The Electoral Commission (EC) has repeated that it will strictly enforce all COVID-19 safety protocols, including the wearing of face masks at all polling stations across the country during the general election on Monday.
The EC has also warned that nobody should enter the polling centres with party-branded face masks and paraphernalia, as it was against the law to display such items at the polling stations.
“The face masks that people would wear should not be party-branded. So they should wear the face mask but not the party-branded ones,” the Director of Electoral Services of the EC, Dr Serebour Quaicoe, said in an interview with the Daily Graphic.
That notwithstanding, a legal practitioner, Mr Martin Kpebu, has suggested that the EC should make available some face masks at the various polling stations for persons who genuinely could not afford the face masks so they are not disenfranchised.
“There is a law in place now that prevents people from coming into public without the wearing of face masks but I think that is the law and the EC has no option but to stick to enforce that law, otherwise it would be seen as condoning, or more or less, abetting in the commission of a crime by allowing people to come and vote without nose masks,” he said.
However, Mr Kpebu said although the EC had to enforce the law, it must face the reality that there were some people who would genuinely not be able to afford a face mask and in that regard, the EC would have to seek some funding to acquire face masks to assist such people to comply.
“As to those who can afford and who cannot afford that’s another challenge but by and large I think the EC can come out with some modalities to address that,” he said.
The human rights and public interest lawyer added that those who left their face masks at home should be encouraged to return to pick them, while those who could not afford, such as the unemployed were given the personal protective item at the polling station.
Director of EC
But Dr Quaicoe argued that giving out face masks at the polling stations would create the impression that it was only at the polling stations that people could contract COVID-19 when it could be contracted anywhere, including in vehicles, and that people rather should be encouraged to wear the face masks before they stepped out of their homes.
He said he did not understand the arguments against the EC’s insistence on the wearing of face masks since it had been mandated by law that every Ghanaian should wear them while in public as part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are saying that you can’t come to the polling station without a face mask because there is a law to that effect and we need to protect the lives of people,” Dr Quaicoe said.
What law says?
The first paragraph of the Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic (No 10) Instrument, 2020 (E.I. 164), makes the wearing of face masks in public mandatory.
It stipulates that “A person shall wear a face mask, face shield or any other face covering that covers his or her nose and mouth completely, when that person is (a) in a public place; or (b) leaving or returning to his or her place of abode.
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) recently indicated that there was enough supply of face masks in the country.
It said the facilitation of local production had helped to ensure that almost the entire population had access to one or more face masks at very affordable prices.
A study by the GHS suggests that because of the consciousness that it was mandatory to wear the face mask, people always had them in their pockets and were ready to show them in case they were queried by the police.
Asked whether by enforcing the COVID-19 safety law the EC might not be infringing on the rights of some people to vote since not everyone may be able to afford a mask, Dr Quaicoe said rights came with responsibilities and that there was also the need to protect the lives of all persons that would visit the polling centres.
He said it was critical that people observed the safety protocols because if the EC did not do that it was the same Ghanaians, especially the media, that would announce to the whole world the flouting of the COVID-19 safety measures and the law in general.
At the polling stations, Dr Quaicoe said there would be COVID-19 ambassadors who would be in charge of ensuring that all the safety measures, including social distancing, checking of temperature, washing of hands and the use of hand sanitiser, were in place.
“People should be encouraged to wear the mask before they step out of their homes. You don’t need to be a voter before you wear a face mask, but at the polling station if you don’t bring a mask we would not allow you,” Dr Quaicoo said, adding that the issue had been stressed at the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting.
Regarding whether or not the EC was considering creating some kind of opportunity for people who tested positive for COVID-19 to vote, Dr Quaicoe said there was no such provision and that once no one was within the confines of a polling station, there was no way they could vote.
“You can only vote at the polling station in Ghana, if you can’t avail yourself at the polling then that’s it. Voting takes place at the polling no matter who you are or what you are and if for some reasons you can’t go to the polling station then you can’t vote,” the director of Electoral Services added.