Term Limits for the Electoral Commissioner?

Monday, September 15, 2008

By Nii Lantey Bannerman and Edward Kutsoati 

Dr. Afari GyanEvery 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 purpose of public elections and referenda.

— Chapter 7, article 42, clause (1) of the 1992 constitution.

To make the above constitutional right possible, the Electoral Commissioner (hereinafter, the EC), his two deputies, and the rest of his team must carry out the following constitutional functions as dictated by article 45 of the 1992 Ghanaian constitution:

(a)    To compile the register of voters and revise it at such periods as may be determined by law.

(b)   To demarcate the electoral boundaries for both national and local government elections

(c)    To conduct and supervise all public elections and referenda

(d)   To educate the people on the electoral process and it purpose

(e)    To undertake programmes for the expansion of the registration of voters; and

(f)     To perform such other functions as many be prescribed by law

For 10 days from July 31 – later extended to 12 days – Ghanaians with a constitutional right to vote were advised to register for the December presidential and parliamentary elections. They were told it is their civic duty to do so. They orderly braved the heat and hunger to do as advised, only to find that the EC planned poorly for logistics, thus preventing potential voters from registering. Denying one the right to register and vote is a serious offence and a violation of their constitutional right. In light of the recent events in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire, the EC is surely aware that such abysmal failures could have catastrophic consequences for national peace, and also compromise the election. Was Mr. Afari-Gyan, the EC, incompetent? And if he has the resources to get it right, why is the President not out there demanding that the EC open the register again till all who are eligible to vote are registered? Does the EC have the resources? If not, can he then be blamed for a botched registration exercise?

So many questions have been asked about the electoral register as it currently exists. Few months ago, the NDC claims that the EC’s own record shows that somebody is tampering with the rolls. The EC denied the report. Later, the EC confirmed the report and said there was no cause for alarm. More questions were raised by Ghanaians as they became frustrated with the recent registration exercise. For example, they did not understand why the EC teasingly opens the register for a brief period and then closes it several months before elections. What is stopping the EC from opening the register continuously until close to elections? Why can’t eligible voters register at various locations all the time: e.g., when obtaining a drivers license, at the bank, or the post office? Certainly there is a grave lack of foresight on the part of the Electoral Commission, and some of us are concerned that it is losing focus. To be sure, the EC has challenges, and Mr. Afari-Gyan did not anticipate that the two leading parties (the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress) will be busing supporters around polling stations to further overwhelm the registration exercise. But Afrai-Gyan will be better served if he fights hard to get the necessary resources to ensure that those who are eligible to vote get on the register. The upcoming elections will certainly be contentious and it will be a crippling mistake if the EC should forcefully make himself a part of this anticipated risk by either not acting or calling for niceties that does not amount to a hill of beans or get his job done.

Besides the above concerns, readers may conjunctively note that the EC has failed in working collaboratively with other government agencies to prosecute brazen criminals who flout our election laws with impunity. Additionally, nothing is being done about how these political parties fund their activities. We know these parties are raising money from questionable and perhaps illegal sources. As it stands, any special interest group from outside Ghana, including Al Qaeda, can easily influence our elections without any ramifications. We are reminded about Scancem/Ghacem’s contribution to both leading parties in the last three elections. The EC has to show leadership by fighting vigorously to clean up our electoral system, securing resources and bringing eligible voters on line. Lastly, does anyone know what happened to ROPAL? Is it dead or alive? Did the EC not tell us that he can implement it once passed?

More importantly, how do we hold the EC accountable for the above functions? And how does the EC ensure that he is given adequate resources to execute these functions? As it stands, our feckless parliament is not doing a thing to provide oversight and no one in authority is impressing upon the EC to do better. According to the constitution, the EC enjoys the status of a judge of our Appeals Court. Article 146, Clause (1) of the constitution states that, "… a justice of the Superior Court or a Chairman of the Regional Tribunal shall not be removed from office except for stated misbehavior or incompetence or on ground of inability to perform the functions of his office arising from infirmity of body or mind."  This logically means that he (Electoral Commissioner) can be fired by the powers that be so long as they state or make a case of glaring incompetence or misbehavior; else, we are stuck with the EC for life.

But without any formal procedures for periodic assessment of the performance of the EC, we don’t see how Article 146(1) can ever be invoked. And as we head into the tense presidential and parliamentary elections in December, the crippling failures of the electoral commission in the recent voter registration exercise further reinforces the need for institutional reform that will not only strengthen the role of the EC in our democratic dispensation, but also make him more accountable to Ghanaians.

As we think more deeply about these questions, we come to the conclusion that, for a job this important, the EC must be given a term limited-appointment, only to be renewed after a successful performance review. The performance review in question must be done annually and cumulatively at the end of term. This can be a 5 – 7 year contract (and definitely not more than two election cycles), and re-appointment review undertaken by the Parliamentary Select Committee for Appointments. This will give both the Select Committee (and the public) the opportunity to ask the right questions about the failures of the EC. This review must involve citizens who are allowed to testify in parliament. In turn, and with his job on the line, the EC will have the chance to enumerate the reasons for the failures (for example, why the registration exercise was badly executed). He would only shoulder the blame that are his, and shift any others away from him to the appropriate authorities. This way, the government can be held responsible for its part in subverting Chapter 7, article 42, clause (1) of the 1992 constitution and corrective action taken. In either case, the winners will be Ghanaians: Either the EC will have a friend in the Select Committee to push for more resources; or we will get a more competent EC who would work hard to make the commission a respectable institution.

The EC’s primary role is to bring eligible citizens to the electoral roll, not frustrate them away from the rolls. Eligible voters who wish to exercise their franchise in the December elections must be registered. Mr. Afari-Gyan has been at the helm of affairs since 1993; that is, 15 years. If he is losing steam, then it is probably time for him to pave way for a much more effective and dynamic leader willing to fight and work hard for the electoral rights of the great people of Ghana. The stakes are high for the December elections. We all hope and demand peaceful elections. But this could elude us if equal rights and justice does not apply to all. The EC must get his job done to avoid problems in the upcoming elections.

Bannerman is the President of Ghana Visions Foundation, an NGO working on health and education needs of rural Ghana, and can be reached at akyere@aol.com; Kutsoati is an Associate Professor of Economics at Tufts University (USA), and a columnist with www.AfricanLiberty.org.