DR. CHARLES Yves Wereko-Brobby, Chairman of the on-leave United Ghana Movement (UGM), has leapt into the controversy surrounding the Peoples' Representation Amendment Bill, with a proposal that Ghanaians living abroad wishing to vote pay a levy before being allowed to do so.
According to him, most Ghanaians resident abroad do not pay direct taxes towards the development of the State and that the remittances they make are personal private payments sent to relatives and friends .
"Ghanaians abroad do not pay taxes or make any statutory contributions towards the Consolidated Fund or other deductions imposed on resident citizens by Parliament for the running of the nation or its development," he stressed. In his views on the subject expressed in an article copied to the Gye Nyame Concord, the man famously known as Tarzan, a nickname given him by former security capo Totobi Quakyi, said those in service of the nation abroad should be exempted from paying the levy, except for those working in international organisations in their own right as opposed to being seconded from the home public service.
For him, it does seem fair and reasonable to expect of Ghanaians abroad who are desirous of exercising their constitutional right to vote, to make some contribution towards the exercise of enabling them to register and vote in our public elections.
He said nothing under the present laws of Ghana prevent Ghanaians living abroad from coming back here, at their own expense, to put their names on to the Voters Register, arguing that several thousands of Ghanaians have been doing so since the 1992 Constitution came into effect.
He said the confusion about the voting rights of Ghanaians abroad has arisen as a result of the law which governed the conduct of the first elections of the 4th Republic in 1992, namely PNDC Law 284, which stipulates that the Voters Register in place at the time of the election would be used for the elections.
To him, that register, first compiled in 1987, and subsequently revised in 1991, specifically excluded Ghanaians living outside the country, with the exception of those working in Ghanaian embassies, international organisations, or serving in UN Peace missions.
He emphasised that since the Constitution does not specify in-situ residency in Ghana or elsewhere as a requirement of eligibility to vote, the present situation of not registering Ghanaians abroad in their countries of domicile cannot be considered a denial of their Constitutional rights.
He said the amount of levy charged should take account of the existence of a Ghana mission in the country, the cost of travel to and from that country from Ghana, and the desira bility of having staff of the Electoral Commission to supervise the voter registration exercise.
He further explained that the Electoral Commission (EC) must also work out a scale of prescribed fees for each registration and voting centre and publish this as part of the Constitutional Instrument it lays before Parliament prior to the commencement of public elections.
He also touched on the significant contributions to the economic well-being our brothers and sisters abroad continue to make, saying the remittances they send home have become the mainstay of foreign exchange earnings for us and will no doubt continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
'However, at the risk of appearing ungrateful or biting the hands that are feeding our burgeoning forex earnings, I would suggest that if Ghanaians abroad want to enjoy the privileges extended by the proposed bill, they must be prepared to pay for it'.
According to him, it is important for Ghanaians livi ng abroad to understand and appreciate that what is being done for them is the granting of a 'Privilege of Convenience' by their kith and kin at home, insisting that they cannot insist that they have a right to vote in Ghanaian elections from the comfort of their external domiciles. 'The truth is that, as with the exercise of all privileges, the ability and willingness to give is determined by two principal factors, namely; the willingness of the giver to grant the privileges; and the ability to ensure that the recipient can receive and indeed enjoy all of the privileges'.
'In as much as Ghanaians in the Diaspora have a right to vote, they do not and cannot insist that they have a constitutionally-guaranteed right to demand or insist that they must be registered to vote where they live or anywhere else outside Ghana', he pointed out.
He said though the Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to vote, that right can only be exercised when Ghanaia ns abroad put their names on a Voters Register. However, he maintained that to be able to do so require that we overcome a very practical issue which revolve around establishing and authenticating the Ghanaian living abroad and the resources needed to put bona fide Ghanaians living abroad onto the Voters Register.
He said it is essential to appreciate that the proper intent of the People's Representation Bill, currently before Parliament, is to make it possible for Ghanaians living abroad to be able to put their names on the electoral roll and also be able to exercise their right to vote in our public elections without having to come back to Ghana to do so.
'The Bill is not intended, nor must it purport, to give Ghanaians abroad the right to vote. They already have that right under our Constitution which is the supreme law of the land,' he fired.
The former Chief Executive Officer of the Volta River Authority (VRA) also took a swipe at the opposition National Democratic Congress' (NDC) stance in the debate on the bill, insisting that former President Rawlings in his annual State of the Nation address to Parliament at the beginning of 1996 made the same promise that his government was going to take the necessary steps to have eligible Ghanaians living abroad to be registered to vote in the 1996 elections.
He said that commitment by the former President must push us to resist the unfortunate tendency to view all maters of national debate from the jaundiced lens of partisan politics.
"We must all resist the obvious and move this debate and discussion away from the cynical axiom of the business of the Opposition in Parliament being simply to oppose every action of Government and offer no alternatives," he stressed.
He noted that if the good intent of the NDC of 1996 failed to materialise, this is the time to affirm their continued commitment to the principle by lending its full weight to bi-partisan review and pas sage of the bill.