Non–Citizen Ghana Card:
How Consistent With The Spirit And Letters Of The ECOWAS Treaty And Free Movement Protocols?
In January 2013, the National Identification Authority (NIA) began an exercise to register all foreign nationals living in Ghana.
This exercise was part of a comprehensive process to issue all people living in Ghana, both nationals and non-nationals, with modern and highly secure identity cards known as the ‘Ghana Card’.
The cost of obtaining the ID card (known as the ‘Non-Citizen Ghana Card) for non-nationals, is put at a Hundred and Twenty Dollars ($120) and is renewable every year at the cost of $60. For nationals, the ID card is obtained at no cost and renewable every five years.
Regulation 7(2) of the National Identity Register Regulations, 2012 (LI 2111) of the Republic of Ghana obliges service providers to demand the presentation of the Ghana Card (i.e. the National Identity Card and the Non-Citizen Ghana Card) before offering any of the services stated in Regulation 7(1) and the Ghana Gazette No.65 dated July 8, 2015.
These services include the issuance of a Residence Permit to a foreign national resident in Ghana; admission into any educational institution in Ghana; opening of bank accounts and other financial transactions; registration of SIM cards; purchase of insurance policies; transactions that have social security implications and pensions; and application for public or Government service such as Drivers’ License, purchase, transfer and registration of land and payment of taxes, among others.
The regulation states further that service providers who offer any of the stipulated services to foreign nationals without recourse to the Ghana card are liable to sanctions under the law and according to Section 73 (2) of the National Identity Register Act, 2008 (Act 750) the penalty for the contravention of the regulation shall be a fine of not more than 2,500 penalty units or imprisonment for a term of not more than five (5) years.
Where the offence is committed by a body corporate, every director, manager, partner, secretary or officer of that body corporate or a person purporting to act in that capacity is liable on summary conviction to the above stated penalty.
The only category of persons exempted from the requirement of the Ghana Card are members of the diplomatic community, meaning that all other ECOWAS Community citizens living in Ghana together with their spouses and family members cannot receive immigration services unless and until they have acquired and attached a copy of the Non-Citizen Ghana card.
The implementation of this policy comes at the back of the desire by the sub-regional bloc - ECOWAS to ensure regional integration among its members by promoting the free movement and residence of citizens of the economic community.
According to the ECOWAS Revised Treaty of 1993, the aims of the ECOWAS Community are to promote co-operation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.
To achieve this, the Treaty provides under Article 3(2) (d) (iii)) that the Community shall, by stages, ensure among others the establishment of a common market through the removal, between Member States, of obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, and to the right of residence and establishment.
Furthermore, the Protocol relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment (Protocol A/P.1/5/79) provides that ECOWAS citizens have the right to enter, reside and establish in the territory of Member States.
From the provisions of the National Identity Register Regulations, it is clear that the requirement of a non-citizen Ghana card for foreigners is not for the purposes of effecting the right of residence of community citizens in Ghana as provided by Protocol A/P.1/5/79, however, the requirement that ECOWAS citizens living in Ghana should hold an ID Card places an obstacle on their right of residence and establishment contrary to the provisions of the ECOWAS Treaty and Protocol.
This is because obtaining the non-citizen Ghana card has been made a pre-condition for obtaining immigration services; meaning that if any Community citizen living in Ghana is unable to afford the sum of $120 for the card, such a person cannot obtain a work or resident permit to enable the exercise of the right of residency and establishment in Ghana.
This payment of $120 is in addition to the Five Hundred Dollar ($500) fee for obtaining a resident permit, making a total of $620 (GHC2, 852).
In the event of a delay in obtaining the required resident permit, the citizen risks paying a penalty of (GHC60) for every month that the delay occurs, while failure to renew this card after a period of one year would result in making a fresh application at the cost of $120.
What is more interesting is that, contrary to the provisions of Regulation 7(2) of the National Identity Register Regulations, 2012 (LI 2111), the Non-Citizen Ghana card is not recognised for transactions by most service providers within the banking and the telecommunication industries.
This writer was particularly surprised, on presenting the Ghana card for transaction, at the ease with which the bank personnel discountenanced the card as a valid proof of identity.
A similar experience happened when this writer proposed to use the card for the purchase of a sim card at one of the biggest telecommunication companies in the country. The company’s response was more shocking: for foreigners we only accept the national passport.
Conclusively, not only is the non-citizen Ghana card a stumbling block to the right of community citizens to reside and establish in Ghana, it also clearly tags them as foreigners creating an opportunity for prejudice.
This practice of roping in ECOWAS citizens with other third countries’ citizens as foreigners is clearly very inimical to the integration agenda of ECOWAS. Undoubtedly ECOWAS Member States have the right to make laws and policies within their territory, however, the net effect of such laws and policies should not strike at the root of the integration agenda.
Where this is the case, then such laws become questionable. The requirement that community citizens must obtain, as condition for obtaining their work/ resident permit, an ID card which is not valid for any transaction in the country, at an exorbitant fee of $120 dollars; and which is to be renewed every year at $60, is discriminatory, particularly because the national ID card, which was put in place to achieve similar objective as the non-citizen Ghana card, is issued at no cost to nationals and renewable after five years.
Article 23(1) of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on the Second Phase of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and Establishment (Protocol A/SP.1/7/86) provides as follows: ‘No matter the conditions of their authorisation of residence, migrant workers who comply with rules and regulations governing residence, shall enjoy equal treatment with nationals of the host Member State … ‘ Paragraph 2 of same Article goes further to state that ‘Migrant workers who comply with the rules and regulations governing residence shall enjoy equal treatment with nationals of the host Member State in the holding of employment or the practice of their profession.
A combined reading of the ECOWAS Treaty and the Free Movement Protocol and Supplementary Protocol cited above shows that the application of any national law in determining the process of issuing resident permits to community citizens should neither deprive the citizens’ of their community rights nor be applied in a manner that discriminates against non-nationals.
As such, where exorbitant fees are charged for resident permits or where conditions are placed for obtaining same and where such conditions, if not met would amount to a denial of the right of residence/establishment of the Community citizen, then such national laws would be considered discriminatory under ECOWAS Community law.
The current practise of requiring Community citizens to hold a non-citizen Ghana card before they can obtain work/resident permit and the exorbitant fee of $500 for obtaining the permit raises fundamental questions in regard to Ghana’s commitment to the ECOWAS regional integration agenda.
In Nigeria for example, the official fee for obtaining a resident permit for Ghanaians living in that jurisdiction is only Five Hundred Naira (N500), which is about $2 or GHC8.
Having considered these practices in the light of economic reality, one wonders if these excessive charges are a veiled strategy to send away ECOWAS citizens who cannot afford to pay and, by extension, prevent them from residing in Ghana.
Another pertinent question that need clarification is: why are ECOWAS citizens treated the same way as other citizens from Asia, Europe and other third countries? Are citizens from ECOWAS Countries really at par with citizens of third party countries in Ghana?
If the answer is yes, what then is the purpose of regional integration and free movement as provided by the ECOWAS Treaty and Protocol? What happens if all other ECOWAS Member States are to apply similar directly discriminatory policies?