Parliament has, by majority decision, approved the recommendation of the Subsidiary Legislation Committee of Parliament to adopt its report on the Public Elections (Registration of Voters) (Amendment) Regulation, 2020 (C.I. 126).
By a 106-92 majority vote, the constitutional instrument, which matured yesterday, comes into force today.
The voting came after the House had earlier approved the adoption of the committee’s report by a voice vote in favour of the majority in the House.
With the approval, the EC can proceed with its biometric voters registration exercise based on the eligibility criteria set out in C.I. 126.
The C.I. was laid in the House by the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, on behalf of the Chairperson of the EC, Mrs Jean Mensa, on March 16. It was, however, withdrawn and re-laid on two consecutive times, with the last laying being on March 31.
However, the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, called for a ballot vote to be cast to determine those in favour and those against, so that the report would reflect the position of the House on the matter.
The Speaker, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, subsequently granted the request of the Minority and individual Members of Parliament (MPs) were called one after another to cast their votes under the supervision of the Clerk to Parliament and the leadership on both sides of the House.
Adoption of report
“The House adopts the report accordingly and allows the Public Elections (Registration of Voters) (Amendment) Regulation, 2020 (C.I. 126) to come into force at the exasperation of 21 sitting days, in accordance with Article 11 (7) of the Constitution,” the Speaker said after the vote.
“It must be made clear that the Constitution provides, in Article 11 (7), that any order, rule or regulation made by a person or authority under a power conferred by this Constitution or any other law shall: (a) be laid before Parliament, (b) be published in a gazette on the day it is laid before Parliament, and (c) comes into force at the expiration of 21 sitting days after being so laid, unless before the expiration of the 21 sitting days Parliament annuls the order, rule or regulation by a vote of not less than two-thirds of all Members of Parliament,” he added.
Report of committee
Prior to the vote, the Chairman of the Subsidiary Legislation Committee, Dr Dominic Ayine, had moved the motion for the House to adopt the report of the committee on C.I. 126.
He told the House that the committee examined the C.I. within the ambit of the general objects of the Constitution and was of the view that the rationale for the instrument was in accordance with the powers of the EC, under Article 51, with respect to the compilation of a credible and widely accepted voters register for the conduct of public elections and referenda in the country.
He, however, said the committee could not arrive at a consensus as to whether or not the exclusion of driver’s licence and the existing voter identification card from the C. I. was constitutional.
“The committee, by a majority decision, recommends to the House to adopt its report and allow the Public Elections (Registration of Voters) (Amendment) Regulation, 2020 (C.I. 126) to come into force at the expiration of 21 sitting days, in accordance with Article 11 (7) of the Constitution,” he said.
After the presentation of the committee’s report, legislators on both sides of the House engaged in a lengthy debate, with the Majority calling for the adoption of the report, while the Minority called for its rejection, given the fact that so many Ghanaians would be disenfranchised in the new biometric voters registration exercise.
“Mr Speaker, if this instrument is allowed to stand in its current form and character, it will disenfranchise many Ghanaians and can begin to spell the fatality and doom of national democracy,” Mr Iddrisu said.
“We have a duty to protect the democracy, and in its protection we want to be seen voting against this instrument, so that tomorrow we will call the EC and its persons responsible for any fatality to Ghana’s democratic journey and practice,” he added.
He told the House that under Article 42, which dwelt on citizenship, it was only by birth certificate that a person could be established as being a Ghanaian or otherwise, and, therefore, wondered why one could only register to vote via a national identity card.
Making reference to the NIA Act, he said the birth certificate was a primary reference document and, therefore, by extension, it was a legal document to establish Ghanaian citizenship.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu informed the House that in all the previous constitutional instruments that regulated voters registration exercises in 1992, 1995 and 2012, none of them mentioned the birth certificate as a legal document for registration.
He, therefore, wondered why the Minority was insistent on having the birth certificate as a prerequisite legal document for one to be registered in the new voters registration exercise.
With what the EC intended to do finding expression in the law, as was backed by the Subsidiary Legislation Committee, he asked the Minority to halt the attempt to force the House to annul the C.I. and rather allow it to come into force.
The EC, on March 31, re-laid the Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Amendment Regulation, 2020 in Parliament after the originally laid instrument was found to be fraught with errors and thus withdrawn.
It was re-laid after the EC had corrected the identified errors.
The Majority Leader, who had laid the instrument on behalf of the EC on March 16, 2020, pulled it out of the House after the detection of the defects by the Subsidiary Legislation Committee.
The committee considering the instrument had detected the existence of driver’s licence on the form two of the schedule of the instrument, contrary to the omission of driver’s licence in the new regulation.
The committee also found out a typographical error on the form one of the schedule.
Ghanaian passports in hands of foreigners
Meanwhile, at a press conference outside the Parliament, the Minority Leader expressed optimism that Ghanaians would appreciate the principled position the Minority had taken on the voting on the C.I.
Mr Iddrisu questioned what he described as desperation on the part of the President and the EC to compel Ghanaians to use only the Ghana Card and the Ghanaian passport to register in the new voters registration exercise.
“Wary of our numbers, it is not a vote we could easily win to annul the instrument, but we are persuaded to stand with the Ghanaian public whose right to vote remain entrenched and guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution,” he said.
“We are aware of Foreign ministers, past and present, who have publicly spoken to the fact that there are Ghanaian passports in wrong hands of foreigners, and for the national ID cards so issued, not many have got access to their cards,” he said.
In a reaction, Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu expressed strong reservation over the continued shifting of positions by the Minority on the compilation of new voters registers over the years.
“When we were debating estimates for the EC in the Chamber, the position of the Minority Leader and, indeed, the Minority was that the money allocated to the EC was inadequate to procure biometric registration devices, but today they have changed their position,” he said.