More than 1,200 vagrants have been sensitized on bye-laws as well as their rights and responsibilities in 12 Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs).
This public education is an initiative between Crime Check Foundation (CCF) and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) in collaboration with the MMDAs.
The project, named Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws And Advocacy (DVLA) had these 1,200 participants selected from Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Central Regions.
The MMDAs pass by-laws such as fines and penalties which these vagrants are unable to pay and eventually end up in prison.
A vagrant is a person who is homeless with no regular work thereby moving from one place to the other. They usually make a living from begging or hawking on the streets.
In view of the persistent human rights violations, the DVLA project’s objective is to educate them on their basic human rights as well as increasing their knowledge 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 continued imprisonments of petty offenders 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.
The CCF and OSIWA through the project are also proposing fairness in the application of the laws and therefore pushing for a non-custodial form of sentencing or community service to decongest Ghana’s choked prisons.
Topical among the issues raised by the vagrants across all the 12 MMDAs visited were inadequate marketplaces, poor drainage, harassment from the assembly task force, inadequate waste bins among others.
Most of the vagrants in the 12 municipalities said they’re not aware 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 some by-laws are unaware of them.
“Print out the bye-laws for us so we can educate ourselves and also inform others about them. Make use of community radio stations in the area to educate us,” the unit committee member for the Kotoku Electoral Area stated.
The vagrants while raising concerns about these pressing issues in their communities called on the assemblies to construct drains, public toilet facilities at market centers, waste bins, and clamp down on excessive noisemaking.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the CCF, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng in an interview disclosed that the Decriminalization of Vagrancy Law Advocacy project was birthed due to the draconian District Assemblies bylaws, which usually bite poor people harder by sending them to prison.
Mr. Kwarteng however, advised the participants against challenging the authority of the assembly 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 added
Besides, all the beneficiary assemblies have agreed that the enactment of a community service 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’re 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 this 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.
Also, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kwadaso Constituency in the Ashanti Region, Dr. Kingsley Nyarko while 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.
Dr. Nyarko expressed concern that the rights of poor and vulnerable citizens are often abused by local assemblies in the implementation of their bye-laws.
According to him, the vagrants in their daily struggle for economic survival, end up violating the laws out of ignorance.
The beneficiary municipalities of the DVLA sensitization projects are; Accra Metropolitan, Madina La Nkwantanang, Ashaiman, Weija Gbawe, Awutu Senya, and Awutu Senya East Municipal Assemblies.
The rest are Asokore Mampong, Suame, Kwadaso, Ejusu, Mfanteman, and Effutu Municipal Assemblies.
Monitoring and Evaluation
To monitor the progress and effectiveness of the Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy project, a contact has been created to address the concerns of vagrants at the partnering organization, Crime Check Foundation.
The project which started in May 2021, will end in May 2022.
By: Sefakor Fekpe|3news.com|Ghana