Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Let Us Implement Act 699 - And Enable Ghanaians In The Diaspora To Vote In Ghana's National Elections

Ten years have passed since the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2006 (Act 699), the so-called ROPA, was passed by Ghana's Parliament. Unfortunately, it is yet to benefit any of the millions of Ghanaians in the Diaspora it was meant to enfranchise.

It is a totally unacceptable situation - as the contribution that Diasporans make to Ghana's development is immense. Although not many Ghanaians realise it, the Ghanaian Diaspora does actually constitute an important economic pillar of Ghana's development.

Indeed, if Diasporans could vote in national  elections in Ghana too from overseas, it would force our obtuse political class to take their needs into account - and focus on making it easy for Diasporans to establish and effectively run businesses in Ghana from overseas.

If that is done Ghanaians will be pleasantly surprised to find our national economy surging ahead quickly. That is why it is so vital that Act 699 is implemented quickly.

If Diasporans could vote overseas in our elections, they would most probably plump for the results-driven  world-class leadership qualities  that Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom's candidacy offers our nation - for many of them know that an Nduom administration, were he to be elected President, would  more likely than not, give businesses owned in Ghana by Diasporans, tax exemptions.

Taxes on the goods Diasporans need to import into Ghana to operate their businesses here, would probably be waived by an Nduom adminstration - and those selfsame businesses  possibly given 10-year tax holidays from paying corporate taxes.

If that were to happen, will Ghana's economy not experience an unprecedented boom that will last for many years regardless of global economic conditions - for Diasporans in the main don't lack confidence in the enterprise Ghana and are thus patient investors in it for the long haul: unlike your average foreign fair-weather emerging markets investor on the lookout for short-term profits.

As a people we need to give Diasporans the same tax breaks we are so quick to give to foreign investors. A dear childhood friend, who is a U.S. passport holder of Ghanaian heritage, has had to go through many difficulties trying to set up a logistics business in Ghana, using ex-U.S. military Oshkosh and Harsco BMY truck tractors.

Most of those difficulties  arise from the fact that he has had to contend with endless taxes and levies that he has to pay to get equipment into Ghana. So instead of a large fleet of heavy duty all-terrain ex-military vehicles that he had originally planned to import into Ghana, he has brought in just a handful thus far - and has paused to reconsider his plans.

What he has gone through, has convinced me that giving Diasporans tax exemptions on all the equipment they need to import into Ghana, to operate their businesses here, makes perfect sense.

True to form, although he has not started business yet, his company is constantly being pestered by the Ghana Revenue Authority's (GRA) Weija office at the Ghana Industrial and Commercial Estates Limited (GICEL).

I am telephoned frequently by GRA staff from that Weija office - much to my annoyance - who keep calling me despite my having told them a zillion times that his company has not started operating yet, as far as I can tell. Incredible.

In the meantime, foreign investors in Ghana, particularly multinational companies, are draining the very lifeblood out of Mother Ghana through crooked schemes such as transfer pricing, whiles clueless GRA staff look on.

It makes one wonder whether or not staff of the GRA are yet to study the report of the OECD/G20 Base Erosion project - so that they can leverage it to staunch the massive bleeding that that transfer-pricing rip-off by multinationals in Ghana, amounts to.

Instead of pestering Diasporans who invest in Ghana's real economy, the GRA ought to focus on the many tax-dodging foreign  crooks busy exploiting our country, by abusing free-zone tax exemptions and making a complete nonsense of the bonded warehousing deferred taxes/import duty payments scheme.

Diasporans could help create tens of thousands of jobs for young people in Ghana if offered the same tax breaks we readily dish out to so-called foreign investors so eagerly.

Giving Diasporan businesses 10-year corporate tax holidays is a positive pro-business policy decision that will help the national economy grow quickly - no matter how difficult market conditions in the rest of the global economy become.

Diasporans actually hold the key to Ghans's future in many ways - by the example they set for many in Ghana, who emulate  their work ethic;  benefit from the exposure of Diasporans to the latest disruptive technologies and their adoption of best-practice-ethos in many fields of human endeavour.

They therefore deserve to have a say in choosing Ghana's leaders - and must be given the opportunity to cast votes too during national elections back home, in elections organised by Ghana's EC,  in the countries they are legal residents of.

That is why the usual excuse of lack of funds should no longer be trotted out by officialdom to justify the delay in implementing Act 699.

 As a people, are we saying that we not capable of thinking  creatively to find a way to empower the Electoral Commission (EC), to enable Diasporans to vote in national elections from abroad?

We need to understand that it is simply not fair that in this day and age Ghanaians in the  Diaspoa are still unable to vote in elections in Ghana - because the EC lacks the funds to make that possible. Haaba.

Surely, if we put our thinking caps on and do some lateral thinking, it ought to be possible to find a creative means of funding the EC to ensure the participation of Diasporans in presidential and parliamentary elections, in all the nations in which they reside legally?

Would the Western nations where the largest concentrations of Diasporans live, such as the UK, Germany, Italy, France, the US, Canada, not be amenable to funding the use of their electoral systems by the EC, if approached by the government of Ghana - as their contribution to the growth and entrenchment of democracy in Ghana?

To begin with, why don't we ask the nations that contribute to Ghana's development through budgetary support, to earmark some of those funds to their own electoral bodies - to enable them collaborate with Ghana's Electoral Commission to use their electoral systems to organise elections in their countries for legally resident Ghanaians?

If such a move would enable a key demographic that contributes billions of dollars to Ghana's GDP annually, in diverse ways, to take part in national elections in Ghana, would that not be far more beneficial to our homeland Ghana, than the current situation in which a portion of the funds donated as foreign aid to Ghana, inevitably end up in the secret offshore bank accounts of crooked senior public servants and rogue politicians?

The question then is: How would such collaboration between the EC and the bodies that hold elections in the donor nations providing Ghana with budgetary support (such as the UK's Electoral Commission, for example) work in practice?

In that scenario, British-Ghanaians would be registered on behalf of Ghana's EC, by the Electoral Registration Officers of the UK Electoral Commission, who would work with Ghana's EC to enable them use its system to vote in Ghana's presidential and parliamentary elections, under the supervision of the UK Electoral Commission's Returning Officers across the UK.

Naturally, the details of such collaboration could be worked out between stakeholders in Ghana - the EC, the political parties and Parliament - and the UK authorities. It really is intolerable that Diasporans are still unable to participate in national elections in Ghana.

Yet another idea, would be for earmarked budgetary-support funds from donor nations, to be made available directly to the EC to enable them conduct elections in their home countries, for Ghanaians living there - who in that case would have to travel to our diplomatic missions in the countries they reside to cast their votes in person.

Considering the immense contribution they make to the nation-building effort, as a people, we really ought to find a creative way to fund the EC to conduct elections for all Ghanaians living legally abroad - and finally implement the Representation Of The People (Amendment) Act, 2006 (Act 699).

Towards that end, let us have a meaningful national  conversation, about  finding a creative way to make it possible for the EC to implement Act 699.This has been this blog's two-pesewas. What is yours? Food for thought.

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