Crime Check Foundation (CCF) has sensitized more than One Thousand Two Hundred vagrants on the bye-laws of their respective Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs).
The vagrants were also educated on their rights and responsibilities as part of the implementation of the Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws And Advocacy (DVLA) project, which is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa in collaboration with MMDAs.
The beneficiary participants were drawn from select MMDAs in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, and the Central regions.
The Assemblies included the Accra Metropolitan, Madina La Nkwantanang, Ashaiman, Weija Gbawe, Awutu Senya, and Awutu Senya East Municipal Assemblies.
Others are Asokore Mampong, Suame, Kwadaso, Ejusu, Mfanteman, and Effutu Municipal Assemblies.
The sensitization programme was aimed at increasing the knowledge of vagrants on local bye-laws to reduce violations, arrests, fines, and imprisonment of citizens under the laws. When achieved, it will offer an enabling environment for ‘vagrants’; made of the homeless, street hawkers, head porters, vendors, truck pushers, market women, artisans, and other identifiable and vulnerable groups to know, claim, and exercise their rights and responsibilities in Ghana.
The Executive Director of CCF, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng indicated that the continued imprisonments of vagrants due to their status is a violation of a ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights’ on vagrancy laws on 4th December 2020 which stipulates that imprisonment of vagrants constitutes an abuse of their rights.
He, however, advised the participants against challenging the authority of the assembly by deliberately flouting its bylaws and asked them to balance their rights with their responsibilities.
“We are not inciting you against authority but to teach you about your rights. What the assemblies need to do is to better your lives but you also have a responsibility in the development of your community.” He said.
Topical among the issues raised by the vagrants across all the 12 MMDAs visited were inadequate marketplaces, poor drainage systems, harassment from the assembly task force, inadequate waste bins among others.
Most of the vagrants in the 12 municipalities said they are unaware of some by-laws due to their unavailability at the community level.
A Unit Committee Member during the La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal sensitization program disclosed that most of the people who flout the by-laws are ignorant of the laws.
He appealed to the Assembly to make copies of the bye-laws available to them.
“Print out the bye-laws for us so we can educate ourselves and also inform others. Make use of community radio stations in the area to educate us,” the unit committee member for the Kotoku Electoral Area stated.
The vagrants also raised concerns about pressing issues in their communities. They called on the assemblies to construct drains, public toilet facilities, market centers, waste bins, and clamp down on excessive noisemaking.
The beneficiary assemblies have agreed that the enactment of a community sentencing law will go a long way to help them particularly in cutting down their budgets on waste management as these petty offenders can help in cleaning the environment.
Some Municipal Chief Executives lamented that they are willing to reform their bye-laws but are currently handicapped.
The Municipal Chief Executive of the Awutu Senya East in the Central Region, Michael Mensah for instance stated that the MMDAs are willing to enforce community sentencing of petty offenders but the absence of a law to back it is a major setback.
Mr. Mensah added that their hands are tied as they cannot act outside the mother laws which have nothing on alternative sentencing.
“There are rich people who commit serious crimes than the poor but our laws get to bite the poor and petty offenders harder than the rich as they(poor) can’t even afford the services of a lawyer, he said”
“There have been many calls against the imprisonment of petty offenders but the lawmakers are not giving us an alternative. In the absence of a community sentencing regime, we need to continuously educate the vulnerable against flouting the laws. Our prisons are nothing to write home about,” the MCE told participants at the workshop.
The Member of Parliament (MP) for Kwadaso Constituency in the Ashanti Region, Dr. Kingsley Nyarko, speaking at one of the workshops at the Kwadaso Municipal Assembly (KwaMA) urged the MMDAs to protect the rights of vagrants when enforcing their bye-laws.
The project which started in May 2021, will end in April 2022.
By: Rudolph Nandi