Written By: M. Akosua Boakye and S. Dei
Pictures by: Senyuiedzorm A. Adadevoh
On April 8, 2011, the Ghana Constitution Review Commission (CRC) made the final stop of their diaspora consultations tour in the UK. The first of two UK consultations was held in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies. In Ghanaian fashion the consultations were opened with a prayer from Rev. Silvanus Tetteh.
Representing the CRC was Professor Fiadjoe – Chairman of the CRC, Commissioner Gabriel Pwamang, Mr. Rowland Atta-Kesson, Mr. Albert Agbamey and Ms. Baaba Amoah. The consultations were received by high level officials from the Ghanaian High Commission in London; including His Excellency Prof. Kwaku Danso-Boafo – High Commissioner to the UK, Ghanaian professors, lawyers, economists, policy makers, social activists, and members from Ghanaian national political parties.
The Commission was inaugurated by President Atta Mills to review the 1992 Constitution and address its strengths and weakness. Upon receipt of submissions, they will be reviewed and the Commission will draft a bill containing amendments to be submitted to Parliament and subject to national referendum. The CRC has held consultations across Africa, North America and Europe to obtain submissions from the Ghanaian diaspora whose numbers are estimated at 7.5 million.
The consultations have been open and inclusive, which have included utilizing telephone, email, web 2.0 and text based submissions. Highlighting the enormous financial contribution the diaspora make to the nation, Chairman Professor Fiadjoe emphasized the importance of facilitating face to face consultations with Ghanaians abroad. To date, the Commission stated that some of the submissions received from overseas were “the most well-structured.”
After the opening remarks, Prof. Fiadjoe called into session the formal hearing. Individuals called to the the main stage,were asked to publicly present their submissions for possible amendments to the Constitution. The submissions were then formally scrutinized against legal fact to obtain clarity when necessary by Mr. Rowland Atta-Kesson – Counsel and Legal Researcher at the Commission. Afterwards, the submissions were then referred to the Chair for further scrutiny and comment.
Although, His Excellency Kwaku Danso-Boafo’s stated that the submissions should be a dialogue in harmony, respect and dignity, there was still a heated debate over the content of submissions between attendees at the consultations. Overall, submissions touched on issues of: dual citizenship; voting rights; the taxation of the President’s salary; women’s rights; disabilities, age, and sexuality; national security; the death penalty; indemnity clauses 34 and 35; and regulation of media.
Of the 29 oral submissions, voting rights and dual citizenship seemed to be top concerns. Numerous witnesses voiced their apprehension about the citizenship laws outlined in chapter 3 of the Constitution, describing them as vague and confusing and suggested that a clear distinction be made between citizenship by birth and all other forms of citizenship.
One witness claimed that Ghana’s citizenship is being given out cheaply, while another noted that there is a lack of clarification on citizenship when it comes to addressing those who are adopted.Other witnesses who took the stand emphasized that the amendment to Article 8 did not go far enough, suggesting that possible changes be made to the kinds of official positions that those with dual citizenship can hold and stressing the need for the Constitution to allow citizens abroad the right to vote.
Professor Fiadjoe responded to these concerns noting that the Constitution did indeed make provision for allowing Ghanaians in the Diaspora to vote, but stated that the problem lied elsewhere, not with the Constitution but with the implementation of the law. He expressed to the audience that the Commission was working towards addressing these hurdles and asked that suggestions be given to assist them in this process. One witness proposed that the internet be utilized as a voting portal for those abroad and pressed that progress be made to ensure that Ghanaians abroad vote in the next election.
In his closing, Professor Fiadjoe thanked all attendees and ensured all witnesses that “each submission will be taken with due weight and given due consideration.” The Commission hopes to have a draft that they can present to the government by June and as Professor Fiadjoe remarked, the Commission plans to “leave a product that does justice to Ghana.”
Reflecting on the evening, audience member Hannah Acquah (founder of The Knowledge Channel) expressed that “as a Ghanaian National in the Diaspora participating in our Constitution Review, I was particularly impressed by the professional and knowledgeable Constitution Review Committee members. They have made me extremely proud! They commanded respect, hosted a well-organised evening and a skillfully presented review session.”