We are moving on

Author: Yaw Boadu Ayeboafoh

By the grace of God we are moving on. The Supreme Court has clarified its decision on those who used the National Health Insurance cards to register and the Electoral Commission has finally drawn up a timetable to remove the names.

The rule of law must have meaning and function.

Separation of powers

Constitutional democracy demands that we allow the different arms of government to operate effectively so that we benefit fully from the principles espoused under the theory of separation of powers. While there is need for cooperation between the arms, each of them must play their respective roles effectively and efficiently, such that citizens gain the full import of constitutionalism.

It is equally imperative that institutions of state perform their obligations within the law, such that there will be the need for respect and acceptance of their independence. If they fail to act within the limits, that might compel some of the arms of government to intervene in the collective interest of the people.

For instance, the Electoral Commission has been given the mandate to conduct elections. It provides the necessary framework for the discharge of its obligations. To ensure that its independence is not compromised, when it presents instruments before Parliament to set out the legal basis for the discharge of its obligations, the legislature, by itself, cannot amend any portion of the instrument. But since Parliament is equally independent, where it is of the opinion that provisions of the instrument do not meet the test of legality, it would return the instrument with any comments or observations to the Electoral Commission, otherwise for as long as the instrument is on the floor of the House for 21 sitting days, it becomes law.

Parliament’s authority

Similarly, Parliament has the sole authority to make laws but in accordance with provisions of the constitution. If Parliament fails to follow process and procedure in passing any piece of legislation, that law would be declared null and void when brought up before the Supreme Court, which is clothed with the responsibility of interpreting provisions of the constitution.

Indeed, that is what happened in the case of those who registered using the National Health Insurance cards. The Electoral Commission presented to Parliament an instrument which, among other things, allowed for the use of NHIS card to qualify to register. Parliament did not challenge the document, so after the statutory period it became legitimate. So many Ghanaians used the card to register. However, the qualification to register as a voter demands that the person must be a citizen of Ghana. On the other hand, any person found in the country could be registered under the NHIS, meaning that not all persons registered under the NHIS are citizens of Ghana.

When the matter came up before the Supreme Court, another independent body clothed with the power to interpret the law, it affirmed its authority and struck out the provision which enabled NHIS card holders to register as voters because that was not enough proof that such individuals were Ghanaians.  This was the matter which created the needless tension because the Electoral Commission and those individual citizens who appeared before the court had understood the decision of the court differently.

Constitutional path

If we all begin to understand and appreciate the processes as part of the constitutional democratic path that we have chosen for ourselves, we would find it is necessary to allow the institutions to work. Although these bodies are independent, in exercising their mandate as prescribed under the law, we should not see any one of them as superior. But some of them would have final responsibility in certain matters over others.

There will be no need for citizens to gnaw at each other and threaten those we have appointed to discharge prescribed duties and obligations on our behalf, when they act with diligence and in accordance with the law. We have to respect the rule of law and due process.

So as Parliament works to change the dates of voting in our general elections from December 7 to the first Monday of November, which this year happens to be November 7, let us encourage the Electoral Commission to equally work towards making the change a reality. That is why we need to have a transparent timetable about the processes leading to the election since the name of a voter must have been in the register for a minimum of 60 days or so before voting to enable such a person to exercise their franchise. 

We will make it marching on, for as Nelson Mandela puts it, “it always seems impossible until it is done.”