The Electoral Commission (EC) has been given a 12-month extension to operationalise the law that permits Ghanaians living abroad to vote in national elections, the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA).
Granting an application for extension of time filed by the EC, the court, presided over by Mr Justice Nicholas Abodakpi, awarded cost of GH¢8,000 against the EC.
The court held that despite evidence showing the EC failed in the past to prioritise implementation of the law, there appeared to be renewed commitment on the part of the new commissioners.
On December 18, 2017, Mr Justice Anthony Yeboah, then sitting as a High Court Judge handed the EC 12 months to ensure regulations detailing how the elections come off was passed by Parliament.
However, lawyers for the commission in January this year, filed the application for extension saying leadership challenges made it difficult for the commission to obey the court’s 2017 order.
According to Mr Justice Abodakpi, the EC, in its application, had not raised logistical or resource constraints which had been a major justification for failed implementation over the years.
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Counsel for the plaintiffs in the substantive case, Mr Sampson Lardi Anyenini, prayed the court to award GH¢ 20,000 against the EC for dragging the plaintiffs to court over the EC’s failure to obey an order but the court awarded GH¢8,000.
The 12 months extension elapses in January 2020.
The EC pleaded for more time to operationalise the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA), 2006 (Act 699), which gives Ghanaians in the Diaspora the right to vote from abroad.
The EC wanted the court to extend the deadline, which ended on December 18, 2018, to January, 2020.
On December 18, 2017, the Human Rights Division of the Accra High Court ordered the EC to operationalise ROPAA within 12 months by laying before Parliament a Constitutional Instrument (CI) that will set out the modalities for the implementation of the law.
In the event that the EC has any justifiable reason and is “unable to comply with the order”, the court ordered the commission to publish the justifiable reason(s) 30 days before the expiration of the deadline and also appear before the court to explain the reason(s).
The landmark followed a suit by five Ghanaians resident in the United States of America (USA), who accused the EC of “going to sleep” and refusing to implement Act 699, 11 years after it was passed.
In the affidavit sworn by the Chairperson of the EC, Mrs Jean Mensa, in support of the motion, the EC cited leadership challenges as one of the reasons for its inability to operationalise Act 699 within the stipulated 12 months.
“I say that after the judgement of the Honourable Court, the 1st Respondent (EC) experienced serious leadership challenges eventually leading to the removal from office of my first predecessor and Deputy Commissioners who were in the commission.
“I say that the prolonged leadership challenges at the 1st Respondent Commission and stalled decision-making at the management level affected the operationalisation of Act 699 within the one-year period ordered by this Honourable Court,’’ the affidavit said.
Referendum for new regions
The EC’s affidavit also mentioned the referendum for the creation of the new regions as one of the reasons why it could not meet the court’s deadline.
It, however, explained that the EC had constituted an implementation committee, headed by a Deputy Chairperson of the Commission, Dr Bossman Asare.
“In the circumstances, I pray for the extension of time for 12 calendar months ending January 2020, to enable the 1st Respondent (EC) to take the necessary steps as ordered by the court in its judgement ,’’ the affidavit added.
Dr Kofi A. Boateng, Ms Nellie Kemevor, Mr Obed Danquah, Mr Christiana Sillim and Mr Agyenim Boateng sued the electoral management body on the basis that it had “gone to sleep” and refused to implement Act 699, 11 years after it was passed.
The “deliberate refusal” or inaction of the EC to implement the Act, they argued, had robbed them of the chance to vote in three general elections (2008, 2012 and 2016) and other public elections.
They also contended that it was discriminatory for the EC to continue to register a category of Ghanaian citizens studying abroad or working in Ghana’s missions/embassies abroad to vote in public elections and referenda without including them.
In the judgement, which upheld the case of the five Ghanaians, the court held that the EC was deliberately dragging its feet and had made its mind not to implement Act 699 any time soon.
It was the court’s view that the EC failed to give any cogent reasons for the delay, describing the delay as “grievous, unreasonable and unjustifiable.’’