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Ghana - Government

Ghana is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. Kwame Nkrumah’a party, the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP), won all 3 elections and led the country to independence, as Ghana, in March 1957. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence. Nkrumah was the first Prime Minister, and in 1960 became President with the change of Ghana’s status to a Republic within the Commonwealth.

Nkrumah turned Ghana into a one-party state under African Socialism. A celebrated pan-Africanist, he also developed close ties with the Soviet Bloc. He was overthrown in Ghana’s first military coup in 1966. For the next 26 years until 1992, Ghana had only short periods of civilian rule (1969-71,1979-81) interrupted by longer periods of military rule (1966-69,1972-79, 1981-1991).

The year 1971 witnessed the second effort to establish republican government in Ghana under Kofi Abrefa Busia. Since then, Ghana experienced four military governments and a third attempt at representative democracy before the inauguration of the Fourth Republic in January 1993.

The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana that came into effect on January 7, 1993, provides the basic charter for the country's fourth attempt at republican democratic government since independence in 1957. The 1993 constitution that established the Fourth Republic provided a basic charter for the republican democratic government. It declared Ghana to be a unitary republic with sovereignty residing in the Ghanaian people. Intended to prevent future coups, dictatorial government, and one-party states, it was designed to establish the concept of power sharing.

The document reflects lessons learned from the abrogated constitutions of 1957, 1960, 1969, and 1979, and incorporated provisions and institutions drawn from British and American constitutional models. One controversial provision of the constitution indemnified members and appointees of the PNDC from liability for any official act or omission during the years of PNDC rule. The constitution calls for a system of checks and balances, with power shared between a president, a unicameral parliament, an advisory Council of State, and an independent judiciary.

The President and members of Parliament are elected for terms of four years. The President is limited to two terms in office. MPs can win election with a plurality of the vote (first past the post), while the President must win by an absolute majority (50% plus one). If no winner emerges after the first round in the presidential election, a mandatory run-off must take place within three weeks of the initial election. Voting is by secret ballot with non-mandatory universal adult suffrage.

An independent seven-member Electoral Commission (EC) manages Ghana's elections. The EC compiles the voter register and demarcates electoral boundaries. It conducts and supervises all public elections, and is the only body mandated to declare official election results. The EC provides each eligible voter with a photo ID card which must be produced at his/her polling station and must match the information in the voters' register. Each of 22,000 polling stations is manned by an EC-appointed Presiding Officer and an average of five polling assistants. All registered parties and candidates are allowed to have accredited polling agents at each polling station.

Executive authority is established in the Office of the Presidency, together with his Council of State. The president is head of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces. He also appoints the vice president. According to the constitution, more than half of the presidential-appointed ministers of state must be appointed from among members of Parliament.

There exists by constitutional provision a Council of State that advises the President. Council membership is by both election and appointment. The President or the Vice President chairs meetings of the Cabinet. Also by constitutional provision, a majority of Cabinet Members must be appointed from among Members of Parliament.

By constitutional provision, in the absence of the President, the Vice President acts in his stead and in the absence of both the President and the Vice President, the Speaker of the House of Parliament takes over the mantle of State.

Several security organizations report to various government departments. The police, under the jurisdiction of an eight-member Police Council, are responsible for maintaining law and order. A separate department, the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the executive branch. Although the security apparatus is controlled by and responsive to the Government, the monitoring, supervision, and education of the police in particular remain poor. Police and other security forces committed some serious human rights abuses.

Ghana's democracy is in many ways young and dysfunctional. Parliament is weak. Parliament has only once introduced its own bill and it lacks the power to do so if a law involves appropriating funds. Parliament is presided over by a Speaker elected by Parliament. The Speaker is assisted in the discharge of his duties by a First Deputy Speaker and a Second Deputy Speaker, who are both members of the House, but not from the ruling party.

To run for a seat in Parliament, a candidate must be a Ghanaian citizen at least 21 years old and must have lived in the constituency for at least 5 years out of the 10 years immediately preceding the election. Candidates must not: owe allegiance to any other country; have been convicted of any major criminal offense; be a chief; be a public servant in a variety of organizations, including the armed forces, police, and civil service. Candidates can be affiliated with an accredited political party or can run as independents.

Legislative functions are vested in Parliament, which consists of a unicameral 230-member body plus the Speaker. In practice, legislative powers are highly constrained by Article 108 of the constitution, which prohibits Parliament from initiating any bill that has financial implications. To become law, legislation must have the assent of the president, who has a qualified veto over all bills except those to which a vote of urgency is attached. Members of Parliament are popularly elected by universal adult suffrage for terms of 4 years, except in wartime, when terms may be extended for not more than 12 months at a time beyond the 4 years.

Civil law in Ghana is based on the English Common Law doctrines of equity and general statutes. Ghanaian customary law is however the basis of most personal, domestic and contractual relationships. Criminal law is based on the 1960 Criminal Procedure Code, derived from amended English Criminal Law. The Superior Court of Judicature comprises the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, Regional Tribunals and Inferior Courts, which include Circuit Courts, Circuit Tribunals, Community Tribunals and such other Courts as may be designated by law.

The Constitution establishes two basic levels of courts: superior and lower. The superior courts include the Supreme Court, the Appeals Court, the High Court, and regional tribunals. Parliament may establish lower courts or tribunals by decree. The CHRAJ provides a forum to which citizens with grievances against government agencies or private companies can bring cases for mediation and settlement.

The structure and the power of the judiciary are independent of the two other branches of government. The Supreme Court has broad powers of judicial review. It is authorized by the constitution to rule on the constitutionality of any legislation or executive action at the request of any aggrieved citizen. The hierarchy of courts derives largely from British juridical forms. The hierarchy, called the Superior Court of Judicature, is composed of the Supreme Court of Ghana, the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice, regional tribunals, and such lower courts or tribunals as Parliament may establish. The courts have jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary appears to be subject on occasion to executive influence. The Constitution allows the Government to nominate any number beyond a minimum of nine members to the Supreme Court; confirmation is the responsibility of Parliament. The Chief Justice is empowered to impanel the justices of his choice to hear cases. These provisions, along with a debilitating lack of resources, have called into question the court's role as a balance to the power of the executive branch and contributed to the perception that the judiciary is occasionally subject to executive influence.

This perception was furthered by the judiciary's crackdown on members of the privately owned press in 1998, when three journalists were jailed in separate instances for up to a month following contempt-of-court cases, and two other journalists had their passports seized under court order pending their criminal libel lawsuits. All the affected journalists were known to be avowed opponents of the Government and aggressive in their highly personal criticism of the President and his family. The journalists in the criminal libel cases still were awaiting sentencing at year's end. The journalists in the contempt of court cases served 1 month imprisonment in 1998 and were each fined approximately $4,350 (10 million cedis).

The court has unlimited discretion to set bail, which can be prohibitively high. The court may refuse to release prisoners on bail and instead remand them without charge for an indefinite period, subject to weekly review by judicial authorities. The Constitution allows judicial authorities to hold citizens for up to 48 hours without filing charges against them. However, in practice it is common to remand a prisoner to investigative custody. The Constitution requires that a detainee who has not been tried within a "reasonable" time be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for court proceedings.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. The courts are empowered specifically to order enforcement of these prohibitions, although enforcement by the authorities is generally inadequate, in part due to limited financial resources.

The Constitution prohibits torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were continued credible reports that members of the police and customs officials beat prisoners and other citizens. It generally is believed that severe beatings of suspects in police custody occur throughout the country but largely go unreported.

Arbitrary arrest and detention are problems. The Constitution provides for protection against arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile and states that an individual detained shall be informed immediately, in a language that the detained person understands, of the reasons for the detention, and of the right to a lawyer and to an interpreter, at state expense. It also requires judicial warrants for arrest and provides for arraignment within 48 hours. However, in practice many abuses occur.

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, at times it restricted this right. The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right.

The Constitution provides that a person shall be free from interference within the privacy of his home, property, correspondence, or communication; however, this provision has yet to be tested in court, and in practice the Government infringed on these rights at times. The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and in practice these provisions generally were respected; however, the Government continued to pressure the media.

Traditional authorities still wield significant power, especially because they own most of the land in Ghana. A World Bank study stated that 78 percent of Ghana‘s land is controlled by customary owners, while the remaining area is owned by the state either directly (20 percent) or indirectly on behalf of a local community (2 percent). In this context, customary owners - refer to chiefs ("stools" in the south, "skins" in the north) who hold allodial (root) title to the land but are expected to manage it on behalf of the members of their community – in particular, to reallocate access to land so that no member of the community is landless. In effect though not in theory, the chiefs rent out the land to users. Individual claims to occupy a particular piece of land can vary widely in their security, depending on the position of the claimant within the local political hierarchy.

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Page last modified: 15-03-2017 18:21:37 ZULU