The National Democratic Congress (NDC) is urging voters to vote “NO” during the December 17, 2019, national referendum on whether or not the 1992 Constitution should be amended to open up local government elections to partisan participation.
According to the party, a “YES” vote will further polarize the nation, particularly local communities along the lines of NPP / NDC, and will likely lead to the creation of “NDC Communal Labour day” and “NPP Communal Labour day”, as well as “NDC market” and “NPP market”.
NDC’s POSITION ON THE REFERENDUM TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION TO MAKE THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT SYSTEM PARTISAN AND CONSEQUENTIAL MATTERS
We want to thank you sincerely for honouring our invitation. The purpose of this Press Conference is to address only one fundamental matter namely, the referendum fixed for the 17th of December 2019.
The matter was deliberated upon extensively at a meeting of the National Executive Committee held last Thursday at which the party firmed its position on the pending referendum and agreed to hold today’s Press Conference to inform Ghanaians of our position.
The referendum as we have been told, seeks to amend Article 55 (3) of the Constitution. That amendment has nothing to do with the election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs).A Notice put out by the EC saying among others that “the referendum is to approve or reject the provision on whether MMDCEs are to be voted or not” is a palpable falsehood.
Last Friday, the National Commission for Civic Education, the NCCE, the official state agency responsible for public education on the Constitution, clarified the nature of the impending referendum by stating in an official Press Release as follows:
“The NCCE has noted with concern misinformation in the media that the 17th December, 2019 referendum is to elect Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs). The Commission wishes to clarify that the 2019 National Referendum is to enable citizens to vote on the proposed amendment of Article 55 (3) of the 1992 Constitution that currently bars political parties from participating in District Level Elections (DLEs). The proposed amendment is to introduce multi-party participation in the Local Government System in Ghana”.
The NCCE clarification has been the NDC position all along, that the Government was deliberately misleading people into believing that the referendum is to elect MMDCEs, knowing that the election of MMDCEs is the peoples’ preference. No less a personality than President Akufo-Addo himself made this false claim last week. In fact, the NCCE should have called out the President for peddling misinformation and untruths.
At the meeting held last Thursday, the NEC of the NDC affirmed our long held position that MMDCEs should be elected. We however took the view that the local government system should remain non-partisan and that individuals contest the District Assembly and Unit Committee elections on their own merit. We therefore decided to campaign for a NO vote at the referendum and to urge all Ghanaians to vote NO at the referendum.
It is our well considered view, and indeed that of well meaning Ghanaians, that the needless NDC-NPP polarization at the national level should not be extended into the District Assemblies and Unit Committees, which is what will happen if we vote to make the local government system partisan.
The consequence of exporting this polarization into the District Assemblies is that very soon in our villages, there will be “NDC Communal Labour day” and “NPP Communal Labour day”. There will also be “NDC market” and “NPP market” And so on and so forth. We of the NDC believe that all our towns and villages should have one communal Labour day, and one market and we can only achieve this by voting NO.
Ladies and gentlemen,
If you will recall, last week at Akatsi in the Volta Region, President Akufo-Addo stated that he was committed to sustaining former President Rawlings’ decentralization legacy. That legacy is based on the non-partisan local government system. It is therefore imperative that we vote NO at the referendum in order to give effect to President Akufo-Addo’s commitment.
(Let me take this paragraph again )
Ladies and gentlemen,
Article 55 (3) of the Constitution states as follows: “Subject to the provisions of this article, a political party is free to participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information or political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office other than to District Assemblies or other local government unit”.
The referendum has become necessary because Article 55 is an entrenched provision of the Constitution and therefore can only be amended through a referendum. But in amending Article 55, there would be many consequential matters and pitfalls which government may not have considered. Indeed, that is why the proposed bill should have been subjected to intense public discussion as is required for holding referenda on any provision of the Constitution. Without the needed clarity, confusion would arise out of the referendum. This is the problem Great Britain has had to grapple with since the Brexit referendum.
PITFALLS OF THE REFERENDUM BILL
Ladies and gentlemen,
The first pitfall relating to making the local government system partisan has to do with the bill on which the referendum is to be held which is titled the ‘Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2018’. It was signed by the Attorney-General, Ms. Gloria Afua Akuffo, on 26th September, 2018 and given Gazette notification on 12th November 2018. It states as follows:
“Article 55 of the Constitution amended
Article 55 of the Constitution is amended by the repeal of clause (3) and the insertion of the following:
“(3) Subject to the provisions of this article, a political party may participate in shaping the political will of the people, to disseminate information on political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character and sponsor candidates for elections to any public office”.
A copy of the Amendment Bill will be distributed to all members of the media here present.. It must be noted that the language in the original Article 55 (3) that “a political party — is free to disseminate information on — political ideas, social and economic programmes of a national character —”
We wish to point out that this was couched in that way because the local government system was non-partisan and political parties were prohibited from sponsoring candidates for elections at the district and sub-district (local) levels. So by repeating it in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2018, it means that even though under the bill, political parties may sponsor candidates for election to any public office, including the District Assemblies and Unit Committees “they cannot disseminate political ideas, social and economic programmes of a local character” (that is at the district and unit levels). In effect, political parties cannot campaign in the district level elections which are intended to deal with local level socio-political issues.
Simply put, voting YES, would mean that political parties can sponsor candidates to both District Assembly and Unit Committee elections but the same political parties cannot campaign in the districts and the units for those elections. This flies in the face of logic.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The second pitfall relates to Article 248 (1) and (2) of the Constitution. That Article states as follows:
“(1) A candidate seeking election to a District Assembly or any lower local government unit shall present himself to the electorate as an individual, and shall not use any symbol associated with any political party.
(2) A political party shall not endorse, sponsor, offer a platform to or in any way campaign for or against a candidate seeking election to a District Assembly or any lower local government unit”.
If Article 248 is not amended or repealed, it will mean that even if the referendum succeeds in amending Article 55 (3) to allow political parties to sponsor candidates for District Assembly and Unit Committee elections, the candidates cannot use the symbols of those political parties and indeed the political parties cannot endorse, sponsor, offer a platform to or campaign for those candidates. That will be an unpardonable contradiction in our Constitution.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The third pitfall relates to the need for a repeal of Article 242(d) of the Constitution. This is the article that requires the President to appoint 30 per cent of the membership of the District Assemblies. That requirement was necessary when the District Assembly system was non-partisan. However, if as the bill seeks to do, the President’s party will be sponsoring candidates to contest the District Assembly elections, it will not be fair or just to also allow that President to appoint 30 per cent of the membership which will only go to swell up the overall number of his party members in the District Assembly.
Indeed, outside the proposed referendum, it has been our view that this provision should be amended so that government will cede the 30 per cent appointments as it presently stands to the chiefs and traditional authorities as was the case under the Second and Third Republican Constitutions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The fourth pitfall is in respect of Regulation 2 (1) (c) of the Local Government (Sub-Metropolitan District Councils) (Establishment, Composition and Functions) Instrument, 2015, L. I. 2223. This provides as members of the Sub-Metropolitan District Councils (SMDCs) “not more than five adult residents the majority of whom are to be women in the sub-metropolitan district appointed by the Regional Minister in consultation with the traditional authorities and other interest groups in the sub-metropolitan district”.
This L.I. will also have to be amended to prevent the Regional Minister who is the appointee of the President from packing the SMDC with party members. As we have proposed for the Assemblies, this appointment may also be ceded to the chiefs and traditional authorities.
Ladies and gentlemen, I now proceed to pitfall number five.
Currently, the cost of the non-partisan district level elections, that is the District Assembly and Unit Committee elections, including the cost of the campaigns of the candidates through the mounting of the platform system, is borne by the state. If the elections are made partisan and political parties are to sponsor candidates for the District Assembly and Unit Committee elections, will the cost of those elections and the cost of the campaigns of the candidates continue to be borne by the state or the cost will be passed on to the political parties? Are the political parties in a position to bear that cost?
The sixth pitfall is that once the district level elections become partisan political parties may be compelled to hold party primaries at both the electoral area and unit levels in order to select candidates for the District Assembly and Unit Committee elections. Are the political parties ready, willing and able to bear those costs? Are we prepared to transfer the canker of monetization in our national politics onto the local government system?
Ladies and gentlemen,
The seventh pitfall relates to general difficulties that are likely to arise in the post-elected District Assembly and Unit Committee local government architecture, in respect of the following:
· How will District Assemblies which are considered “hostile” to the Central Government (in the sense that the majority of the Assembly members do not belong to the party in power at the Central Government level) be handled and are not discriminated against by the Central Government when it comes to the allocation of resources, the provision of services and the siting of projects;
- Has government considered the likelihood of heightened tensions between the Central Government and “hostile” District Assemblies and especially between “hostile” District Chief Executives (in the sense of elected District Chief Executives who do not belong to the President’s party) and the President.?
- How will a regional minister appointed by the president run the affairs of the region which may be dominated by “hostile district assemblies” with “ hostile district chief executives” to realize a harmonious relationship within the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media,
Following from the substantial issues we have raised, we wish to conclude as follows;
1. Our support for the election of MMDCEs has not changed. We note however that article 243 (1) on the election of DCEs is not an entrenched clause in the 1992 constitution and can therefore be changed by two-thirds majority of all parliamentarians. A referendum is not required to effect the change allowing for the election of MMDCEs. Government may therefore place a Bill before Parliament setting out the modalities for the election for consideration. This is the primary interest of Ghanaians.
2.The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2018, has many ramifications for the smooth, effective and harmonious administration of the Metropolitan and District Assemblies. It has to be thought through very well. Unfortunately, the bill as it is now is fatally flawed and cannot form the basis for the referendum to amend Article 55 (3). It must be withdrawn. But if the government insists on making the Assembles partisan, then a new bill must be drafted, re-gazetted and subjected to serious scrutiny by Ghanaians, unlike the surreptitious manner it has gone about the current Bill. It will also mean that the 6-month period required by the Constitution for the Bill to be gazette will begin to run anew.
3.As part of the process for presenting the referendum question afresh, Government must produce a blueprint on how the pitfalls arising from the amendment proposal that we have raised are to be resolved. We insist there must be broader consultation with all the relevant stakeholders.
We acknowledge and are aware of on-going efforts made by some civil society organizations to forge a bipartisan approach to issues of the referendum including government committing itself to concrete and verifiable steps pertaining to proposed changes to the constitutional provisions identified in our statement. The outcome of meetings which have involved the Minority vindicate the stance we have taken that the referendum should be put on hold. Failing that, we would urge the electorate to vote NO.
The NDC is of the firm view that the country is already sharply divided along partisan lines. The one thing which still binds us together as a people is the fact that at the local level, the local government system is run on a non-partisan basis and therefore is able to rally all of us for development. We know as a fact that whenever politicians have tried to politicize the local government system it has never augured well for the community.
Are we prepared to subject this time-tested system to the ravenous nature of partisan politics, which could further tear us apart without taking into account all the legitimate concerns we have raised so far?
Ladies and gentlemen,
The issues we have brought up go to the very heart of the legitimacy of the scheduled referendum. We have done our duty to country by bringing to the fore, the inherent flaws in even the way the Bill on which the referendum question is premised has been put.
FINALLY, LET ME REITERATE THE POSITION OF THE NDC THAT THE ELECTION OF MMDCEs IS VIABLE AND DOABLE. THE RELEVANT CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION IS NOT AN ENTRENCHED CLAUSE SO PARLIAMENT CAN AMEND IT WITH TWO THIRDS MAJORITY WITHOUT NECESSARILY TURNING THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT SYSYEM INTO A HOTBED OF PARTISAN CONFUSION.
We thank you very much for your attention