Fellow Ghanaians, good evening.
I have come into your homes tonight on a matter of major importance for the nation and for me personally. It concerns the Referendum of 17th December, whose purpose is to seek popular support for the repeal of article 55(3) of the Constitution, a provision which, currently, bars political parties from involvement in district elections and local governance.
On my arrival here in Jubilee House on 9th January, 2017, nearly three years ago, I came with the firm conviction, emanating from the campaign and national discussions, that there was a national consensus for two important amendments to our governance system, which would enhance its effectiveness and accountability. One related to the possible reorganization of our regional governance structure, and, the other to the potential involvement of political parties in local governance. I thought, and still think, that such reforms should be based on a broad national consensus.
It was in furtherance of this and other matters that, on Tuesday, 18th April, 2017, a little over four (4) months into my mandate, I held a meeting with my three predecessors, the 1st, 2nd and 4th Presidents of the 4th Republic, their Excellencies Jerry John Rawlings, John Agyekum Kufuor, and John Dramani Mahama, at Jubilee House, to seek their views and counsel on these issues. I came away from that meeting with the view that there was consensus amongst us that the time had come for political parties to participate openly in district assembly elections and local governance.
Indeed, amongst the leadership of Parliament and amongst Members of Parliament on both sides, and amongst, virtually, all stakeholders who had been consulted either by me, or by the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, the clear indications were that there was a broad national consensus for the repeal of article 55(3).
The attainment of a broad consensus, for me, on a matter as important as the amendment of an entrenched provision of the Constitution, is critical. I do not believe that such an amendment should be driven as a party matter. There has to be a clear national consensus and agreement amongst the populace that a particular entrenched provision no longer serves the interest of the people, and, thus, has to be removed. In this case, it had been long apparent that political parties were, in fact, actively involved in district assembly elections, despite their apparently non-partisan nature. The time had come to strip the process of its hypocrisy, and accept and work with the reality of party involvement.
Just as there was a national consensus on the demand for the re-organisation of our regional structure, which enabled the creation of six (6) new regions, despite the stiff constitutional requirements, to proceed satisfactorily, there was every reason for me to believe that there was a consensus on this matter too. It is on this basis that I proceeded, and, subsequently, instructed the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development to initiate the parliamentary process for the repeal of article 55(3) of the Constitution.
Fellow Ghanaians, it is the same electorate who vote to elect a President and Members of Parliament on a party-political basis, who are going to vote to elect their own MMDCEs on a party-political basis. Far from it being divisive, elections have, in fact, been a unifying factor in the politics of the 4th Republic. That is the reason why, for the last twenty-six (26) years, under the Constitution of the 4th Republic, we have experienced the longest, uninterrupted period of stable, constitutional governance in our history, banishing the spectre of instability that disfigured the early years of our nation’s existence, and the benefits are still showing. It would also mean that freedom of association, which is one of the most fundamental freedoms in any democracy, would be given full expression in Ghanaian democracy.
Regrettably, two weeks ago, the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress, made, what I can only describe as, a U-turn, and stated that it was no longer prepared to go along with the national consensus. They indicated further that they will actively campaign for a vote. In as much as I still believe that there is enough support in the country for a vote to be successful on 17th December, I do not believe that this is the proper atmosphere in which an issue of such nature, i.e. the repeal of an entrenched provision of the Constitution, should be addressed in our country.
Even after their U-turn, I undertook consultations across a broad range of opinion as to the way forward. The general result of these consultations was that the process of repeal should be put on hold, for the time being, to enable a durable, national consensus to be forged on this matter
In these circumstances, I am convinced that it will not serve the public interest to go ahead with the holding of the Referendum on 17th December, even though I believe a strong campaign for a vote would have succeeded. This is not the kind of atmosphere in which the repeal of an entrenched provision of the Constitution should take place.
Even though I am unrepentant in my belief that party politics is good for our country, for it enhances accountability, I also think that, on matters of such constitutional significance, there should be a broad, national consensus behind the repeal of an entrenched provision of the Constitution.
So, fellow Ghanaians, it is with deep regret that I have given instructions to the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, who has spearheaded this process, on behalf of government, with commendable vigour and dynamism, to abort the process, and see to the withdrawal of the bills for the amendment of the Constitution, both in respect of article 243(1) and article 55(3).
Nonetheless, I assure you, the good people of Ghana, that my Government and I will continue to work for a broad, national consensus on this issue, and should such a consensus be attained for the repeal of article 55(3) of the Constitution, and an agreement reached for political parties to participate in and sponsor candidates for election to district assemblies, at any point during my tenure of office as President of the Republic, the matter will be brought again back to the front burner of our public discourse for the necessary action.
May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.
I thank you for your attention, and do have a good evening.