On this day, the third anniversary of our independence, I salute you, people of Ghana, and ask you all to look ahead with me into the future.
As you know, there has for some time been a great desire by many of us that Ghana should adopt a Republican form of Government. With this in mind, the Government has drawn up proposals for a new Republican Constitution which will be published tomorrow.
You, people of Ghana, are asked to study these proposals and, with the best interests of the country foremost in your minds, decide whether or not these Constitutional proposals are acceptable.
The Convention People’s Party and the Government believe that the authority to govern a state should spring from the people and that the people’s right to exercise these powers is based on the principle of one man-one vote. In the first Article of the draft Constitution, it is stated that, "without distinction of sex, race, tribe, religion or political belief, every person who, being by law a citizen of Ghana, has attained the age of twenty-one years and is not disqualified by law on grounds of absence, infirmity of mind or criminality, shall be entitled to one vote".
We realise that only when this principle of one man-one vote is adopted throughout the length and breadth of the continent of Africa, can the misery and oppression which prevail in many parts of this continent, come to an end. It is our aim to strive with all our might to bring this about.
The Convention People’s Party and the Government believe also that the people of Africa will never be truly great, happy and prosperous while they remain divided into a number of small states. In the new Constitution, we advocate strongly the principle of African unity. So deep is our faith in African unity that we have declared our preparedness to surrender the sovereignty of Ghana, in whole or in part, in the interest of a Union of African States and Territories as soon as ever such a union becomes practicable. The keynote of the Constitution which we are putting before you is One Man-One Vote and the Unity of Africa, namely, the political Union of African countries.
It is important to remind ourselves at this time that our present Constitution was not enacted by the Legislature of the Gold Coast, but by the Government of the United Kingdom. Quite apart from any other consideration, therefore, the Convention People’s Party and the Government consider that it is right and proper for the people of Ghana themselves to make their own Constitution.
In putting these proposals before you, we have given much thought to the historical form of Government in Ghana in the past, and have always had in mind the need for a Constitution which befits our own traditions. In the United Kingdom and some other countries, monarchy has been transformed into a formal institution and the head of state is a ceremonial personality who reigns but does not govern. In some other states, the responsibilities of head of state and head of Government are combined in a single person. However suitable the system of ceremonial head of state may be in some countries, it is quite contrary to the historical tradition and true character of Ghana.
In the draft Constitution, therefore, it is proposed that the Head of State will also be the actual Head of Government, in accordance with the cherished traditions of our country. It is proposed that there should be a President responsible to the people and elected by them, who should be the Head of State as well as Head of Government.
It is the view of the Convention People’s Party and of the Government that to ensure a healthy political life, political parties must be organised on a national basis. The Constitution which we propose, therefore, links the President closely to his party and to the National Assembly, which in our view must play an increasingly important part in the government of the country. The National Assembly, of course, will continue to be elected by the people on the principle of universal adult suffrage one man-one vote.
It is proposed that the first President of the Republic will be elected by a direct vote of the people. The draft Constitution provides that the election of the President thereafter will be linked with the election of Members to the National Assembly in such a way that the President will be the leader of the party which commands a majority in Parliament.
Under this draft Constitution, the President will be assisted in administering the country by a Cabinet drawn from Members of Parliament. In this way, both the National Assembly and the political party which wins the general election will be closely associated in the running of the state.
The sovereign law-making body will be Parliament which will consist of the President and the National Assembly. The President will not be a Member of the National Assembly, but he will have the same powers in relation to Parliament as the Head of State at present possesses.
Parliament is not, however, given direct power to alter the basic principles of the Constitution. Only the people can do this, and only after they have been consulted in a referendum ordered by the President will Parliament be entitled to make any law which alters these basic principles of the Constitution.
The essence, of the Constitution which we are asking you to approve is that Ghana is a sovereign, unitary Republic, that there is a President responsible to the people and a Cabinet to assist him which is chosen from amongst Members of Parliament.
Equally essential is the existence and the legislative power of Parliament. This cannot be taken away unless the people are consulted, nor can Parliament’s exclusive rights over what taxes are imposed be abrogated.
The proposed Constitution similarly guarantees the existence and the judicial powers of the Supreme Court and the tenure of office of Judges, the security of the Civil Service, and specifies that no taxation can be imposed, or armed forces raised, except by the authority of Parliament. The Constitution is based firmly on the Rule of Law and leaves no scope for arbitrary action or for discrimination against any individual or community. This is underlined by the requirement which is contained in the proposals, that a new President must declare his adherence to certain fundamental principles which recognise the ultimate authority of the people and the need to preserve freedom and justice and the independence of Ghana from alien domination. These fundamental principles also recognise the right of every citizen to a fair share of the produce of the country and to freedom from unjust interference with his property and his basic rights as a citizen.
In order to ensure that the people are regularly consulted on the choice of President and of Members of the National Assembly, Parliament is not entitled to make any law which extends its own life. Under the proposed Constitution, there must be a general election, and simultaneously, a Presidential election, at least once in every five years. The President can dissolve Parliament before the five-year period is up, but if he does so, he himself must submit to re-election. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that if there is any conflict between the National Assembly and the President, this is resolved by the decision of the people.
The election of the first President will, however, closely resemble a general election. In the forthcoming plebiscite, the Government proposes that, you, the people, shall be asked to vote in each parliamentary constituency and that the votes in favour of one or another of the Presidential candidates will be known for each constituency. lf the results of this election show that it would be unlikely that there would be any significant change in the balance of parties in the Assembly, if a general election were subsequently held, the Government will ask the National Assembly to agree to prolong the life of the present Parliament so as to avoid a general election next year, when one is clue under the present Constitution. However, once the present Assembly is dissolved, which must be at the very latest within five years of the coming into force of the proposed Constitution, a general election and a Presidential election must be held at least once in every five years.
From tomorrow, the proposed Constitution and a Government White Paper explaining it, will be on sale throughout Ghana. I ask everyone of you to obtain a copy of it and to study it carefully. It is for you, people of Ghana, to decide on the form of Constitution under which you wish to be governed. You cannot arrive at this decision until you have carefully studied and clearly understood the proposals which have, been submitted to you.
In many ways, this Constitution is unique and contains a number of features which are not found in the Constitution of any other country. This is so because it is fashioned to fit in with our historical experience and circumstances and designed to meet our own needs. It guarantees chieftaincy, preserves the Houses of Chiefs and in other ways is fitted to the general system of government which we have evolved in Ghana. The Convention People’s Party and the Government commend the proposed Constitution when the plebiscite is held next month.
In that plebiscite, I ask all of you to come forward uninfluenced and unawed to vote in an orderly and disciplined manner. The Government, for its part, will see to it that the plebiscite is conducted with absolute fairness and that every citizen of Ghana has a free and unfettered right to express his opinion.
Furthermore, the Government is determined to suppress intimidation, coercion, malicious rumours and violence from whatever quarter it might come. It is essential for the well-being and good government of depends on each one of you to do your duty and I feel sure that you will rise to the occasion and do it well.