SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL & MINISTER FOR JUSTICE, MISS GLORIA AFUA AKUFFO, AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE 2020/2021 ANNUAL GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE GHANA BAR ASSOCIATION ON 14TH SEPTEMBER, 2020 AT THE LAW COURT COMPLEX AUDITORIUM, ACCRA
SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL & MINISTER FOR JUSTICE, MISS GLORIA AFUA AKUFFO, AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE 2020/2021 ANNUAL GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE GHANA BAR ASSOCIATION ON 14TH SEPTEMBER, 2020 AT THE LAW COURT COMPLEX AUDITORIUM, ACCRA, GREATER ACCRA REGION.
“Enhancing National Cohesion: The Essence of Free, Fair and Responsible Elections”
Chairman of Conference and President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Mr. Anthony Forson Jnr.
The President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo,
Your Lordship the Honourable Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Anin Yeboah,
Justices of the Superior Courts of Judicature,
Judges and Magistrates of the Lower Courts,
The Executive Director of the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and Conference Keynote Speaker, Prof. Henry Kwasi Prempeh,
Members of the Bar Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media,
Distinguished Invited Guests,
Despite its disruptive impact globally, the COVID-19 Pandemic has undoubtedly been one of the most dramatic catalysts for technological innovation, social invention and management change in contemporary times. Today, instead of congregating physically in a huge auditorium marked by warmth, handshakes, hugs, laughter, backslapping and collegiality, we are holding a virtual meeting in our various homes and offices so as to adhere to safety protocols. In spite of the physical distances we remain a determined and bonded group, as we deliberate on the timely and important theme for this year’s conference, “Enhancing National Cohesion: The Essence of Free, Fair and Responsible Elections”.
I congratulate the leadership of the Ghana Bar Association for the initiative and express my gratitude for another opportunity to address the annual conference of the Association especially at its maiden GBA WEBINAR.
The conference theme is compelling because we are in an extraordinary election year in which the hitherto normal political campaign and voter mobilization strategies are rapidly giving way to strategies which constitute the “new normal”, strategies that employ electronic virtual platforms and social media handles as adaptive responses to the realities of COVID-19 containment and prevention.
National cohesion refers to the degree to which people are tied to nationhood rather than primary social groups such as ethnicity or tribe. National cohesion is understood as the state of holding a defined group of people and their institutions together for purposes of achieving common goals.
In democratic societies, the appointment of executives and legislators to lead the enterprise of holding the components of the state together and achieving the common goals of the nation is critical to the success of democratization and national development. That appointment process must be free, fair and credible, and must thereby reflect the voice of the people which is best reflected in our electoral affairs when the people are enabled to freely express that choice without let or hindrance, or when the selection of leaders is not mediated or affected by improper inducements or other forms of corruption.
Voting is a right to all sound minded adult citizens to participate in choosing their leaders. Preventing the free exercise of the right to vote is tantamount to fettering free speech; it is a denial of the validity of the vote of the individual; it is a denial of the worth of that vote; it is a violation of the collective will of the people to give full weight and effect to every single voice expressed through the vote which could pose a serious threat to nationhood.
Indeed, experience shows that, election-related violence is one of the most serious threats to national cohesion and human security, with intolerance, unjustified exclusion and discrimination being other cognate factors. Here in Ghana, the conduct of by-elections in the recent past presents one of the worst examples of hatred and violence in politics: Asankragua, Chireponi, Gomoa, Akwatia, Atiwa and Ayawaso West Wougon remain a poor record of our electoral history.
Even so, the relevance of elections is obvious to the citizenry as the process by which a democratic people select individuals to hold public office, particularly the executive and the legislature. Most citizens also accept the proper functions of elections, primarily, as a mechanism for recruiting and selecting individuals to serve in representative institutions.
In this regard, elections provide periodic opportunities for assessing the performance of a government for the purpose of renewing or rejecting its mandate to rule. When properly run, elections provide legitimacy to the political and social order, and accords a nation, both domestic and international, recognition and validation as a democratic state. In addition to providing a platform for political socialization of the citizenry through the provision of information and sensitization of the public on political and civic issues, as well as the rights and responsibilities of the electorate, free and fair competitive elections also provide occasion for citizen engagement in the development and selection of policy directions that impact the development of the country, including its cohesiveness.
When elections are truly free, fair and responsible they serve as agents of political integration and provide a unifying focus for a country, thereby contributing to national cohesion. Free, fair and responsible elections then serve as a truly innovative and trusted mechanism for connecting citizens with their governments, signifying their consent to be governed by the elected governors. This cardinal function of elections in legitimizing and stabilizing the political system, contributes significantly to national cohesion.
Conversely, when elections are debased through voter apathy, voter suppression, deliberate disenfranchisement, undue influence and voter intimidation, rigging, resort to opaque voting methods, electoral rule violations, irregularities and malpractices, and even recourse to violence, the popular will is repressed and this could trigger a dangerous spiral of political instability, violent insurgency and downright national disintegration and socio-economic decay.
A free and fair election takes place when arrangements exist for a secret ballot by eligible citizens only; when the electorate is free from fear, intimidation and violence; when no officer or assign of the independent election management body such as the Electoral Commission of Ghana is subject to manipulation, undue influence or corruption; when it is impartial, neutral and efficient; when it generates results which are accurate, secure and verifiable; when it ensures that validly-cast votes are counted, tallied and announced at each polling station; when it collates, releases and declares the final results in a timely, transparent and accountable manner; and when the electorate and impartial observers can pronounce with confidence that the declared results represent the wish of the electorate.
In short, the existence of free, fair and responsible elections is invariably the outcome of responsible incremental actions by responsible persons into whose hands the management of elections, the campaign process and the ballot paper are placed. The essence of free, fair and responsible elections is therefore the legitimizing of the popular will of the electorate through interconnected systems of responsibility, trust and verification, all of which are assured when anchored in the conviction that an independent, trustworthy, credible and impartial judicial process exists for the efficient adjudication of electoral disputes.
These ideals and arrangements are encapsulated in our national motto, Freedom and Justice. They are grounded in the belief that we can pursue our individual and collective aspirations for prosperity and fulfilment in freedom, knowing and trusting that the doors of justice are open to resolve our disagreements and conflicts with one another and by the law.
The cohesiveness of our nation lies in the extent to which we strengthen and enable each of the foregoing elements of a free, fair and responsible election to manifest in our body politic. Accordingly, we must reduce the tempo of political rivalries and antagonisms that are often characterized by ethnocentrism and primordial prejudices in our nation which have threatening tendencies to our national cohesion.
Indeed, we risk weakening and balkanizing our nationhood if we fail to nurture, deepen, strengthen and widen the scale of public trust in the Electoral Commission, the voter registration process, the politicking and campaigning process by political parties, the balloting process and the election disputation and adjudication processes. For instance, our political parties must become greater platforms for the mobilization of ideas to develop our country and strengthen its national cohesiveness; the parties must be truly national in the sense that they must be para-ethnic instead of parochial, all-embracing rather than sectional and solidly present in every constituency as required by law.
We must work harder as a people to reduce the spate of election-related violence, negative advertising, the poisonous rhetoric of condemnation of political opponents, the denigration of otherwise cherished political icons and the venal demonization and criminalization of whole categories of persons such as ethnicities and communities. As a people, we must commit ourselves to elevating the bar of civility and decency in our public political discourse and particularly in our voter mobilization efforts.
We must also deliberately nurture what I may call, the “enablers of cohesion” in our nation. Among these are our collective hold on chieftaincy as the anchor of our culture, our respect for the elderly and our national icons, our common commitment to the rule of law and our stated distaste for corruption.
We must also enhance the scale of our youth’s conviction that they have a stake in the state and confidence in the future for a brighter Ghana.
It is apparent that ensuring free, fair and responsible elections is a sine qua non to the enhancement of our national cohesion. Nonetheless, other vital measures must be pursued, alongside the pressing enterprise of ensuring credible polls as an essential precondition to enhancing national cohesion and integration. At the least, the additional imperatives to national cohesion and integration must include: (a) strengthening the institutional environment for good governance, rule of law and constitutionalism; (b) boldly addressing socio-economic disparities between the regions and thereby deliberately narrowing the rural-urban infrastructural gap through the development and implementation of social investment programmes that systematically uplift all regions of the country and all segments of society.
In that regard, such policy measures as the Free Senior High School Education, One District One Factory, the Zongo Development Initiative and the various programmes driving the national digitization and social inclusion agenda such as the Ghana Card Project and the Digital Address System must be commended. Also important in this context is the need to foster improvements in natural resource management practices, and to implement social protection policy and youth employment schemes such as the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) and the Nation Builders’ Corps (NABCO).
Mr. Chairman, a major development in Ghana that has the potential to contribute to the resolution of the perennial conflicts and controversies over the compilation of the voters’ register and the means of proving eligibility for enrolment onto the register is the Ghana Card Project being implemented by the National Identification Authority. Section 2(3) of the National Identification Authority Act, 2006 (Act 707) and regulation 7 of National Identity Register Regulations, 2012, L.I. 2111 both provide that national identity cards issued to an individual shall be used in transactions which require identification.
The provisions respond directly to the sentiments expressed by Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, speaking for the full bench of the Supreme Court of Ghana, in Abu Ramadan & Nimako (No.1) v. Electoral Commission & Attorney-General; Danso-Acheampong v. Electoral Commission & Attorney-General (No.1) (Consolidated) [2013-2014] 2 SCGLR 1654, where she stated as follows:
“The need for a credible and reliable multipurpose national identification system comprising the relevant data and communication infrastructure that would answer to most of our national needs, whether for electoral, planning or developmental, or other purposes, is greater than ever before. We think the time has come for the appropriate authorities to respond to this need”.
In essence, the Ghana Card is the only identity card to be required and produced in transactions where identity must be proved or established in this country. In this regard, NIA has been issuing Ghanaians and qualified foreigners permanently resident in Ghana with unique identification numbers and Ghana Cards that are linked with their biographical and biometric details.
To deal decisively with the convulsive perennial contestations on the necessity or otherwise of compiling a new Voter’s Register, keep our Republic together and save our national purse, the Electoral Commission may consider generating the electoral register for future Presidential and Parliamentary Elections from the National Identity Register compiled by the NIA. As at 8th September 2020, the NIA had registered a total of 15,380,154 Ghanaians aged fifteen (15) years and above and issued the Ghana Card to over 13 million Ghanaians . Since more than 94% of all Ghanaians enrolled unto the register are aged 18 years or above, and the NIA is undertaking a mop-up registration exercise and also ensuring continuous registration through the establishment of permanent Regional and District Offices, it may be advisable for the Electoral Commission to have recourse to the NIA database for the compilation of the Voters’ Register and to adopt and designate the Ghana Card as the identity card to be used in future elections in the country.
This approach will be consistent with the mandate of the Electoral Commission under article 45(a) of the Constitution to compile the register of voters which implies a duty to use materials or sources which will assure a reasonably accurate and credible register of voters. Moreover, the Constitution does not restrict the Electoral Commission as to which document to use in compiling or generating the register of voters, provided the document reasonably guarantees that only Ghanaians of eighteen (18) years of age and above and of sound mind are registered to vote in consonance with article 42. Thus, the source document for the compilation or extraction of the register of voters must meet the specific requirement emphasized in the Abu Ramadan (No.1) case, namely, being able to prove the identity of the voter in terms of article 42. The Commission has a duty to ensure that the electoral register so generated meets the constitutional test of reasonable accuracy and credibility. No legal impediment prevents the Electoral Commission from using the National Identity Register to compile the Register of Voters or the National Identity card for the purpose of public elections and referenda.
We have a charge to keep, a nation to build and a God to glorify. Our charge is to keep the nation together and to prosper the Republic. These obligations are among the foremost duties of both Government and the citizenry. We must use the power of citizenship to keep and advance our national cohesion, to systematically propel its transformation into a truly cemented union of shareholders in the nation.
I thank you most sincerely for your kind audience.