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Opinions of Monday, 23 September 2013

Columnist: Ameyibor, Francis

IPAC at the crossroad for reform

(Feature by Francis Ameyibor, Development Communicator)

Accra, Sept. 22 ----Since the dispensation of the 1992 constitution, political parties have formed the bedrock upon which Ghana’s democracy evolves. The role played by these political parties has contributed immensely to making Ghana the beacon of hope for the African continent.

There is no doubt that the role played by the Inter Party Advisory Committees (IPAC) has brought some cordiality and diplomacy among parties and catalyzed an indirect decision making process on our electoral process since its inception. According to Electoral Commission (EC) information, the concept of IPAC was conceived by the Commission based on experiences gained from the 1992 general elections. The EC came under intense criticism, especially from political parties in opposition, ranging from the electoral process or the conduct of the polls through to suspicion. IPAC was therefore formed in March 1994 to bring together representatives of the political parties on a monthly basis with members of EC to discuss and try to build a consensus on electoral issues.

Representatives of the international donor community that have assisted the electoral process are also invited to observe proceedings at IPAC meetings. However, IPAC is not open to the general public or the media.

Since the Supreme Court verdict on the Election 2012 Petition, advocates for electoral reforms have intensified their campaign, trumpeting the call with dynamism as if they are the first proponents of electoral reforms in Ghana. Electoral reforms have become part of Ghana’s electoral system. It is infact a form of ritual as politicians always try to take advantage of the electoral system, hence the need for constant and periodic reforms. Whatever Electoral reforms the nation undertakes, I can bet for sure that “we will sing the same songs after Election 2016”.

According to Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan EC Chairman IPAC was created to offer two way communication channel of information collection from the political parties and also discuss all aspects of activities and programmes, elicit inputs and explain important and relevant matters where possible.

He explained that Political parties are given the opportunity to openly speak their minds with the view to rectifying anomalies in future. It must be pointed out that IPAC is a non-statutory advisory body whose decisions are not binding, however, the EC has over the years given consideration to some decisions which were lawful, practical and cost effective.

In view of the vital role IPAC plays in Ghana’s electoral system, the EC has decentralized the concept at the regional, district and constituency level and has been instrumental especially in the conduct of the 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 general elections.

IPAC is an advisory committee hence; comments, contributions and inputs are not binding but may be taken into consideration with the view to reaching a consensus. There are no formalized rules or procedures. In the absence of the chairman, any of the two deputy chairmen takes charge of proceedings otherwise it is handled by a commission member. One of the informal rules governing IPAC deliberations is that attributions are not given to issues discussed; only the important issues are highlighted. IPAC is required to meet once every month under normal circumstances when there are issues to be discussed. However, in an election year, the Committee meets to deliberate critical issues as and when they become necessary.

One of the important qualities of the committee is that the EC does not discriminate between major parties and smaller parties. The media is not invited to attend IPAC meetings. It is believed that the inclusion of the media would heighten tension and diminish trust. They are however invited at times at the end of important meetings for briefing on issues such as a communiqué that needs publicity.

Issues to be discussed are identified by either the EC or the political parties. In the case of political parties, issues of concern are put forward for amicable resolutions. The EC’s calendar, reviews and intended changes in the electoral process are communicated to the parties for their inputs or contributions. Apart from representatives of political parties and commissioners of the EC who make contributions at IPAC, all others only play the role of observers, EC officials stated. According to the EC Chairman each political party is given the opportunity to argue and debate responsibly. Based on deliberations, the EC either takes a decision immediately or later depending on the nature of the issues discussed. He said the Commission uses a win-win conflict resolution mechanism to calm tempers when there are heated arguments on the floor.

It is important to have an overview of the electoral process as pertaining at the time to know what catalyzed the formation of IPAC. It is first of all the compilation of a credible electoral roll with the active collaboration and participation of the political parties in 1995 could be a reason for the formation of IPAC. The EC inherited the voters registers used in the 1992 general elections from the National Commission for Democracy in 1987. The mode of registration at the time was done from house- to- house and market to market. As a result there were many multiple and double entries culminating in a bloated register. The EC therefore found it necessary to take a second look at the voters register and therefore came out with a special edition to enable it conduct the 1996 general elections. The format for the register had the name of the voter, age, sex, and residential addresses. The EC used the residential addresses to trace the registered voters with the view to expunge the names of unqualified names.

Although the EC made a conscious and deliberate effort to clean the register it was not totally reliable and verifiable. In 1992, the EC conducted presidential and parliamentary elections separately. The presidential elections took place on 3rd November, 1992.The opposition political parties at the time led by the New Patriotic Party (NPP), boycotted the parliamentary elections based on a number of allegations. As a result of the problems that emanated from the field, the NPP made some proposals aimed at reforming the electoral process. Topical amongst the reforms were the replacement of transparent ballot boxes instead of opaque boxes, the presence of party agents at polling stations and the tracking of electoral materials and ballot boxes. In March, 1994, IPAC was born without any legal backing. In 1995, the EC discarded the whole voters register and replaced it with a totally new register followed in June 1996 by a revision exercise.

Photo identity cards were given to qualified voters in the ten regional capitals and ten rural communities within those constituencies.

There was also an introduction of district registration review committees (DRRC) Challenges were encouraged for unqualified people who may want their names to be in the voters register. This system gave them an opportunity to defend themselves as well as hire the services of lawyers. In 1995, the EC had a better data as a result of the reforms, the 1996 elections improved with a 50 percent turnout in 1992 to over 80 percent. Although the opposition did not win the elections, confidence level of the electoral system greatly improved. The blame and accusations of the conduct of the polls greatly minimized. However, communication was a problem. The mode of communication of election results was done with the use of motorola. Results from the field were communicated via Motorola from the field to the regional offices of the EC regional offices.

This system was seen as an avenue for exploitation and distortion of the results as there was no guarantee for the accuracy of figures mentioned on the Motorola. The results were then faxed to the headquarters of the EC’s operations room.

The EC then decided after complaints by the parties to improve communication. It was decided that each constituency should have a fax machine in order to fax the certified results to the regional offices for onward transmission to the headquarters operation room with the names and signatures of party agents. Before IPAC came into being the mode of communication between the EC and the political parties was through the following means; political parties wrote to the EC anytime they had difficulty with the electoral process or needed some kind of explanation. The EC would then invite the parties for informal meetings. Another form of communication was the use of letters and telephone.

As a nation are we ready for the necessary electoral reforms through IPAC?