17.02.2006 Feature Article

Letter From The President: ROPAB Brouhaha

Letter From The President: ROPAB Brouhaha
17.02.2006 LISTEN

Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, the last few days have been quite an eventful one for me. I delivered that boring, uninspiring state of the nation address (you can call it the state of VALCO address) and answered questions at a people's assembly in Cape Coast. Sometimes, my brightness amazes me. The idea to stage the people's assembly outside of Accra was a masterpiece, wasn't it? You should thank God that you have a president who comes up with such bright ideas once in a (long) while.

During the delivery of the sessional address and at the people's assembly in Cape Coast the dominant issue was the representation of the people's amendment bill (aka ROPAB). This bill is supposed to make it possible for Sikaman citizens abroad to vote in future elections. I have already written about this issue but I think that on the basis of the current debate, my views will bear repeating albeit with some slight modifications. I have made it clear that I think that this bill ought to be passed into law as soon as possible. We might not be ready for its implementation but it is good to have the law passed. That's one. Secondly, I think that the right to vote is central to the concept of citizenship and for that matter every citizen of Sikaman (whether in Chechnya, Bhutan or Iceland) should be allowed to exercise their franchise. All civilized country's the world over have made it possible for their citizens who reside outside of their territories to vote. Why can't we do the same? Afghanistan is one of the poorest, most traumatized and ill-governed countries on earth. Yet, in their recent elections Afghans in different parts of the world were able to vote and have their voices heard.

When the bill was first suggested in 2004 everyone cried foul. The argument at the time was that I was trying to shore up my votes to ensure that I won a second term in office. Suggesting the passage of the bill in 2004 was indeed a silly idea and when government came to this realization, we withdrew it from parliament. When the bill was sent back to parliament last year, opponents brought forth a new set of arguments – one of the dumbest being that citizens abroad do not pay taxes. In my last letter on this subject, I made it clear that our brethren (and sistren) abroad contribute immensely to the economic development of our country. Their remittances constitute a major source of foreign exchange revenue. We can't hide from that fact. So anyone who argues that they cannot exercise their right to vote on the basis of their failure to pay taxes is at best refusing to put his or her brain to proper use. In any case, who says that all those citizens who voted in the last elections have been paying taxes? Furthermore, the right to vote is not tied in anyway to the payment of taxes. In other words, our constitution does not say that only those who pay taxes should enjoy the right to vote. Therefore, the argument that those abroad cannot vote because they do not pay taxes also falls flat. It has no basis in law, fact and common sense.

Now that the bill is in parliament for a second reading (a very important step towards passage) opponents of the government have become desperate and they have resorted to threats and intimidation. They are threatening that our country will be thrown into chaos if we go ahead with the passage of the bill. I can't help but think that they have already made plans to visit mayhem on our country (for any reason and at any cost). Otherwise, I don't see how a simple law, which makes it possible for our citizens to enjoy their rights, should throw the nation into confusion.

I think that those (like the minority leader) who are threatening mayhem if the bill is passed are being very irresponsible and stupid. Bills are supposed to be debated before they are passed. The minority leader should sit down and debate the bill and make sure that it his voice (and that of the NDC minority) is heard. Refusing to participate in the due parliamentary process and rather standing on the sidelines to threaten fire and brimstone is the last thing I expect of a supposedly responsible and forward-looking opposition figure like Binbag. The NDC minority will definitely not have its way but it can have its say. That's the beauty of democracy. If they have their say and a flawed bill is passed into law, they could say “we told you so” in the future. Their threats are totally unwelcome and uncalled for.

As I said in my sessional address, parliament is the appropriate forum to decide whether we need the bill or not. I know that my delivery created the impression that we are going to do everything possible to ensure that our parliamentary majority passes the bill. That was very silly of me, I concede. It reinforced a certain belief amongst the minority that I was desperate to have this bill passed. It was one of the dumb things I do. My uncompromising posture, I think has pushed opponents of the bill to take even more entrenched positions and I deeply regret that. For this reason, I think we need to “take a break” from this bill. Let's put the bill aside for the time being and invest a little more time and effort in building a consensus. This should eventually bring us all to an understanding that it is in the supreme interest of our nation to pass this bill. At the end of the day, the object of this bill is to unite us by making it possible for our citizens abroad to participate more in the governance of Sikaman. What would we have achieved if we pass a law that divides us instead of uniting us? So let's take a break and talk a little more. However, I must say that we will not allow the lack of consensus to stop us from doing the right thing. If at the end of a predetermined period, the minority insists that the bill should be shelved indefinitely, we will ignore them and do what we consider to be in the best interest of our country. If they go ahead with their threats to visit mayhem on our country, we will make sure that the laws of the land deal with them accordingly.

Excellently yours,

J. A. Fukuor [email protected]