our love for our country's peace, security and political stability and more importantly our commitment to the sustenance of multi-party Constitutional Democracy in Ghana” as the basis for opposing the bill? NDC's statement that “The bill has a potential for political friction and even possibly conflict” is only an expression of the fears or wishes of the NDC which has no basis. What does the Minority leader mean by “NPP Government wants to ram this bill down the throats of Ghanaians” when they say they won't debate? This bill has been around for over a year and every attempt to discuss it meets the hooligan isle of the opposition. If I may ask the NDC, how does enforcing a provision in the Constitution carry “seeds of chaos that could undermine the constitutional democracy?” As it is being falsely articulated by the NDC? And does the NDC understand what democracy and rule of law is about which they claim to have so carefully built and nurtured over the last 13 years when they refuse to debate a bill on the table?

Unfortunately the opposition would not like to debate this because they know very well that it is the right thing to do and they don't have any better reasons to counteract the arguments to glorify their Godfather, J.J. The saying goes if you cannot win a fight avoid it. Hence they resort to chaos and confusion in order to scare the people. It is very clear that the NDC, despite their intellectual pool would not or cannot speak their mind safe to promote the wishes of the father of the Party. Just to make his point, please permit this author to quote one of the NDC party faithfuls. In an interview with Takoradi's number one radio station, Goodnews Fm, Ahwoi said the relationship between the current president and his predecessor, Rawlings was very cordial until those who fled the country as a result of the PNDC rule returned to join the current government and started feeding Kufuor with what he described as bogus information. He noted that the present security coordinator was in exile for nearly 20years so naturally he would not allow peace to exist between Kufuor and the ex president. According to Ahwoi it appeared president Kufuor was being fed with wrong information by his security apparatus hence the strain relationship between him and Rawlings including blunders being caused by his government (Chronicle, 15 November 2004).

It is therefore clear that the NDC by the dictation of Rawlings would hesitate to extend voting rights to Ghanaians in the Diaspora because by doing so you give them legitimate power as citizens of Ghana. In fact we can even speculate that it was based on this fear that the controversial clause was added. Is it not strange that NDC MPs on the committee including Hon Emmanuel Kwasi Bondua, Hon Kenneth Dzirasah, Hon Francis Aggrey Agbotse, Hon John K. Gyapong, Hon Benjamin Kumbuor and Hon Alfred Kwame Agbesi have vowed not to take part in the debates? I bet this is the decision handed down to them by J.J. Rawlings. While many sections of the public endorsed the amendment, it is only reasonable to suspect the intentions and motives of NDC elements who object to the bill. We cannot be deceived any longer by their argument that Ghana, in its present position cannot garner the required logistics to undertake the extension of the franchise of its citizens outside.

Many prominent members of NDC have warned that Ghana is headed for civil war if the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) dares to misuse its superior number in Parliament to railroad the Representation of the People's (Amendment) Bill into law. According to General News of Thursday, 21 July 2005 the former National Chairman of the NDC, Dr. Obed Yao Asamoah, hinted a possible unnecessary provocation and upheaval if the government rushes to pass the People's Representation Amendment Bill into law. In his statement he said,

"I am afraid that rushing to amend the bill would create unnecessary provocation in the atmosphere. Let us do more talk in the thinking rather than pushing for it without considering its implications which are likely to create tension and unnecessary provocations in the country. The government should create the atmosphere of slowing down the process. Nobody is out there just to kick against the government, there are serious issues for considerations. They (NPP) always believe in granting rights to Ghanaians outside to vote but I suspect that they may be jittery, or perhaps, it was out of a conviction they have held for sometime" (Chronicle).

The then NDC chairman averred that the NDC, as a party, was not opposed to the rights of Ghanaians outside to vote as is now being canvassed across the nation, but maintained that every law in every country has its ramifications. The then NDC chairman also added that he does not believe in a referendum if the nation could build a consensus with respect to the amendment yet this NDC walked out in Parliament and refused to deliberate when asked to discuss the bill. According to Ghana Politics News of Monday, 18 July 2005 carried by the Daily Guide, NDC activists and thugs from the Asawase Constituency, nearly turned the Prempeh Assembly Hall, in Kumasi, upside down, when they enacted what looked like “a well-rehearsed drill” to halt proceedings of the on-going national forum on the proposed amendment to the People's Representation Bill, as the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Constitutional Matters, pitched camp in the Ashanti regional capital in the previous week of the same month. A chaotic scene unfolded as the thugs and activists, majority of whom were ferried to the venue from the Asawase Constituency, fought over microphones, during question and comment time. According to the Daily Guide the Deputy Ashanti Regional Secretary of NDC, Mr. Joe Tamakloe, and others were spotted by their reporter, violently and rudely struggling to have access to the two microphones mounted for the public to make their contributions, and to ask questions, a situation which nearly marred the proceedings.

“The visible obsession with halting the proceedings by the thugs, and the tension generated by the verbal exchanges between them and New Patriotic Party (NPP) elements, prompted the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Osei Prempeh, who is also the Member of Parliament for Nsuta Kwamang Constituency, to call for Police/Military reinforcement, to contain the unfolding nasty situation. Following the refusal of the contributor to withdraw the comment, when prevailed upon by NDC, a former cadre of the PNDC, and currently, a member of staff of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Nurudin Bawa, stormed the podium, declaring the forum ended. To this end, before the commencement, NDC “thugs” stormed the premises of the Tohazie Hotel, on their motorbikes and bicycles, preventing people, suspected of not being their member and sympathizers, from entering (DAILY GUIDE).

In his statement the Minority Leader also had this to say for opposing the bill. “Mr. Speaker, there is the vexed question of “who is a Ghanaian citizen” for the purposes of the overseas Ghanaian voter registration exercise?” Such innuendos must not be entertained in the minds of reasonable Ghanaians. Don't we know and can't we tell who a Ghanaian is from the passports issued by the Republic of Ghana? Please do not speak as if people just get up and travel overseas. This argument is so flimsy. Surely Ghana as a nation has issues to resolve such as providing its citizens with identification cards and non-compromised passports. None of these though, do away with extending the right to vote; rather they should accelerate modern solutions. Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Do those who speak like this Minority Leader know the reasons behind fingerprints? Can't the government of Ghana afford fingerprint machines? Then let the Diaspora bear the cost or stay home. Or does the NDC object to the use of technology? This author thinks the NDC is just afraid of her own shadows. Let us drop the fear factor and find real solutions to the issues. Unfortunately these threats underscore what the NDC is up to. The NDC of late has demonstrated that it is a party of chaos and confusion and they cannot wait to play their game on Ghanaians when the bill is passed.

Fellow Ghanaians let us not be moved by these threats. The embedded reason that fuels their own fear is an admission that they played no small part in the exodus of massive numbers of Ghanaians to run from the familiarity of their country for other lands. Yes and we are always being compelled to admit that this is the party that has no room for reasoning and debate. Rawlings and Atta Mills have repeatedly spoken about war and revenge. We must wonder why. This is the party whose hierarchy sanctioned the beating and abuse of her woman national organizer; this is the party that tells other executives who disagree with Rawlings, the father of the party 'to pray for their souls.” This is the party which though in opposition is threatening to send the incumbent into jail/Nsawam. This is he party that believes in the philosophy of June 4th when men and women were beating to death for having worked so hard to save over 50,000 cedis in cash etc. Anytime the NDC hierarchy speaks it is about war. Why? What is wrong with NDC? Or is it true that they are looking for means to use the guns and ammunitions alleged to have been missing/hoarded elsewhere shortly before the 2000 elections? NDC, please give us a break! We cannot build a country on fear. Let us respect and cherish the peace Kufour's NPP has given Ghana as a legacy (of his time in office). Rawlings should allow all Ghanaians the same peace and freedom he is enjoying in Ghana for he should note that he is no better Ghanaian than anyone of us. We love him and respect him as Ghana's long reigning Head of State and he should also give us the chance to enjoy the peace and freedom on our own land. If the NDC has issues they should use the courts and stop fomenting chaos and confusion. We are not ignorant of the fact that a visionless government thrives well under confusion to cover up its inefficiencies. After 19 years in the art of governing NDC should know better than this. Or does the NDC wish to tell us that military adventurism rule by fear and plunder; and utter collapse of socio-economic structures and that they are the seed thereof?

Kwamena Ahwoi, a prominent member of NDC has argued that extending voting rights to Ghanaians abroad has no legal significance and. that this is absolutely unnecessary from the legal point of view since apart from the residence requirement, nothing prevents any overseas Ghanaian from registering and voting in Ghana. He argues that the only impediments may be cost and convenience, but these are not legal impediments for which a law is required. Besides, the people of Ghana as taxpayers also put themselves to cost and inconvenience in providing facilities for the registration of overseas Ghanaians at their overseas places of residence.

The summary of Ahwoi's argument is provided below:

Overseas Ghanaians have the privilege to register or not to register to vote in elections; Once an overseas Ghanaian decides to register, he has a claim-right that he be not prevented from doing so, and puts the Electoral Commission under a duty not to prevent him from registering; To the extent that overseas Ghanaians can travel to register in Ghana, no claim-right of theirs is infringed. In other words, no claim-right of overseas Ghanaians is breached by the present arrangement that restricts registration to Ghana's territory; The cost and inconvenience to overseas Ghanaians who may wish to travel to Ghana to register do not constitute a legal barrier which can be enforced in court. The issue is, if intelligent NDC people like Ahwoi admits that the requirement of residence in a polling division before qualifying to register cannot be met by overseas Ghanaians and therefore constitutes a legal impediment to their ability to register and vote why would he and the NDC not accept that this is a bad clause and hence needs to be amended? [MONEY]…It must be reiterated that the President of Ghana, J.J. Rawlings under whose government Ahwoi served affirmed/expressed to President Clinton of the United States the need to pass such bill. In fact Rawlings even agreed that it was in the interest of Ghana to do so. Was it just for the NDC to gain face in the international forum then that it believed in democracy? If it were not for the fear of revenge from the Diaspora which is made up mainly of persons then harassed by the P/NDC regime then how can the same party which is now the opposition attack the same idea they so welcomed tooth and nail when it was in power?

A similar fear of Obed Asamoah and those who oppose the bill vehemently was expressed in the Case Brown vs. the Board of Education (S.C) which eventually ended in abolition of the segregation law in the USA and also fostered the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. Such fears as expressed by the NDC and opposers of the bill are paranoid and simply out of reasoning. At best it is self-centered not nation-centered. “It is only when you are unable to articulate your own fears that one will threaten rather than debate and God forbid be swayed by reason. As we come close to the finishing line, we must unmask the not-so hidden fears that those same people who were the proponents of ROBAB in 1996 are hiding behind to sabotage its passage ten years later”(Kofi Boateng, New York City – and the Diaspora Vote Committee).

So far the reasons giving to oppose the bill sound flimsy. The government, EC has time and many better avenues to solve the issues raised by the opposition than resulting into unnecessary riots. Numerous suggestions of addressing these issues abound. The EC had three years to address this issue and if they had no way of tackling this, the Electoral Commissioner would have said so. The Embassies of Ghana abroad, for example, can easily collaborate with the respective nations for a count of Ghanaians and their respective ages abroad. On the question of finance, a fee to register by citizens abroad has been suggested by the Ghanaians in Diaspora to defray the cost. It is an inferior tactics to spread rumors of war and confusion if one cannot genuinely debate issues and this is exactly what the NDC hierarchy is trying to do. The funny thing about those who are opposing the bill is each of these organizations or individuals also maintain that they are not opposed to Article 42 of the Constitution, neither are they opposed to Ghanaians resident outside Ghana to register and vote. However, they show no interest in finding solutions to their doubts and fears to make this a possibility. So what is their point here? Their motives therefore sound questionable, to say the least. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Okyere Bonna & Bless Berchie
Okyere Bonna & Bless Berchie, © 2006

The author has 33 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: OkyereBonnaBlessBerchie

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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