Kwaku Asante Writes: Of Coronavirus and a likely SRC Constitutional Crisis; the Vaccine

As of March 16 when the University of Ghana was closed down following a presidential directive and in pursuance on the ban on public gatherings, the University of Ghana SRC General Assembly – the legislative arm of the student leadership body had held a sitting a few days prior. Top on the agenda of the House led by Emmanuel Owusu Agyei (Kwaku Ampem) for that sitting was the appointment of Electoral Commissioners to take over from Roland Tettey and his team.

The sitting ended inconclusively. It’d be fit to argue on this tangent because the House failed to execute that high priority agenda – even though a committee set up by the House to vet potential ECs had done their duty, the House, for no better reason failed to vote on the recommendation of the House. Indeed, it has been reported that the committee’s report was not even laid before the house for consideration. And for clarity, this EC search committee is led by the president of the Jubilee/International Students Hostel Junior Common room.

That singular inaction of the SRC General Assembly has led a huge vacuum in terms of the impending SRC elections. Of course if the committee’s reported was laid and the House had voted on the recommendation of the committee, we’d have had an Electoral Commission by now who would have fashioned out modalities and provided much-needed clarity even if the actual election was on hold for obvious reasons.

Fact is the Coronavirus Disease has halted key activities the world over; economies have ground to a halt, and human actions have been impacted in ways never seen before in decades if not the entire millennium. Our SRC is not an exception, but in the places where there have been LEADERSHIP, some of the challenges have been mitigated.

As of today Tuesday, 5th May, 2020, to my knowledge, there have been only 6 or so handing over ceremonies in the respective Junior Common Rooms; Volta, Commonwealth, Akuafo, Legon and Sarbah Halls. These are the only Halls of the University-run Halls who were able to conclude their elections and transition to new administrations. By coincidence or so these are all traditional Halls and then Jubilee/ISH.

Every other JCR could not. Indeed all other existing JCRs tenure have elapsed as of now or is elapsing in days. From Jean Nelson Hall led by David Hughes to Elizabeth Frances Sey Hall led by Francis Oppong (this Hall could have concluded it’s election but for a protracted legal case involving a disqualified presidential candidate for late filing according to the EC; the matter is pendent before the SRC Judicial Board) to Alexander Kwapong Hall led by Divine Edem Kwadzodeh who doubles as the chief scribe of the National Union of Ghana Students and Hilla Limann Hall headed by Peter Kofi Keelson.

The tenure of the JCR presidents of the aforementioned Halls (the Diaspora Halls) have either long elapsed or will elapse in the coming days. It is expected that each Hall will use internal mechanisms to transition.

In fact, for Alexander Kwapong Hall, a precedent exists; in 2019 or so, the then president Mr. Selasi Ahadzie had to step down following the expiration of his term even though new elections have not been held for the then Speaker of their Parliament Mr. Joseph Star Botchwey to assume reins as president, it was later that the election that made Divine Edem Kwadzodeh JCR president was returned.

Today on Campus Exclusive on Radio Univers, the Speaker of the General Assembly, Emmanuel Owusu Agyei declared that a committee had been set to fashion out modalities for a virtual sitting of the House so that parliamentary business could go on. The President and Treasurer of the SRC have all complained that they are currently running the SRC with personal funds. So indeed it’s important that the House sits and approve a supplementary budget or whatever they’d call it since the second semester budget approved have already been expended.

One thing that struck me was the setting of the committee, it came off to me as unnecessary. The Speaker of the General Assembly does not need to set any such a committee. Legally, I don’t think it is a challenge because he could come under the umbrella of “the House is master of its own rules” bla bla, but it’s of no necessity.

When I served as clerk of the General Assembly under the able leadership of the venerable Joseph Adjei Darkwa (who by the way is back after a long hiatus and speaking on both student and national issues on the reborn Legon Influencers WhatsApp page), we drew up a comprehensive standing order that drew inspiration from the National Parliament. And most of the solutions to ails that have plagued this GA can be found in there.

To start with, the Speaker decides when the House should sit (unless it’s an emergency sitting where Article 9 kicks in; See Art 9 of SRC constitution). The practice usually is that a sitting is held at the SRC Union Building, but the truth is the sitting can be held at R.S Amegashie Auditorium or Cedi Conference Room or the Central Cafeteria or indeed Bush Canteen or Night Market and therefore virtually via a WhatsApp group or via Zoom or wherever. That’s all at the directive of the speaker and for the sake of convenience.

Indeed when those who can converge at the Independence Square to swear in the President of the Republic, that’s a sitting of parliament; and it’s only held there for convenience because of the small size of the main chamber.

Part Five of the National parliament’s standing orders, Clause 37(2) provides that “A session of parliament shall be held at such a place within Ghana and shall commence at such a time the Speaker may, by constitutional instrument, appoint.” My opinion is that this provides further clarity on the matter. The speaker of the General Assembly need not set any committee, he can, by himself make the decisions, provided they do not contravene the SRC constitution. So he should do the right thing.

As for the Judicial Board and online hearings, Justice Kafui (Chief Justice of Legon Hall and Member of the SRC Judicial Board) has been reported by Radio Univers to have said that they could have online hearings. So that settles it. Suffice to add that the Lagos State Judiciary this week have had virtual hearings. So it’s doable.

If the school doesn’t resume this semester in person and the semester is concluded online, that will mean no SRC election until next semester. I have heard people raise constitutional issues about the legality of the aspirants campaigning today being able to stand since they will all be in the final year next semester. The SRC constitution provides in Article 30(3) “Without prejudice to any provision of this Constitution, a student shall qualify to stand and contest elections to any Executive Office provided he is not a final year student.” This is among other eligibility requirements set forth by the Constitution including the dreaded 3.0 GPA requirement.

So what will happen should someone mount a challenge if the election is held next semester where most if not all of the candidates will be in final year. One may be quick to point that when it comes to the election of the General Assembly, even though the same criterion apply, the elections are always held in a new academic year where the candidates are almost always in their final year so this may not be an issue. I urge caution because this is a matter that has never been pronounced upon by the SRC Judicial Board. In my opinion, this is a political solution, not a legal one.

But finally, given that the tenure of the current SRC president, his vice, the treasurer and secretary are all due to expire this June (calculating from when they assumed office after their election), what should happen in the interim before a new election to elect a new crop of leaders.

The answer is manifestly clear in the SRC Constitution: I believe the measures put in place to replace SRC executive officers following a vote of no confidence shall kick in – Art. 25 (7ai) “One of the JCR Presidents of the Halls of residence as Acting SRC President;

(ii) One of the JCR Secretaries as Acting SRC Secretary, provided that such a Secretary shall not be appointed from the same JCR as shall be appointed from under (a) of this clause.

(iii) The Chairperson of the Finance Committee as Acting Treasurer of the SRC.

I think conversations must begin in earnest on this so that the proper transition can be made.

Covid-19 has left in its wake a trudge of issues, the SRC and all stakeholders must ensure that the efforts are made to protect the SRC from a needless constitutional crisis. And whilst there’s no vaccine yet for the virus, there’s one for this.

I will be watching.