A decade after the Electoral Commission’s refusal to put measures in place to enable people in the diaspora exercise their franchise during polls, even though a law has been passed to that effect, Progressive Alliance Movement (PAM), a nonpolitical, non-ethnic advocacy group based in New York City has dragged the commission to court, praying the judiciary to enforce its implementation.
The Attorney General (AG) is joined in the suit as 2nd Respondent.
On April 4, 2016, this paper learnt, five of PAM members filed a suit, No. HR/0046/2016 in the High Court, Human Rights Division in Accra, to seek the immediate implementation of the 2006 Representation of the People Amendment Act (Act 699).
The five applicants, all Ghanaians residents in the USA are: Kofi A. Boateng , PhD, Agyenim Boateng, SJD – both from Ashanti Region; Nellie Kemevor (from Eastern Region), Obed Danquah (from Volta Region), and Christiana Sillim (from Upper East Region). They are represented by A-P[email protected], Samson Lardy Anyenini, as lead solicitor.
In October 2005, and, in November 2005, two delegations of Ghanaian Living Abroad (GLAs), in the USA, Europe, Southern Africa, West Africa, and Canada, led by the First Applicant, Dr. Kofi A. Boateng, descended upon Ghana to add their voices and faces to the then raging parliamentary debate on amending Ghana’s Representation of the People Law (PNDCL 284).
The intended amendment, championed by Hon. Kwame Osei Prempeh, the then MP for Nsuta/Kwaman/Beposo, was to (1) change Section 8 of PNDCL 284 that restricted overseas voting to only Ghanaian employees of the Republic, the United Nations, and other international organizations, and (2) remove the requirement in Section 7 that locally, in order to register to vote, one must have continuously inhabited an area for six months leading to the date of qualification.
The Diaspora Vote Committee of which the groups of GLA delegations were members took to Ghana’s airwaves to support the arguments in favor of the amendment. They stated that with an estimated three million GLAs remitting upwards of $4.4 billion a year to Ghana, the PNDCL 284’s restriction of overseas voting to a comparatively handful of Ghana government employees amounted to discrimination, disenfranchisement, and denial of the human rights of the majority. This continues to be especially true since the above quoted Article of Ghana’s Constitution has no residence requirement, as evidenced by the reality that a micro-minority is allowed to vote as GLAs.
With respect to the six-month residency requirement, it was impractical, not enforced, and could potentially throw all Ghana’s general elections into dispute. On February 24, 2006 the then President of Ghana, H.E. John A. Kufuor assented to Act 699 that approved the two amendments. The Electoral Commissioner was assigned the task of creating the Constitutional Instrument (CI) to operationalize ROPAA - Act 699. General elections in 2008 and 2012 have come and gone. No CI from the EC to implement ROPAA has seen the light of day and we are in the dawn of the 2016 election.
According to Mr. Kofi Koranteng, the CEO of PAM, who brought the disenfranchisement of GLAs to the attention of the US Congress in early 2016, “It is incomprehensible that Ghana, a country that projects itself as the embodiment of democracy in Africa and uses that image to collect millions of dollars and pounds of donor grants for its elections and other purposes will not deem it necessary to use portions of the same funds to be truly democratic by being inclusionary and addressing the enfranchisement of its important and growing constituency- GLAs.”
Perhaps not coincidental, in page 40 of the recently released Strategic Plan – 2016-2020 of the Electoral Commission, they acknowledge the need for a roadmap for ROPAA implementation but stunningly add: “There is currently no plan.” It will not be until 2017-18 before the EC’s office gets to staffing and studying the logistics of ROPAA’s implementation- this after ten years? In August 2015 PAM wrote to inquire of the EC of its plans. You guessed it. The response was a deafening silence. PAM has no choice but to file the suit on behalf of GLAs who believe in nation first, politics second.
Ghana loves to pride itself of being first in this and that – the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain its independence, the first African nation to be visited by U.S. President Obama, etc. In the case of overseas voting, 115 countries out of 196 in the world have enabling legislation to permit the right to its migrant citizens.
In Africa, there are at least a dozen countries that practice overseas voting. They include: Senegal, Cape Verde, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, South Sudan, Mauritius, Lesotho, Mali and Liberia. Ghana is late and two more years by the EC just to begin to study a plan for ROPAA’s implementation will never place Ghana first. The importance of migrant remittance inflows to Ghana needs emphasis. Remittances are known to be woefully officially understated. Every GLA and household in Ghana knows that for every unit of foreign currency that goes through the banks and remittance houses, at least five to ten go through the unofficial “Gye ko Ghana mame” (Carry this currency to Ghana for me).
Even at highly conservative levels of $4.4billion a year, personal remittances from GLAs alone is higher than all the income taxes that were collected in 2013 by Ghana Revenue Authority that was $4.25billion. With cash being fungible, it is hard to argue that voting should be denied GLAs because they do not pay taxes into the Consolidated Fund, as some may be tempted to argue. PAM states this fact even in the light of the fact that paying taxes is not a condition of registering to vote in Ghana. In 2013 the conservative four-year average of personal remittances of $4.4 billion was higher than the World Bank’s reported inflows into Ghana of Foreign Direct Investment at $3.1 billion, Aid of $1.7 billion , trade inflows from cocoa of $1.2 billion, and oil of $3billion. While Ghana is going through its challenges, as all developing countries do, would it not make sense for the country’s leaders to assiduously court their own citizens living abroad who are sources of no interest bearing, never to be repaid inflows of serious foreign exchange that undergird the entire economy? Voting through the immediate implementation is a hook that connects GLAs to their country.
National existentialism makes ROPAA implementation a matter of national urgency- not something for which there are no plans and needs another two years to study after ten years of no action. A GLA played a key role in the reality of the now popular World Trade Center in Accra. Ghanaian youth risk it all to cross the desert and oceans, all the while thinking about helping those back home, even while on the verge of drowning in the Mediterranean. The reader gets the point that the implementation of ROPAA is not to be conveniently deferred again but rather implemented for the 2016 presidential election. The HOW is what the EC should be thinking about NOW!
The EC cites cost as one of the logistics of ROPAA implementation that they need two years to study. The current President of Ghana, H.E. John D. Mahama answered that question when he addressed Ghanaians in Worcester, Massachusetts on September 27, 2014. First he said that GLAs should press their case with the EC. Thank you Sir- we are in court now with the EC. Then he added that the government would fund overseas voting. As we say in Ghana, Oyiwa! We have read that within the last thirty days, the EC has received- first four million pounds from the U.K government and then four million dollars from the US government all to assist with the country’s elections and to reinforce Ghana’s democracy.
ROPAA is the law that permits the hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians Living Abroad (GLAs) to register and to vote as per Article 42 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution that states that: “Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.”
Source: New Crusading Guide with additional files from PAM
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