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27.01.2006 General News

Minority Parties Damn ROPAB

By Palaver

Five of the registered minority parties have condemned the NPP's Representation of the [People (Amendment) Bill (ROPAB) and vowed to resist its passage or alternatively frustrate its implementation if the NPP Government uses its majority numbers in Parliament to force the Bill through.

At a Press Conference held in Accra last Tuesday and addressed by Dr. Kwabena Adjei, National Chairman of the NDC, the five parties, comprising the NDC, PNC, NRP, GCPP, and EGLE, reminded the public of previous attempts by the NPP to undermine the electoral process and perpetuate itself in power, mentioning in particular the last minute attempt in 2004 to railroad the same ROPAB through Parliament, which effort was frustrated by the same coalition of minority parties, resulting in the withdrawal of the Bill.

According to the minority parties, the revised Bill submitted to Parliament by the Committee on Constitution Legal and Parliamentary Affairs differed from the 2004 Bill only in the following material particulars, which have actually worsened the case for the Bill:

· Registrations and voting by Ghanaians abroad will be in respect of Presidential elections only;

· The word "resident" has been defined to mean "resident for the time being of a permanent nature", without doing any thing about the original definition of "resident" meaning "having a place of abode in the polling division" assigned to it in the parent enactment, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 1992, PNDCL 284.

According to the minority parties, the implications of these two new amendments are that:

· Rights can be truncated, thus defeating the original justification for the Bill that rights ! are absolute and that the "right to register and to vote" under Article 42 of the Constitution cannot be restricted in any way;

· The word "resident" appearing in the same law has two different meanings. Ghanaians resident in Ghana who have not been resident in their polling division for at least six months cannot register and vote, whilst Ghanaians resident abroad who may never have visited Ghana and who may only have read about Ghana in the media can register and vote.

The minority parties reminded the NPP that the student movement (NUGS), organised labour (TUC), the opposition political parties and many well-meaning citizens and organisations have made cogent arguments against the Bill and urged the Government to listen to the voices of the people. The minority parties were of the view that the political environment within which the NPP wants to introduce the ROPAB is worse today than when the firs! t attempt was made in 2004.

They made reference to the taped "confessions" of the former NPP National Chairman Haruna Esseku complaining about President Kufuor's institution of a system of "kickbacks" (bribery and extortion) from Government contracts to improve the NPP's electoral fortunes and the revelation that as much as ¢10 billion of this stolen money was made available to him simply for the party's participation in the voter registration exercise.

They referred also to NPP National Organiser Lord Commey's boast in another taped "confession" about the party's nationwide scheme of subversion of the electoral process by the training and deployment of armed thugs – Action Troopers.

The five minority parties warned that if the NPP insisted and used their numbers in Parliament to push the Bill through, they would make its implementation impossible and that the NPP alone would be responsible for any chaos or instability that would follow.

The parties further warned that, "these are dangerous times that call for vigilance on all our parts if we are to protect our Constitution and our infant democracy".

The Press Statement issued at the Press Conference was signed by Dr. Kwebena Adjei for the NDC, Mr. Danny Ofori-Attah for the Egle, Mr, Peter Kpodugbe for the NRP and Alhaji Ahmed Ramadan for the PNC.

'The Ghana Palaver' has learnt that GCPP Chairman Dan Lartey who chaired all the three meetings that resulted in the Press Statement and was to have chaired the Press Conference was not available to sign the Statement because after arriving home around 11:30 pm on Monday night from chairing the meeting that finalised the Press Statement, he developed a running tummy and could not make it to the Press Conference the next morning.

Two other minority parties, the CPP and the DPP, did! not attend the Press Conference and it is not known what their positions on the amended ROPAB is, but in 2004, they were both part of the coalition of political parties that opposed the introduction of the Bill.

The only other registered minority party, the UGM, is still non-functional and has been ever since its Founder and Leader, Dr. Charles Yves Wereko-Brobby, took up appointment under the NPP Government as Chief Executive of the VRA. That appointment resulted in the worst-ever crisis that the VRA has ever faced and culminated in his resignation as Chief Executive. No UGM official could be contacted for the party's position on the ROPAB. The full text of the minority parties' Press Statement is published below.

PRESS STATEMENT BY OPPOSITION PARTIES AGAINST THE

REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE (A! MENDMENT) BILL

We have invited you here today to discuss the latest developments regarding the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill.

We have previously drawn public attention to attempts by the ruling NPP to interfere with the electoral process and create conditions that would allow them to remain in office regardless of the popular will. We have cited the shuffling of ECG membership prior to the 2004 elections, the illegal attempts by the castle to take over procurement for the 2004 elections contrary to our electoral laws and of course the subsequent refusal to release funds to the ECG that delayed the start of preparations for the elections and which in no small way was responsible for the unnecessary difficulties Ghanaian voters experienced in 2004.

It is against this background that we raised the alarm when in 2004 the NPP government (unde! r a certificate of urgency that would have precluded any public debate) sought to smuggle into law a Bill which would make the state assume responsibility for enabling Ghanaians abroad to exercise their electoral rights without travelling to Ghana. The public outcry against this obvious attempt to manipulate the electoral process forced the NPP to reluctantly withdraw the Bill at that time.

On 14 June 2005 the NPP government again tabled the Bill before Parliament. This initiated a bizarre six-month public relations exercise in which the governing Party and its MPs have tried desperately in the face of an opposition boycott to create the impression that the bill is both constitutionally necessary and popular through a charade of citizen consultations in Ghana and abroad.

On Wednesday 18th January 2006, the Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parlia! mentary Affairs laid a report purported to have come from the Committee before Parliament. Of course the report recommends that Parliament pass the Bill. However, the analysis presented to support this recommendation is grossly misleading and simply, does not stand up to scrutiny, For this reason, we believe that consistent with past practice with regard to unpopular and obnoxious Bills, the NPP managers of Parliament will now manipulate Parliamentary processes to truncate debate on the Bill on the floor of the house, and secure a snap vote before many MPs have had a chance to even study the report. The public would then be presented with a fait accomplis, and badgered by the pro-NPP media to accept the new status quo. This would allow the NPP to move on to the next stage of its divisive and dangerous electoral gamble.

Our aim today therefore is not to rehearse the many good arguments against the Bill that have been made by Organised Labour, the Student Mo! vement, opposition Parties and countless citizens. Suffice it to say that the Bill is unnecessary, that it is unworkable, and that it undermines the integrity and credibility of the electoral system we have built for ourselves over the last 14 years. This places our democracy and national stability in great peril. Our aim today is simply to state our position on what the NPP members of the Committee have come up with after their six month expenses-paid consultation junket.

Deliberations

Who did the Committee talk to in forming its opinion? And what was the quality of those deliberations? These are crucial questions that touch on the integrity of the recommendations. MPs and indeed the Public are entitled to be told what sampling methodology was used to select or constitute the "cross sections of Ghanaians" around the regions. How does the committee come by the conclusion that these were "cross sections"? The same is true for "representatives" of the Ghanaian community abroad. In what sense were they representatives? Were they for example NPP functionaries in these countries? By the same token, what does "some representatives of Organised Labour" mean? Was it the TUC which was categorical in stating publicly, its opposition to the Bill? Was it GNAT? What level did these individuals represent? Were they local or national? We need to be told. The Committee claims that it consulted "Political Parties". Which political parties are they referring to? Did the committee speak just to the NPP? As national leaders of political parties we can say categorically that we were never consulted by the Committee. The Committee's assertion is false. Just as important as "who" is "what". What actually did all these groups say. Nowhere are the full views of these different groups and persons analysed or even summarised. The unsuspecting reader is then left with the impression that the recommendations derive from views expressed by those with whom the group interacted. This creates a false impression. We believe that the preponderance of views expressed were actually critical of the Bill. With these serious reservations, we can now look at the substance of the Committee's report. Constitutional Imperative

Paragraph 8.1 and 8.2 of the report repeat the old NPP government propaganda that the Bill is necessary because the current Law interferes with citizens' "unqualified constitutional right" to vote . The NPP's argument all along has been that once the constitution recognises a right Parliament cannot regulate the exercise of that right and that the state must, regardless of resource constraints, ensure the fullest enjoyment of that right. We reject this principle. We insist that rights are not absolute. All rights are socially defined, and in a national context are properly regulated by legislati! ve Acts.

We say further that the NPP government is dishonest and selective in asserting this principle in this situation when it does not apply it in similar situations. For example the NPP government does not deny that Parliament has the right to regulate freedom of association and expression through the Public Order Act. Neither does it argue that the constitutional right to "free" compulsory universal basic education" mean that the state must bear the cost of young citizens' education in private schools or in schools outside of Ghana. The committee's hypocrisy on this score is exposed completely by the fact that while declaring the "unqualified right on all citizens of Ghana to register to vote in public elections and referenda—" in paragraph 8, they nevertheless recommend in paragraph 9. b that "—-Until otherwise determined by law registration and voting by Ghanaians abroad shall relate to only Presidential elections".

! In other words the NPP Government has decided within just six months that expatriate Ghanaians sacred and unqualified rights no longer apply with respect to Parliamentary and District Assembly elections and referenda! Behind this is the admission that rights can indeed be qualified, but only when it suits the NPP's sinister agenda. No, this is not acceptable to our parties. The Report also now defines "Resident" to mean "Resident for the time being of a permanent nature" to qualify Ghanaians abroad to register and vote. But the parent legislation, "Representation of the People Law 1992, PNDCL 284, defines "Resident' to mean having a place of abode in the polling division on that date. It further provides that "A person shall not be deemed resident in a polling division if he has been absent for a continuous period of six months ending on the qualifying date". Since an amending legislation is read as one with the parent legislation, it! means that in the same law the same word has two different meanings. To the NPP government this does not matter! More importantly it means that Ghanaians resident in Ghana, who have not been resident in their polling divisions for six months or more cannot register and vote. However Ghanaians abroad, who may never have visited Ghana in their lives, and who may only have read about Ghana in the media can register and vote in our elections. This defies logic and common sense. It cannot be accepted.

Comparative Practice

The bulk of the report is devoted to a strange recitation of highly selective and irrelevant "facts" about "counties with Diaspora Voting Rights" which the Committee obviously hopes will not be read analytically, Even on the face of it, the sparse information presented here does not argue for "Diaspora voting". For example, the Committee tells us that "over 57 countries in the world ! allow their citizens abroad to vote during elections". What are we to conclude? Given that there are over 200 countries in the world the only logical conclusion that one can draw from this statistic is that "diasporan voting" is overwhelmingly unpopular!

Next the Committee tells us that Lebanon, Greece, South Africa and Senegal all have Diaspora voting. However the committee tells us nothing about the socio-economic circumstances of these countries. Nor does the committee argue that these countries face democracy building challenges that are similar to ours. The observations they do make suggest the opposite. The Committee suggests that the alleged success of Diaspora voting in these countries rests on a comprehensive policies and institutional arrangements for engaging their diasporan citizens in national development processes beyond elections and because these countries have functional and reliable national identification systems. Obviously neither condition prevai! ls in Ghana!

Concerns Raised by the Public

Even a committee as biased as this one could not ignore the sheer scale of discontent with the Bill. However they have dealt with these in a propagandist manner. The Committee's basic position is that obvious difficulties with the implementation of the Bill can be addressed after the Bill becomes law. It says this is the constitutional responsibility of the Electoral Commission and not of Parliament. Indeed it says both that for Parliament to consider these issues would be to undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission and even that it would be "illegal" to ask the E C to speak to these issues before the Bill becomes law! The truth however is that the EC has commented on these matters. Indeed the Committee quotes selectively from the EC's submissions. The Committee is fully aware of the Electoral Commission's professional views on the impracticality of diasporan voting! . The Committee fails to present these critical views fairly for evaluation by other Parliamentarians and the wider public. It fails to acknowledge that it really has absolutely no solutions to these problems. Rather it chooses to suppress the EC's vital input, and clothe its abdication of duty in this procedural sophistry.

Credibility of Elections and National Stability

The importance of maintaining the credibility of our electoral system must be of paramount concern to all. We are all witness to the chaos that has followed in the wake of disputed elections especially in Africa. This Bill if enacted and implemented would almost certainly undermine public confidence in our electoral system. We refer specifically to the proposal that Ghana's missions abroad or the electoral authorities of foreign countries might supervise expatriate elections. These suggestions are fraught with danger. Most of Ghana's High Commissioners a! nd Ambassadors are staunch party loyalists rather than civil servants. They lack both the expertise and the neutrality required to conduct contentious processes like elections. Many Ghanaians would reject results declared by Ghana's High Commissioner to the UK for example. Similarly, there are countries (such as Togo and Burkina Faso) where government ministers rather than independent professional agencies supervise elections. Few Ghanaian voters would accept the credibility of election results declared by (for example) the Togolese Ministry of Interior.

Consultations

The report in trying to claim a popular basis of its pre-determined recommendations makes much of "consultations" it allegedly held "in all the ten regions of the country" and with stakeholder including sections of the Ghanaian community abroad'. The Committee's report is disingenuous.

The report rehashes the same tired arguments! for the amendment t hat the NPP Government has made since its first sorry attempt to smuggle the Bill through Parliament under a certificate of urgency in 2004. What is new is the entirely false claim that there is widespread support for the Bill. The only significant amendment that the Committee proposes is that for the time being the right of Ghanaians abroad to vote be restricted to Presidential elections. We have reason to believe that the NPP intends to provide only minimum notice of full debate on the Bill to the Minority and thus to achieve its passage into law without further public scrutiny. Though it is clear from their conduct that the NPP "strategists" behind this move are not interested in logical argument we believe it is our responsibility to provide some analysis of the issues and the debate as it now stands. In preparation for a long hard struggle against NPP intransigence, we think it necessary to re-state our principled concerns about the Bill and our own collecti! ve resolve to mobilise to block its passage.

The Report does not in anyway improve the argument for no-resident registration and voting. What it does is seek falsely to create the impression that there is public support for the Bill. Conclusions The Committee report itself is fraudulent with respect to the nature and results of the public consultation that have taken place. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Bill, which our Parliament is now to be asked to pass into law. Remember the context of interference with the electoral process that we have identified for this NPP endeavour. Today the situation has worsened considerably, Now we also have the taped "confessions" of the former National Chairman of the Party to the effect that the Party leadership instituted a system of kickbacks (bribery and extortion) from government ! contracts to improve NPP electoral fortunes and that in fact as much as 10 billion Cedis out of this thieves gold was made available to him simply for the Party's participation in the voter registration exercise in 2004. We also have the recorded boastings of the National Organiser of the NPP that his party maintains nationwide, a group of armed thugs, "action troopers" that can and have been deployed to disrupt and rig elections. We re-iterate that the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill is part of an elaborate and continuing scheme by the NPP to subvert the democratic will of the people of Ghana. We; as leaders of legitimate and registered political parties with a constitutional right to influence the democratic will of the nation, can not allow the NPP Government to destroy this country through electoral fraud as it intends. We state publicly that we oppose the passage of this bill. In the unlikely event that it is push! ed through Parliament despite our opposition and warnings, we declare that we shall make its implementation impossible, using all constitutional and legitimate means available. If the NPP government and party decide to ignore our warnings, they alone shall be responsible for any chaos or instability that follows from the passage of this bill. These are dangerous times that call for vigilance on all our parts if we are to protect our constitution and our infant democracy. We are committed to this cause and hope that we can count on your commitment as well.

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