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16.02.2006 General News

Changes To Bill To Defeat NDC Case

By Statesman

A number of proposed amendments are to be considered Thursday by Parliament for the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill. The nature of some of the amendments proposed are such that if carried they should completely deny those opposed to the ROPA Bill any oxygen of legitimate protest.

Top on the list is a new clause proposed to deal with the provision in PNDC Law 284 which effectively denies Ghanaians abroad or Ghanaians without permanent abode in Ghana their constitutional right to register and vote.

The new clause, proposed by the Chairman of the Committee Constitutional and Legal Affairs, reads: “PDNCL 284 Section 7(1), paragraph (c), at end delete “and” and add “or hails from the constituency.”

Another fundamental amendment, proposed by the Member for Abuakwa South and Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo reads: “The Electoral Commission shall, by Constitutional Instrument, make Regulations to prescribe the modalities for the implementation of this Act.”

This is proposed to substitute Clause 2, which, as it stands, reinforces the principle in the existing law that the Electoral Commission may appoint heads of commission to supervise the election process abroad. What the Clause 2 adds, however, is the provision which allows the Electoral Commission to appoint any other person or body to undertake the supervisory work.

Another proposed amendment by the Chairman of the Committee reads: “The Electoral Commission shall by Constitutional Instrument make Regulations indicating the effective date of implementation of this Act.”

There are seven other proposed changes to the Bill, but the sum effect of the above proposals is that by saying Ghanaians may either have to reside within a polling division for six months or hail from the constituency to register there as a voter, that discriminatory fetter against Ghanaians living abroad has been removed.

What it also means is that the EC, which the amendment to Clause 2 seeks to give the sole prerogative to determine the modalities of the extension of the franchise, could decide whether to take the vote physically to Ghanaians living abroad or simply ask them to come home and vote.

The modalities are entirely left to the EC. In fact, another proposed amendment by Deputy Minority Leader Abraham Ossei Aidooh simply wants the whole of Clause 2 deleted, further emphasising the Constitutional provision that in the performance of its functions, which include to conduct and supervise all public elections, the EC shall not be subject to the directions or control of any person or authority.

By passing the responsibility of prescribing the modalities to the EC without any directive whatsoever, this would be in strict conformity with Article 51, which states: “The Electoral Commission shall, by constitutional instrument, make regulations for the effective performance of its functions under this Constitution or any other law, and in particular, for the registration of voters, the conduct of public elections and referenda, including provision for voting by proxy.”

Even if the EC decides to physically take the vote abroad, another proposed amendment is designed to enhance the integrity of the process. A new proposed clause reads: “Evidence of citizenship for the purpose of registration shall be determined by the Electoral Commission.”

This is designed to take care of the charge of the difficulties in determining in fact who is Ghanaian and therefore eligible to vote under Article 42 of the Constitution which grants the voting right to every Ghanaian of 18 years and above and of sane mind.

The Chairman of the Committee has proposed that voting by Ghanaians abroad is limited to Presidential elections. The Deputy Majority Leader has issued a counter proposal that “Until otherwise determined by law, registration and voting by Ghanaians abroad shall relate to Presidential elections and the election of Members of Parliament from the constituencies from which the voters hail.”

Thursday's Consideration Stage of the Bill is expected to be done without the participation of the Minority which boycotted Parliament indefinitely from last week. They chose to lead the street protest against the Bill in Accra Tuesday. Parliament requires only a quorum of one-third of its membership to discuss a Bill, but to take a decision it requires at least half (115) of its membership present and voting.

Making a presentation to the House yesterday about the ROPA Bill, the MP for Asuogyaman, Kofi Osei-Ameyaw, quoted the late Justice Acquah: “Franchise is a right that is given by the Constitution and can only be taken away by the Constitution.”