Majority Leader Felix Owusu-Agyepong has accused the National Democratic Congress of showing a recusant tendency of boycotting Parliament on the big issues.
“What we have observed is that whenever a bold decision is taken by this government to move the country forward the Minority always drag their feet. It happened with HIPC. It happened on the National Reconciliation Commission. We saw it with the National Health Insurance. And we are seeing it with the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill.”
He has, however, appealed to the Alban Bagbin-led Minority to return to the House and make their case against the bill, ROPA, there.
“From what I have read and heard, the crust of their opposit ion has to do with the implementation of the extension of the franchise to Ghanaians abroad. But, we have not gotten to that stage yet,” says the Majority Leader, who is also the Member for Akyem Swedru.
“If they indeed agree to the principle that every eligible Ghanaian must not be impeded from exercising that fundamental constitutional right to vote, then they must return to the House to contribute to the debate on how best they think it should be done.”
In fact, the Consultative Assembly that framed the Fourth Republic Constitution recognises the right to vote of Ghanaians in the Diaspora. A member of the Assembly, according to the records, moved for the insertion in Article 42 of the phrase “Ghanaians in and outside Ghana.” However, the overwhelming sentiment was that it would be superfluous since Article 42 was explicit enough in not limiting the right to vote expressly to Ghanaians living in Ghana alone. 2006 is a busy parliamentary year, with the Whistleblower Bill, Insolvency Bill, Interpretation Bill, Anti-Terrorism Bill and Food and Drugs (Amendment) Bill among those expected to be passed. The Polytechnics Bill will, like its former counterparts in the United Kingdom, grant such institutions in Ghana the tertiary status to award full university degrees.
Another important bill before the House this year is the National Identification Authority Bill, which will finally set back in full motion the process of introducing a national ID.
Being the first of eleven bills at the Committee stage in this parliamentary session, debate on ROPA resumes next week. The bill is expected to be passed by March.
ROPA would repeal Section 8 of the Representation of the People Law, 1992, (PNDCL 284) and provide that 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 a polling division.”
The amendment would further enable the Electoral Commission to appoint “the Head of 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.”
It was first introduced to the House on June 14, 2005. But the controversy it generated forced the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to embark on public hearings in all ten regions of the country and six other countries: Togo, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany.
The NDC, who were instrumental in demanding a public hearing, then boycotted the Committee tour and any further parliamentary input over the bill. Owusu-Agyepong accuses the NDC of exhibiting bad faith, calling on the media to expose the incongruity in the NDC stance.
“It looks like we are not getting the media to assist in the development of the bastion of our democracy – our Parliament. If a person walks out on a discussion of a bill in Parliament and then goes to the media to discuss it, then we are not helping Parliament to act effectively as an open forum. “We must have people who are able to speak to their conscience. If a bill comes to the House and you are not willing to speak on it there where it will be recorded in Hansard and then go to speak on it on radio, you are confusing society and demeaning the role of Parliament.”
The Majority Leader said bills introduced to Parliament may be “rejected without justification, accepted without reservations or accepted wit amendments. When a bill comes to Parliament it becomes the property of the House and we must treat it as that.”
He mentioned occasions when Parliament rejected bills and returned them to the Executive to be re-introduced with changes at a latter date. Typical examples are the Long Term Savings Bill and the Mines and Minerals Bill. Turning to the NDC, the leader of the House said: “It would have been right for them to canvass the floor and convince us of what they are saying. The fact that after going around the Committee has made proposals for amendment means that it recognises some inadequacies in the bill.
“Clearly the problems and worries indicated by the NDC are about implementation of the bill and we haven't reached that level yet.”
He stated that in conformity with the independence granted to the EC to regulate elections, a constitutional instrument will be laid before Parliament by the EC in a latter date after the passing of the bill. “Parliament can either say yes or no to it.”
The bill, he says, “preserves the right to bring it into force with the EC. The EC has said to the Committee it can only look at the implementation issues after the bill has been passed.”
A report of the Committee concludes: “The Committee has critically examined the provisions of the bill in the light of submissions and concerns raised by the public and is of the considered view that the provisions of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill are totally in conformity with the Constitution and other existing laws which are not inconsistent with the Constitution and accordingly recommends it for passage by Parliament…” However, certain amendments are expected to be tabled as a result of the public hearings.