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27.02.2006 Feature Article

Letter To Government And All Members Of Parliament

Letter To Government And All Members Of Parliament
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Dear honourable country fellows, REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE'S AMENDMENT BILL (ROPAB): THE SOLUTION TO THE WORST CASE SCENARIO I pen you this letter as one of your humble countrymen who is concerned about the way ROPAB is being approached. In this letter I have come up with the solution to the worst case scenario: if upon the public outcry ROPAB is passed and is to be implemented.

The Representation of the People's Amendment Bill (ROPAB):

It is a good idea that we, as a nation, are trying to inject a new political concept into our democratic system that would enfranchise citizens of our nation living in the Diaspora to have a say in the electoral process of choosing our future leaders in general elections. This phenomenon is good for the development of our democracy if implemented at the right time and done properly. The introduction of the concept would enhance the evolution of the democratic dispensation in Ghana and bring Diasporians closer to their brethren at home. The ROPAB is a good concept, but if its implementation is ill-timed it could turn out to be a bad concept and could defeat the purpose of its implementation and therefore could reverse all the democratic achievements banked in the last fourteen years.

I have some serious concerns about the timing of its implementation and the level of preparedness we have put in place for it to be effective, fair, and transparent and to serve the purpose for its introduction. Western Europe and America introduced the concept of Diasporian balloting at a later stage in their democratic life, not at the infancy of their democracy. They allowed their democracy to bear strong roots and mature before they went across their borders to implement the concept.

The difference between the democracy of those developed countries and Ghana's is that our renewed democracy is still in its infancy-growth phase, reborn in as recent as 1992, whereas democracy in those countries has been around for over fifty years, and in some cases, over two hundred years now. Besides, the democratically developed nations are well advanced in Information Communication Technology (ICT). They have well developed births & deaths registration/recording and Identification systems with every known citizen/resident assigned a unique social security number. They also have adequate logistical, ICT, and other ancillary substructures to support efficient implementation of Diasporian elections processes. Because these countries have put in place electoral systems, effective identification mechanisms and infrastructures it is often difficult to have instances of misidentification, multiple identifications, vote rigging, multiple balloting by individuals, elections fraud, and other electoral malpractices.

Factually, ROPAB could open the doors for electoral abuse and misuse, which would defeat the purpose for which it was implemented in the first place. If not well structured, controlled and monitored there could be massive rigging and inflation/deflation of Diasporian ballots by any incumbent government. Also, it is possible for some Diasporians to vote in their country of domicile abroad and then travel home to vote again using either the same name or a different name owing to the underdeveloped ICT infrastructure and Identification system we have today. In the Western countries, Diasporian balloting normally takes place days or weeks before the local residents cast their votes. This timing difference arrangement could open up the possibility for multiple voting by dishonest Diasporians, given the unreliable and inefficient identification system we have now. For instance, a Ghanaian could easily vote in a given Diasporian polling station in Lome, Togo, and then rush to say, Accra to cast another vote. Actions like that are highly possible to occur due to the poor identification system we have in place now.

As a country attempting to solidify our democracy, I think we should, first of all, get our electoral structures and systems straightened up first to forestall such abuse and misuse, before actually implementing the ROPAB. This means that we have to plan well and develop the necessary infrastructures and systems to support the concept. This kind of preparation takes years and lots of financial resources. Do we have the financial resources to embark on this kind of political venture, especially at a time when we have classified ourselves as a hungry and a beggar nation undergoing HIPCism ?

ROPAB is a good concept, but this is not the right moment in our democratic life cycle to effectuate the concept. In order for Ghana to succeed at implementing ROPAB, I suggest the following Approach and Solution:

1. Ghana should, first of all, try to improve on the democratic and electoral structures at home before trying to internationalize. Our structures at home are still flawed and pregnant with gaps and inefficiencies. During election 2004 for instance, there were instances where some constituencies did not receive enough ballots and others where ballots were reported missing after voting had taken place. Multiple voting by individuals is still prevalent in our current system, to mention a few. The controversy surrounding the Mion constituency (in the Dagomba Traditional Area) election results are still fresh in our minds as it is being challenged at the courts of law as I write today. These are just a few of the numerous punctures in our electoral structures. As a developing democracy we should work at improving the domestic infrastructures to an acceptable standard and eliminate the numerous setbacks before looking beyond our borders for votes. It is still vivid in our minds what happened in Florida, United States, in their 2000 elections. It was a failure of just one of their numerous, workable electoral infrastructures (punch-cards). And the United States is well developed in terms of ICT, and also happens to be one of the oldest democracies in the world. The failure of the punch-cards created confusion and anxiety in the United States, but no bloodshed. There was no bloodletting because the United States is democratically seasoned enough (over two centuries of democracy) to contain such occurrences and to accept the United States Supreme Court's ruling on which party and candidate the Florida elections victory should go to. Can you imagine what would happen in Ghana if a similar incident were to happen in election 2008? Worse still, can you imagine what would happen in Ghana if the Diasporian ballot were to be the decider of who wins or loses the national elections in 2008? Because our democracy is still in its infancy, I can imagine the level of intolerance that would descend on the nation. I'd explain the rationale behind this imagination in the subsequent section. Due to the costs and preparations involved, the implementation of ROPAB before the 2016 elections should be ruled out completely. The EC should be informed accordingly, that, in order not to create confusion and to conduct a mediocre diasporian election, the concept should be implemented not earlier than 2016.

2. If we want to go ahead and implement ROPAB at all cost and purely on the basis of the fundamental principle of democracy which says that “majority carries the vote,” and against what everyone else says, then we should begin by testing the concept in a Pilot Scheme first before finally implementing it fully. The Bill, if to be passed, should stipulate that the concept will be tested in a pilot scheme first to see how fair, transparent, and successful it would be before a broad implementation. Due to the undeniable fact that we are not democratically mature enough and still lack developed ICT and identification systems, I suggest that we conduct a small scale Diasporian elections to test how fair, transparent, and effective the process would be. Further, carrying out a Pilot Diasporian balloting would enable us estimate the costs involved in implementing the process world-wide and how to meet the cost. For instance, Switzerland could be used as the country to carry out the Pilot Scheme. Since Ghana does not have any experience in conducting elections outside of the country on a large scale I suggest that we call on the United Nations (UN) to play the leading role in conducting the Diasporian elections' Pilot Scheme. The rationale behind the United Nations' involvement is two fold: (a) because the United Nations has abundant experience in conducting, coordinating, controlling, monitoring elections at the international level, all of which Ghana hasn't, and (b) to give legitimacy and credibility to the results of any Diasporian balloting. Results of Diasporian balloting should not become the source of national confusion, mistrust, and acrimony. In other words, the outcome of any Diasporian elections should be complementary to those conducted at home and should facilitate the refinement of our democracy. In that case, Ghanaians resident in Switzerland only could be used to test the system in election 2012. They would register at United Nations (UN) monitors designated centres in Switzerland, under the sole supervision of United Nations elections personnel, and in December 2012, they would return to those designated centres to cast their votes, again, under United Nations supervision. The Ghana mission in Switzerland would work closely with the UN elections representatives to set the process up and to monitor/control it from beginning to end. The role the Ghana mission in Switzerland would play in the Diasporian voter registration and balloting processes is to assist the United Nations representatives to identify individuals who are, or claim to be, Ghanaians and confirm their identity by referring to their birth records at home (in Ghana). The involvement of the United Nations elections personnel is necessary because Ghana missions (consulates) all over the world are headed by members of the incumbent government, and none from the other parties. This partisan arrangement (missions) creates the opportunity for votes rigging on a gross scale to the disadvantage of the other parties and to the detriment of our young democracy. And to leave the outcome of Diasporian balloting to the whims and caprices of any incumbent government would be tantamount to sowing the seeds of chaos in the country. Anything short of the United Nations taking the sole responsibility would result in the Diasporian elections results carrying no credibility or legitimacy, which, in that case, would defeat its purpose and would be a waste of our limited national resources and human effort. If the Pilot Scheme in Switzerland works well and without trouble in election 2012, then we can implement it on a world-wide scale in election 2016. I suggest Switzerland as a convenient country to test the Pilot Scheme because it is one of the few countries that exhibit genuine political neutrality, is democratic, and has a large United Nations presence to help Ghana test this new electoral phenomenon. The European Community could assist Ghana and the UN with financial and logistical support to set the process up for the Diasporian balloting Pilot Scheme.

3. Yet still, if we are very desperate to implement ROPAB in elections 2012 without trying the concept in a Pilot Scheme as suggested above, and want to follow the parliamentary majority view and against the view of all others, then what we could do, as another option, is allow Diasporians to go to certain United Nations (UN) elections personnel designated centres in each country across the world to register as voters and return to those designated centres to cast their votes during the elections. Due to the logistical and financial costs and planning involved in setting up the infrastructure, I think the earliest we could effectively implement the concept would be in election 2016 or later, because it is too late to talk of implementing the ROPAB in elections 2012, given the huge financial and logistical costs involved in setting the structures up. There is simply a lot more involved in the process than we possibly imagine at the moment. I have to point out that the basic principle of democracy, “majority carries the vote,” sometimes permits nations or governments to rush into making premature, wrong, unsuitable, damaging decisions that often turn out to be big mistakes. The majority therefore, sometimes, becomes the fools of democracy because of unreasonable bills they pass against the wisdom of all others. Examples of mistakes made by majority votes (based on democracy) are the now regretted United States invasion of Iraq. A majority of the United States Senate, through a correct democratic process, voted for the war in Iraq in 2003. But today, majority of the same US Senate are against the war in Iraq because they have realized that it was a big democratic mistake made back then, in hind sight, and some of the Senators in President Bush's party are now campaigning against the continued war in Irak. Also in Ghana, our parliament made some mistakes in the past on the basis of the democratic principle of “majority carries the vote.” Some might argue about the correctness or incorrectness of certain decisions made by Parliament on the basis of majority votes in the past; it depends on whom you talk to. To mention a few, majority of parliament voted to implement the privatization of almost all of our national assets and holdings to foreign investors under the NDC and the NPP governments. Also the promulgation of the Bill on the infamous Aliens Compliance Order by majority vote during the Busia regime is another example. It was the beginning of a tit-for-tat expulsion of Ghanaians in other West African countries. All these majority-based laws affected Ghana adversely in one way or the other, though they were made according to the correct democratic procedures. These Parliamentary majority decisions caused Ghana dearly in terms of economic performance. Based on parliamentary majority decisions some countries passed laws to legalize the use of marijuana and other harmful drugs. Such correct democratic decisions may have negative consequences on the society, as it is believed that the use of such substances causes health risks. Hence the Majority in Parliament does not necessarily always make the right or sensible decisions for a country, though the decisions may be made correctly on the basic principle of democracy: “majority carries the vote principle.” ROPAB could be good or bad for Ghana depending on when it is implemented.

I am simply afraid that, once again, our parliament is about to make a decision that may not suit our country at the moment and at this particular stage of our democratic development, as a lot of preparations are required to establish the necessary infrastructure and systems first, before jumping into implementation of the concept. I am sure that Diasporians would not want to see Ghana divide or even slip into anarchy solely because of their right to ballot in their beloved country's elections. They would not like to see blood of their relatives spilt in the name of Diasporian votes. Deep, acrimonious divisions in a country are normally extremely difficult to mend, and this bill is likely to create such a situation in Ghana, if we are not careful.

If no consensus is arrived at and the government wants to go ahead with ROPAB then I suggest that the UN should be the organ to control the Diasporian balloting process until such a time that we are democratically mature enough and confident that the process would be free and fair, and that the tendency to rig the votes or engage in any other elections malpractices is completed eliminated. The Ghana missions (consulates) should work with the UN to implement the concept, if the bill is to be implemented on a worldwide basis. The whole process should be conducted under the leadership and watchful eye of the United Nations elections personnel. Fortunately, the UN has offices in most countries around the world. And those UN offices could be used as centres for this exercise. The Ghana government only has to consult and ask the UN for help in that regard. If asked, I am sure, the UN would willingly and readily assist Ghana in this exercise since it is a step forward in our democratic development process – a step they would appreciate very much and would be willing to help Ghana succeed at.

At the moment, because our democracy is still immature it is rather dangerous and ill-fated for us to force this new process on our democracy via our missions and not through the UN.

There are a thousand-and-one (1001) grounds that qualify our democracy as immature and serve as reason why the UN should play the central role and not the Ghana missions abroad, and here are a few, among many others:

We are still capable and willing to rig or intentionally discard of votes during elections to favour a particular party or candidate, as happened in elections 2004. Until we cease doing so, as a nation, no incumbent government or party can be trusted to take control of Diasporian balloting.

Further, we still have a high propensity to engage in physical clashes because of votes, and this reminds me of the elections clashes in Bawku, Hawa Yakubu's constituency, during which people lost their lives.

In addition, we are still prone to killing and molesting our political enemies, and again, this reminds me of the Tamale murders of Issa Mobilla among others in elections 2004.

Moreso, we still have the tendency and ability to manage false voter registrations and multiple registrations, especially when we still do not have a reliable, computerized identification system that would avoid and detect duplication of registration.

Apart from the above, incumbent governments still protect and defend political figures and party supporters who commit white collar and blue collar crimes against the nation and opposing individuals. For instance, corrupt officials and supporters of the NPP government are allowed to get away with crimes of corruption, assault on opponents, which is a qualification of democratic immaturity. These corrupt officials within the NPP establishment will only be exposed and punished when the NPP party is no longer in power. Until ruling governments desist from shielding criminals within their ranks, no government of the day can be trusted to take sole charge of Diasporian voting through the missions abroad.

To add, perpetrators of murders and other felonies are shielded by incumbent governments. This brings back flashes to Ghanaians of the Yendi massacres in March 2002 which claimed the lives of the Ya Naa Yakubu Andani II and forty-two (42) others. No one has been arrested and punished for those crimes, simply because the NPP government supports such crimes against its opponents and therefore grants immunity to those criminal supporters. Until these kinds of partisan actions attitudes stop, we can not describe our democracy as mature; hence cannot trust any ruling government or party to conduct remote (Diasporian) elections.

Again, until the majority in parliament desists from forcing Bills through Parliament and exhibiting gross arrogance towards the minority and Ghanaian public opinion, our democracy will simply be qualified as embryonic and not trustworthy enough to conduct Diasporian elections under partisan control. The Western countries that implement Diasporian elections do not exhibit the partisan malpractices and blatant criminal shielding we do in Ghana.

That is not all, we lack the level of logistical and ICT substructure that a Diasporian balloting process will hinge on. Computerized Identification system is one of such substructures we are lagging behind in. Such a system should be able to keep track of the identity of Ghanaians in Ghana and all over the world, especially those of voting age, and should be capable of checking and confirming/denying, within twenty-four hours or so, the identity of anyone who so claims the Ghanaian identity. Neutrality in conducting the affairs of elections is also another reason why the UN is the organ to take the driver's seat in implementing any Diasporian ballot. Neutrality would confer legitimacy and credibility to the results. Aside from that, the UN already has the logistical infrastructure.

It is very important for us to, first of all, work at overcoming most of the above flaws and practices: elections malpractices, infrastructural bottlenecks, defending corrupt officials and acceptance of corruption, shielding of murderers, vote rigging, underdeveloped ICT and Identification systems, and other crooked activities before implementing ROPAB. We still have a long way to go before we can overcome all these democratic and electoral shortfalls. Given our democratic immaturity it is premature for Ghana to take on Diasporian balloting via our missions abroad, for the simple reason that they are likely to dishonestly temper with the remote balloting results to favour their party. Governments, in the past and even today, promised the good people of Ghana lots of good tidings but, in the end, delivered nothing but lies, excuses, and suffering to the good people of Ghana; therefore any promise of a clean, honest, fair Diasporian election would likely be one of the usual lies and malpractices.

The opposition should emphasize on the Bill to include a clause that would require a Pilot Test of the ROPAB concept in 2012 before any final world-wide application.

Moreover, the opposition should emphasize on the inclusion of a clause to set the timing of the application of the Bill. The Bill should take effect in the 2016 elections, at the earliest. This is to allow further studies and adequate preparations to be made to, first of all, improve on our domestic electoral and democratic structures before going abroad.

Also, the opposition should stress on the injection of a clause that would allow the UN to hold key responsibility in the Diasporian voter registration and balloting processes until such a time that we can trust our missions abroad to handle the process without fear of rigging or cheating.

Simply stated, the concept of Diasporian voting is a good phenomenon, but the time is not ripe yet for a country like Ghana, in the embryonic and raw phase of its democratic life cycle, to implement the concept without a national consensual base. The best/ideal approach would be to set a time target, say fifteen to twenty years, to begin the implementation of Diasporian voting. By that, all Ghanaians would work toward that target to eliminate the flaws in our electoral system and to improve our democracy before kicking in the concept. To rock the shaky roots of our democracy with a forced Diasporian balloting at this stage would be an attempt to uproot our democracy and to reverse the achievements booked so far. What we should do as an infant democracy (reborn in 1992) is try to work toward the consolidation of our freedom, liberty, national togetherness, reconciliation, and democratic enhancement first, before taking on ideas like ROPAB. National unity and peace is more important than Diasporian voting. You would agree with me that, as a nation, we haven't yet achieved national unity since December 31, 1981, as the national reconciliation drive turned out to be a fiasco, which is unhealthy for the country. Instead of mending the broken relations we are now trying to add salt to the wounds by trying to introduce ROPAB, a bill which is not that necessary at the moment. Such hasty measures could seriously devalue our democratic feats and could create a recipe for anarchy and confusion in the country. We should not forget that we just emerged from decades of military dictatorship and are still in the process of consolidating our infant democracy; hence we should not give the military any cause to resurface. No military can dream of destabilizing a united Ghana, but if we are visibly divided, we could be playing dangerously into the hands of the military. We all suffered under those brutal regimes which was hell and which, in the end, turned out to be complete disasters. Rushing to implement political concepts without national consensus and, first of all, laying the necessary, proper Logistical, ICT, and electoral substructures to ensure fairness, effectiveness, and transparency could ignite a serious democratic and political meltdown - a meltdown that could stoke divisiveness and possible instability in the country. Any sensible Diasporian would not want Ghana to slip into anarchy and instability because of ROPAB. NPP policians, please save our dear country from disaster! Save our already impoverished, hungry, and deprived citizens from civil unrest! Do not mess the country up any worse than you have. Do not use Diasporian balloting to sow seeds of acrimony and bitter division within the Ghanaian society, for, that would serve neither the country nor the Diasporian. Ghana was not made for Politicians; rather Politicians were made for Ghana. God Save Ghana! God Bless Ghana! By Natogmah Issahaku Hails from Jisonaayilli, Tamale Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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