Vagrants in the Weija-Gbawe Municipality have demanded for recreational centres in their area to reduce the rate of criminal activities.
According to them, these centres such as parks for sporting activities can be used to scout for talents to help reduce unemployment in the country.
“We have a lot of people who have talents but are roaming the streets and hawking and flouting the laws because there are no recreational centres to showcase these talents for scouts to buy. We need such facilities in our communities,” a participant told the Assembly representatives.
Their comments came on the back of a sensitization workshop for vagrants in the Weija-Gbawe Municipality on Thursday, July 1, 2021.
It was put together by the Crime Check Foundation in collaboration with the Weija-Gbawe Municipal Assembly with funding from the Open Soceity Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
The participants who were selected from 14 electoral areas were made of traders’ unions, waste collectors, petty traders, truck pushers, landlords, unit committee members, among others.
The Decriminalizing Vagrancy Law and Advocacy project was initiated as a result of the harsh District Assemblies’ bylaws, which usually bite poor people harder by sending them to prison.
In an address, a lecturer at the University of Education, Winneba, Dr. George Asekere appealed to the assembly to live up to their responsibilities by providing the citizens with with basic needs to improve their economic activities.
“The assembly is mandated to provide basic needs such as marketplaces for traders, proper drainage systems and many other things but the assemblies fail to fulfill their responsibilities fully and rather punish vagrants for flouting the bylaws,” he stated.
Dr. Asekere also sensitised the vagrants on their basic rights and responsibilities while calling on the assembly to make reforms in their bylaws to include non-custodial sentencing for persons who flout the laws.
The Executive Director of Crime Check Foundation, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng throughout the series of sensitization programs in four municipalities in the Greater Accra Region admonished the participants to desist from challenging the authority of the assemblies by deliberately flouting its bylaws.
“We are here to teach you about your rights, what the assemblies need to do is to better your lives but also ensure that you have a role to play in the development of your community; you must obey the bylaws and comply with the assembly,” he stated.
Mr. Oppong Kwarteng further made it clear that the DVLA programme is not meant to incite vagrants against the assembly but to make them aware of their rights and responsibilities for national development.
Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) pass by-laws such as fines and penalties which these vagrants are unable to pay and end get thrown into prison.
Vagrants are persons who wander around due to homelessness and make a living by hawking or begging on the streets.
The CCF and OSIWA through the Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws And Advocacy (DVLA) are proposing fairness in the application of the laws and therefore pushing for non-custodial form of sentencing or community service to decongest Ghana’s choked prisons while educating the vigrants on their rights and responsibilities.
Concerns From Vagrants
The vagrants while raising concerns, demand the Weija-Gbawe Municipal Assembly avail its by-laws to residents as most of them don’t know some of the laws.
In response, the assembly stated it will begin to sell copies to the residents.
They also called on the assembly and CCF to engage in regular awareness programs on the inhumane conditions of Ghana’s prisons to deter people from flouting the laws.
Meanwhile, an officer from the environment department of the Weija Gbawe Municipal Assembly, Patience Akasreku took the participants through the various by-laws of the assembly and admonished the vagrants to abide by them.
The Municipal Coordinating Director, Mercy Quansah Ogoebalso commended the Crime Check Foundation and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for the DVLA project.
The beneficiary municipalities from the advocacy project so far are the Accra Metropolitan, Ashaiman Municipal, La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal and Weija Gbawe Municipal Assemblies.
The one-year project will be rolled out in 12 metropolitan assemblies in three regions: Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Central.
It will sensitize 1200 vagrants about their rights and responsibilities to prevent any misunderstandings with the assemblies.
Monitoring and Evaluation
To monitor the progress and effectiveness of the Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws project, a contact centre will be created after the sensitization to address the concerns of vagrants at the partnering organization, Crime Check Foundation.
The project will run from May 2021 to May 2022
By: Sefakor Fekpe