EC’s ROPAA Committee Visited The USA – A Reflection

By Dr. Kofi A. Boateng
Commentary ECs ROPAA Committee Visited The USA – A Reflection
NOV 15, 2019 LISTEN

Eight members of the Electoral Commission’s ROPAA Committee visited the USA from November 1 – 8, 2019. The purpose of the visit was to elicit thoughts from Ghanaians Living Abroad (GLAs), on thorny questions that befuddle the implementation of the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA – Act 699- February 24, 2006).

The sense of urgency is marked by a writ of mandamus (court order to do what one is required to perform) by the late Justice Anthony Kwadwo Yeboah on December 18, 2017. The EC must present a Constitutional Instrument of the logistics of ROPAA implementation to parliament, originally by December 31, 2018, and extended to January 29, 2020 by Justice Nicholas Abodakpi. The members of the EC ROPAA Committee who came to the USA were Dr. Bossman Asare, Deputy EC Commissioner-Corporate Services- Chairperson, Mr. Samuel Tettey, Deputy EC Commissioner-Operations, Mrs. Sylvia Annoh, EC – Public Relations, Rev. Dr. Ernest Adu-Gyamfi, representing the National Peace Council, Mr. Evans Nimako, representing NPP, Mr. Kofi Akpaloo of Liberal Party Ghana representing the minor parties, Mr. Christian Owusu-Parry, Committee Secretary, and Dr. Kojo Pumpuni Asante representing Civil Society. The first stop was on Saturday November 2, 2019 at the Ghana United Methodist Church in the Bronx, New York City. The second dual engagements were on Sunday November 3, 2019 at Ramseyer Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, and at ICGC Holy Ghost Chapel in Worcester, Massachusetts. On Tuesday the 5th, the final meeting with GLAs was at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. There were demands for the Committee to visit Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and London but could not be accommodated.

The absence of an NDC Committee representative was raised at all meetings. The ROPAA Committee explained that delays in the delegated NDC representative obtaining a travel visa caused the omission. However, that did not preclude people who identified themselves as NDC and NPP members from participating in the discussions. The public announcement of the Committee’s visit to the USA was impossibly short with the official press release dated October 31, 2019. Members of Progressive Alliance Movement (PAM), chaired by the author rose to the occasion to plan the meetings. PAM’s board, ably led by its new CEO, Catherine Cudjoe, and Treasurer, Obed Danquah, displayed commitment to purpose by setting aside PAM’s noted fights in the courts with the EC to ensure that wherever the Committee chose to go, proper arrangements were made for venue, hosts, and materials. Thanks to all who responded on extremely short notice to make the visit substantively successful.

The Committee posed the following questions to GLAs: (1) How do we define a Ghanaian for the purposes of identification for elections outside Ghana? (2) How do we establish geographic residence for a GLA? (3) Where do we set up voter registration centers? (4) How do we resolve disputes? And (5) Which elections in Ghana should ROPAA apply?

To the definition of a Ghanaian, suggestions included Ghana passport, dual citizenship cards, birth certificates, affidavits, Ghana voter cards, Ghana ID cards, and special Ghana embassy-issued documents for exceptions. To ground these in approved practices, a consensus was that the Committee should adopt the same system of identification and proof of Ghanaian as used by the Ministry of Interior in the approval of dual citizenship applications. The question of whether a Ghana passport must be valid should be answered in consideration of objective. If the purpose is proving Ghanaian by birth or naturalization, then passport issuance will take precedence over validity. That many Ghanaians live in West African states whose numbers, according to the UN Population Division, almost equal those in Europe and the Americas was not lost on the discussants. It was believed that whatever the Ministry of Interior would accept as documentation to issue Ghanaians anywhere dual citizenship should be equally accepted for voter registration. As in Ghana, the system will be perfected with time, and with the introduction of national identification cards to GLAs. However, GLAs should not be punished for the inadequacies of their country of origin.

On the question of proof of residence outside Ghana, some believe that mere presence outside Ghana and proof of Ghanaian nationality should suffice. Presence equals residence. Others suggested the use of host locality identification cards, drivers’ licenses, correspondence, and debt notices (bills). Registration centers and electoral supervision can be accomplished by borrowing from Senegal’s overseas voting experience. The EC will appoint a super electoral commission for each country, who would be supported by sub-electoral commissions for localities of more than 200-500 GLAs. The country Ambassador can be an active or nominal member. Voting can take place in embassies, consulates, schools, and churches. Volunteer supervisors and returning officers preferably representing contesting political parties in Ghana will oversee the polling station activities. The GLA votes should take place and reported to Ghana’s EC at least two days before Ghana’s elections but not announced. With cell phones abounding, transmittal of results and filming of processes should not be problematic. Disagreements and protests should be discussed and resolved up the chain from the local sub -electoral commissions to up to the country super electoral commission with deference to Ghana’s EC. One of the seven EC commissioners should have responsibility for overseas voting. GLAs should vote in presidential and national referenda just as most countries that practice overseas voting do. Over time, GLAs can vote for their own representatives in Ghana’s parliament.

The author shared his compilation from the 2019 report of the United Nations Populations Division that shows each country’s migrant stock by destination. For Ghana, the estimate for 2019 is 970,625, less than one million. This number may be underestimated, but the Table is good in providing guidance. It shows 479,502 Ghanaians in “more developed regions” and 459,563 in Western Africa. Out of the 193 member countries of the UN, GLAs are found in 68 of them in various numbers from the smallest one (1) person in Costa Rica to the highest 233,002 in Nigeria. Ghana has missions in some 65 countries. Implementing ROPAA all over the world is not supported by the facts and is a distracting myth. If the EC chooses to implement ROPAA in countries where according to the UN Population Division, 2,000 or more GLAs reside, then the number drops from 68 to 27. Call it a pilot. We can certainly implement ROPAA for the 2020 presidential elections in 27 countries! We must start. The 1992 Constitution that gave the right to GLAs to vote is 27 years old. That is 27 years of discrimination. There is no room for roadblock arguments such as ROPAA everywhere or nowhere, and ROPAA for all elections. No country has started like that, and Ghana will not be an exception. No GLA will be denied the right to be registered and to vote in 2020. Certainly, some will be inconvenienced but such is the dynamic work of the EC to start, ensure fidelity and acceptability, and expand with each election cycle. As it is done inside Ghana, so it shall be done outside Ghana. God bless us all.

The author can be reached at [email protected] .

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division. Workbook: UN Migrant Stock by Origin and Destination 2019.