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19.02.2006 Feature Article

ROPAB – Much Wahala About Nothing

ROPAB – Much Wahala About Nothing
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Representation Of The People (Amendment) Bill (ROPAB) – Much Wahala About Nothing The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill has been one of the most hotly discussed Bills in recent political history and has perhaps attracted the most polarized viewpoints among Ghanaians both home and abroad. This short Bill was introduced by the government to parliament a year ago and has been widely published through world wide consultation yet it has been the most dividing bill in Parliament in recent memory. The question is what is it about this piece of legislation that continues to attract this amount of controversy.

Let's look at the background to this Bill. Prior to the 1969 Constitution Ghanaians abroad, official or non-official had never been allowed to vote in any national elections. The 1969 Constitution sought to rectify this by including a clause that enabled a category of Ghanaians to vote while serving abroad.

During the 1992 Constituent Assembly which gave birth to the 4th Republican Constitution, a debate was raised to make it explicit for all Ghanaians home and abroad to have the right to vote. The outcome of the debate was Article 42 of the Constitution which stated that “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.”

The Constitution was approved and promulgated in April 1992 after a referendum. In July 1992, the PNDC government introduced a Representation of the People Law (PNDCL 284). The law imposed a geographical and residential limitation on the right to vote. Section 7 of PNDCL 284 states: “a person shall not be deemed to be resident in a polling station if she has been absent from her place of abode for a continuous period of six months ending on the qualifying date”.

Simply interpreted section 7 meant that Maame Araba Aidoo, a well known queen at Essikado market, who had to visit her daughter in Accra for medical care for seven month, could not register to vote at Sekondi when she returned because “she has been absent from her place of abode for a continuous period of six months ending on the qualifying date she has been absent from her place of abode for a continuous period of six months ending on the qualifying date”.

This section became a matter of a Supreme Court decision in Tehn Addy Vrs Electoral Commission in 1996 where it was declared unconstitutional in so far as it contravened Article 42 of the Constitution. However this law and indeed this section 7 has continued to sit in our law books.

Section 8 of PNDCL 284 also gave an exemption for a certain category of Ghanaians abroad to enjoy the right to vote. Section 8 provides Ghanaian citizens employed in the service of the Republic or in the service of the United Nations, or of any other international organization could register and vote.

The collective effect of PNDCL 284 was to limit the unqualified provision of Article 42 and disenfranchise a number of Ghanaians both home and abroad.

The Representation of the Peoples (Amendment) Bill is the basis of an amendment Act of expediency by a parliament which was not prepared to challenge but “do” what the framers of PNDCL 284 said “don't” for the benefit of Ghanaians resident abroad.

The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2005 is very clear in its intention. It amends Section 8 of PNDCL 284 with a clear language to the effect that “a person who is a citizen of Ghana resident outside the Republic is entitled to be registered as a voter if the person satisfies the requirements for registration prescribed by law other than those relating to residence in the polling division.” What this roundabout Bill is seeking to do is to reinstate Article 42.

It goes further under Section 8(2) to enhance Article 45 on the role of the Electoral Commission when it state that “The Commission may appoint the head of a Ghana Mission or Embassy abroad or any other person or institution designated in writing by the Commission as a registration officer to register a person to be a voter for an election”. What the Act does not do sadly is to make it go far enough to set time limit.

The NPP, CPP and PNC members of The Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee have toured the whole country to consult and solicit viewpoints from the electorate. This tour and debate was boycotted by the NDC whose opposition is not in principle against the legality of enfranchising the Ghanaians in the Diaspora but the modalities of its implementation.

The Committee has also toured Europe (UK, Netherlands, Germany and Italy) and Africa (Togo, Nigeria).

Are there any precedents in what the ROPA is trying to achieve? The answer is yes. Citizens of Niger [1993], Mali, Senegal, South Africa, and Eritrea can vote in Diaspora. In the case of Eritrea, citizens abroad can stand for elections.

In conclusion I have a message to the skeptics who argue against the cost and feasibility. The answer to their question simply lies in the fact that the law is merely facilitating our rights. Our rights are non- negotiable. When the legal framework for our rights have been put in place, any Ghanaian who does not feel it is right or feasible to exercise it could forgo that right.

Again Article 45 gives the Electoral Commission mandate to work out implementation strategies. It is not for parliament to worry about that. The Representation of the Peoples Bill need not worry itself about the technicalities of implementation. Their duty is to put together the legal framework. If the NDC have any suggestions for an amendment, the forum is not the radio station, it is in the Parliament and I challenge any NDC members against the Bill to use their members in parliament to challenge the Bill in parliament when it next comes for final debate later this month. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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