November 7 Polls: The earlier we make a decision on the Bill,...

November 7 Polls: The earlier we make a decision on the Bill, the better for all of us: Speaker calls on Leadership of Parliament

Photo: Hon. Doe Adjaho, Speaker

Ghana’s Speaker of Parliament, Edward Doe Adjaho has called on the Leadership of the House to expedite the decision on the passage of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2016, into law, to pave the way for the 2016 General Elections to be held on November 7.

Hon. Members, this is a very important Bill. It is dealing with the amendment of the fundamental law of this Land. And therefore the day that we will take this motion, it is important for Hon. Members to know and to be put on notice so that they can be in the House to take part in the debate’, the Speaker reminded the MPs.

The Speaker also said that ‘the motion (bill) was on the Order Paper yesterday (Tuesday, 19th July, 2016), but the Hon. Majority Leader (Alban Bagbin) came to see me in my office yesterday that he would like the matter to be taken today (Wednesday) and if today we are not taking it, any other day that you want to take it, let the Business Committee or the Leadership inform the House so that after you have cleared whatever you want to clear, Members will be put on proper notice as to when the debate will take place.

‘It is important because there are consequences flowing from whatever decision this House will take with regard to the Motion.  earlier that decision is taken by the House, the better it is for everybody; the better it will be for all of us, the better it is for the political parties and the better it will be for the Electoral Commission. So it is important for us to know when this Motion will be taken so that we can all prepare for it’, the Speaker charged Leadership and Members of the House.

The Speaker wanted to know the position of the Leadership of the House on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which had been programmed two times on the Order Paper for the Lawmakers to debate on the motion, after the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee had presented its Report on the Bill to the House on Monday, the 18th of July, 2016. The Motion (Bill) is yet to be read a Second Time.

‘Mr Speaker, I am informed by my Leader that there are some issues to be cleared before the Bill is taken. So we want to stand it down for now and when the issues are cleared, we will inform you’, the Deputy Majority Leader, Alfred Agbesi informed the House.

For his part, the Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said that ‘Mr Speaker, I guess you wanted the Majority Leader and I to confer on the matter. Unfortunately, it is not possible to have that engagement this morning. I am told the Majority Leader has to be at a Cabinet meeting this morning. If that is the case, he may not be able to avail himself. I guess the best thing to do is to step the Bill down for now.’

The Amendment                                             

The Bill seeks to amend Article 112 (4) of the 1992 Constitution to provide for Parliamentary Elections to be held on the first Monday of November in every election year. This is to ensure effective and smooth transition of government.

The 1992 Constitution stipulates that ‘where Parliament approves the bill, it may only be presented to the President for his assent if it has been approved at the second and third readings in Parliament by the votes of at least two thirds of all the members of Parliament’; (article 291 clause 3).

The Constitution further states that where the bill has been passed in accordance with the aforementioned article, the President shall assent to it; (article 291 clause 4).

The Bill, which is a one clause amendment, is expected to be passed into law before the 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary General Elections.

The Committee’s Report

The Committee in considering the Referral of the Bill was conscious of the importance of the Bill to Ghana. It therefore deemed it prudent to involve the political parties, civil society organisations and the general public.

Cognisance of this, the Committee held a Public Forum on Monday, the 11th of July, 2016 to solicit the views of the public on the Bill.

The Committee has critically examined the Bill vis-a`-vis the Advice from the Council of the State and the views of the participants at the Forum.

The Committee is also cautious of the implications of the change in the date of the elections of both the President and Members of Parliament from December to November.

It has also taken note of the firm commitment and assurance given by the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission and is of the view that the Bill is passed.

The Committee therefore recommends to the House to adopt its Report and pass the Bill subject to the Amendment attached.

The Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Magnus K. Amoatey presented the Report to the House.

The Committee’s Report was duly laid on Monday, the 18th of July, 2016, on the floor of the House.

The Bill

The Bill amends article 112(4) of the 1992 Constitution to make provision for Parliamentary elections to be held well ahead of the expiration of the tenure of Parliament to ensure an effective and smooth transition. The Bill is entitled ‘Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2016.’

Currently, the dates set aside in respect of the conduct of both Presidential and Parliamentary elections in the country is the 7th day of December whilst swearing-in of the President takes place on the 7th day of January in the ensuing year. However, the one month period for the transition of one government to the other, has over the years proved insufficient for a smooth transition particularly, in instances where there is a run-off election as was the case in 2000 and 2008.

In light of the apparent weaknesses in Ghana’s electoral system and following the election petition in 2013, the Electoral Reform Committee was established on 23rd January, 2015 to propose reforms to the country’s electoral system. The Electoral Reform Committee comprised representatives of the Electoral Commission.

One of the recommendations made by the Committee was a change in the date for the conduct of general elections from the 7th of December to the first Monday of November in an election year. The Committee specified that the general elections should be held on every first Monday of November in an election year in order to have elections on a specific day instead of having elections on a specific date. A reference was made to the United States of America where elections are fixed on the second Tuesday of November in an election year.

According to the Committee, holding the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in November would allow for sufficient time between elections and the handing over of power to an incoming government. This would also ensure a smooth transition and reduce acrimony as well as prevent the chaotic situation whereby former Ministers of State are recalled to provide information to the in-coming Government on matters of the State.

The Committee further stated that the reason for choosing the first Monday of November in an election year, as a convenient day of the week for elections, was that having a specific day of the week instead of specific date for elections, would prevent the inconvenience associated with some days of the week which have the tendency of affecting voters turn-out such as Friday or a Sunday. Other reasons were that having the elections on a day following a weekend would allow ample time for the preparation of the Electoral Commission by way of transportation and distribution of election materials. Parliamentary candidates would get more time with their constituents in their constituencies and it would be easier for people who had to travel to their various constituencies to do so on a weekend to cast their votes on a Monday.

Thus, to ensure that Parliamentary elections are earlier than the 7th day of December, the Bill amends article 112(4) of the Constitution to provide for Parliamentary elections to be held on the first Monday of November in every election year.