Some assembly members in the Upper East Region have expressed fears about losing their rights and freedoms after participating in the upcoming voting exercise scheduled for the approval or otherwise of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executive (MMDCE) nominees in the region.
They say they have been notified that the ballot papers produced for the exercise, which begins with some districts in the region this Thursday, have been tagged with serial numbers meant to track the decisions (a Yes or a No) the voting assembly members are going to make in the polling booths.
According to the assembly members, some powerful figures want to secure approval for some of the nominees at all costs and they reportedly have sent a strong word to them (the assembly members) about their interests.
The influential figures are also said to have struck a deal with some Electoral Commission (EC) officials to serialise or number the ballot sheets according to the arrangement and the numbering of the assembly members’ names on the polling register. The assembly members explained that after the exercise had ended and everybody had retired home, the yes-voters and the no-voters would be traced and identified through the serial numbers on the ballot papers and the register and subsequently dealt with according to the decisions taken in the polling booths.
“If we don’t blow the alarm now, no genuine action will be taken after it has happened. That was what happened at the Council of State election at the House of Chiefs where ballot papers were serialised to influence delegates to vote in favour of a particular candidate against their will and were given cash rewards afterwards. In the latest development, they are going to track and victimise those who will vote against their interests. If I’m going to vote knowing there is something on the ballot paper to track my choice, then that is not voting.
“We could have waited for the voting day to arrive and then go into the polling booth and snap the ballot papers as evidence to show to the public that the ballot papers were serialised but I can assure you that nothing will happen even if you go to court after the nominee had already been confirmed. Any noise you make and any legal action anybody takes after that exercise is just going to be an exercise in futility,” a veteran assembly member said.
Another assembly member stressed: “An MMDCE nominee may be my interest, but at least I want to have my own freewill to cast my vote. My will is what should be reflected and respected. You understand? We don’t need to be gagged. It should be done as the legal framework allows, not in an environment of fear and intimidation by putting a tracker on the ballot papers. When you are made to do things under duress, it is not proper, it is not fair.”
“I will call my officers and caution them”― EC Director
Groups in the region have warned they will sue any assembly that holds an MMDCE confirmation exercise without a Presiding Member (PM).
“We’ll be ready to be right there with the Electoral Commission to see how they may want to go about serialising or numbering ballot papers to identify people,” a one-time Upper East Regional First Vice Chairman of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and parliamentary candidate, Tii-roug Zumah Yaro, added his voice.
A renowned lawyer, John Ndebugre, is also reported to have forewarned that the assembly of his hometown Bawku West District would have him to contend with in court if it sets foot in the MMDCE approval exercise without electing a PM first. The border hilly district is among a number of local government areas said to have been conducting assembly businesses without a PM for half a decade in the region.
Responding to the concerns raised by the assembly members about the alleged tracker on the ballot papers, the EC’s Upper East Regional Director, William Obeng Adarkwa, said he had not received such complaints but would caution his officers against doing anything contrary to the rules and regulations guiding the confirmation exercise.
“As far as I know, the ballot papers are done locally and we don’t serialise it as it is for general elections or whatever. So, if any officer is doing it, fine― I mean you’ve sort of drawn my attention to it. I will soon call my officers and caution them against that, because ballot should be in secrecy. We’ve sent them regulations guiding the whole confirmation exercise. So, there is no point marking a particular ballot paper so that you can be able to identify who did what and who did not do what. You understand?
“We’ve given them directives from head office and I have posted everything to them. So, I would be surprised, perhaps a bit taken aback, to hear that some are conniving with other powers that may― I don’t know where and where. But I will caution them again. As far as it is now, technically, the coordinating directors are in charge of the districts. I have instructed my officers to liaise with them to come out with an acceptable mode of ballot paper and everything so that we don’t encounter any challenges going forward,” he said.
This is the first time assembly members have raised this breed of alarm in the region since Ghana voluntarily re-embraced democracy in 1992. And these assembly members are more than prepared to do their own inspection of the ballot paper before placing their prized thumbs on it when the exercise is soon due, knowing very well that―if it is true that there is a tracker on the ballot paper― then even a tiny dot on the material just might be a ‘CCTV camera’ watching a civic duty that is supposed to be discharged in secret.
“If I ever notice any strange mark on the ballot paper, I will not talk about it later. I will talk about it at once and at the spot. I’ll protest and reject the ballot paper right there,” an assembly member swore.
By Edward Adeti, Upper East Region – Daily Mail GH