As part of its prime focus of helping to decongest the country’s prisons through Decriminalising of Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy Project, the Crime Check Foundation (CCF), an NGO in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), has begun sensitising assembly members, petty traders, hawkers, truck pushers, transport operators and people with disability among others on bye-laws of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies.
The first in the series for 12 assemblies has been held for the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), in Accra.
Presenting an overview of the advocacy project, a member of the Project Team, Cosmos Akorli, said it is one of the strategies adopted by the CCF and OSIWA to decongest the prisons and to also campaign for non-custodial sentencing.
He said the project is to improve education on the various bye-laws of the assemblies in the 12 MMDAs selected for the advocacy project so that they can reduce the number of people who ignorantly violate the bye-laws and consequently end up in prison. He said the sensitisation is not only for vagrants but also the media as well so that education can go far.
Mr. Akorli said beyond the sensitisation, another strategy is to monitor, as CCF has developed complaint contact for the ordinary person who is arrested to call CCF for support. He noted that the complaint received will be compiled and presented to the assemblies for them to work together on the complaint.
A private legal practitioner, Doris Bangfu, said the essence of the Decriminalising Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy Project is to look for alternative methods of punishing persons who violate the bye-laws of the assemblies, which even though “they are for our good are not serious offences and there is the need to amend the bye-laws to prescribe lesser punishment such as non-custodial sentencing such as community service which will be commensurate with the offences”.
She said most of the people who violate the bye-laws of the assemblies are the poor and when they are fined by the court they are unable to pay and so end up in prison. This is because the offences are not felonies and the punishment should not be custodial.
Madam Bangfu, therefore, appealed to the MMDAs to be “sensitive with their bye-laws so that the punishments are not excessive and harsh for the sake of public good for all”. She said most of the offences outlined in the bye-laws are not offences in the strict sense of the word but they end up getting the same or similar punishment to those who commit other offences such as stealing and end up in prison.
The Presiding Member of the AMA, Alfred Adjei, lauded the collaboration between the CCF and OSIWA for the advocacy project. He noted that it is important for people to know the bye-laws of the assembly and comply with them saying “ignorance of the law is no excuse”.
He said the bye-laws are to ensure unity and for things to work in the right way. He, therefore, entreated the vagrants “to know the bye laws in order not for them to break them. This is because the bye-laws come with penalties when they are infringed”.
Mr. Adjei encouraged the participants to take the sensitization seriously as they are expected to further disseminate the information that has been shared with them.
The Director of AMA Health Directorate, Florence Kuuchi, took the participants through the dos and don’ts of the AMA bye-laws on sanitation and environment. She said, “it is important that people know the bye-laws and obey them in order to avoid being violated.”
Madam Kuuchi asked the participants to approach the AMA with whatever they want to do and acquire the necessary and appropriate permit for it. In that way, the assembly can take them through the proper ways of doing things in compliance with the bye-laws.
She said as long as the assembly is concerned “you need permit and suitability health report certificate from the metro health department and it is important for anybody who wants to do business to get the required permit and the necessary documentation in order to operate”.
Madam Kuuchi took the participants through the various bye-laws and even those that people have taken for granted such as owning domestic animals.
The participants who asked questions on the various subject areas lauded the education they have had and expressed gratitude to the CCF and OSIWA for the opportunity.
Story by Seth Eyiah.