General News of Tuesday, 8 May 2012Source: The Globe Newspaper Prisoners in Ghana are heading for a Supreme Court showdown with the Electoral Commission of Ghana.
The prisoners, who were given the constitutional right of suffrage for the first time in the December presidential and parliamentary elections, say they were excluded from the month-long exercise because most of them had no national identification cards – a basic requirement for the novelty biometric exercise.
A legal practitioner, Kojo Graham, says the blame must be laid at the door steps of the Electoral Commission of Ghana and partly on the Ghana Prisons Service since the Supreme Court of Ghana had given a ruling for the prisoners to vote “a long time ago.”
He served notice that by the close of the week, he will head to the highest court of the land to get the prisoners registered if the EC fails to announce a “convincing plan to get the Supreme Court ruling” materialised.
However, officials of the Ghana Prisons Service insist they were poised to comply with the ruling, but the inmates could not satisfy all the basic requirements to enable them to go through the process within the four phases.
“We did what we could by liaising with relatives of the prisoners to help bring their national identity cards, but most of them do not have or have theirs missing,” says ASP Courage Atsem , the Public Relations Officer of the Prisons Service.
“We arranged to have them registered in the fourth phase of the exercise – that is if they were able to make available all the necessary documents, but unfortunately we couldn’t help. The EC couldn’t relax the rules,” he added.
“It is not our doing. Most of our inmates do not have these ID cards. We gave them the time to get in touch with their family members to bring them their forms of national identity they have at home to use for the registration. But they were unable to meet the deadline.”
In spite of the situation, lawyer Graham said the EC has no excuse and if by close of the week nothing concrete has been put in place to get the prisoners registered, he will be in court to enforce the Supreme Court ruling.
“The proper thing to do is to evaluate the post biometric registration circumstances and to determine whether at the end of the day all the orders of the Supreme Court have been complied with,” he told The Globe. “Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution guarantees that every Ghanaian of sound mind and above 18 have the right to vote and is entitled to register to vote.”
He added: “Article 42 clearly states that one of the key functions of the Electoral Commission is to undertake programmes for the expansion of the registration of voters. Article 51 of the Constitution also states that the EC by Constitutional Instrument make regulations for the effective performance of its functions in particular the registration of voters including the provision of voting by proxy.
“It is very clear and from what we have heard that if no further steps are taken to ensure that the prisoners who were not able to register are registered then clearly it is a matter that we have to seek recourse at the Supreme Court.”
Lawyer Graham was of the view that the EC has the mandate to relax the rules, particularly in the case of the prisoners looking at their situation and must not be left off the hook.
“The EC has authority in Article 51 of the Constitution to deal with some of these issues by way of Constitutional Instruments. The Supreme Court was aware of that article so in its ruling it clearly said the EC must take all necessary steps including Constitutional Instruments.
“We are doing our home work and as it stands now it is clear we may go to the Supreme Court. The EC do not need to go far and in circumstances like this which is not a rocket science they should have compared what was going on in other countries. This issue can be dealt with,” Lawyer Graham pointed out.**