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Opinions of Friday, 22 May 2020

Columnist: Alhaji Iddi Muhayu-Deen

If elections will be held on December 7, then compilation of a new voters register is inevitable


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Election in Ghana, and elsewhere, they say, is not an event but a process, which process begins with compiling a credible voters register; to the verification of the authenticity of the entries in the electoral list (register); to the exhibition of the voters register; to furnishing political parties with a provisional register; to the submission of the names of competing candidates; to training of electoral officials; to furnishing political parties with the final voters register; to opening of parliamentary and presidential nominations; to publication of notice of polls among other things.

All these processes/activities are time-bound and guided by a legal regime (i.e. Constitutional Instrument 91 as well as C.I. 94) both of which were enacted pursuant to the relevant provisions of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. Interestingly, these provisions governing the conduct of elections particularly the date of holding elections are all entrenched provisions and so, amendment of same requires some mechanical and cumbersome processes including the holding of a nationwide referendum.

There is absolutely no gainsaying that of all the election-related activities or processes, the most critical is voter registration, because there cannot be a free and fair election without a credible register. And there cannot be a credible register without a credible voter management solution/technology, which provides the platform for voter registration, data storage, verification and elections.

DOES GHANA HAVE A CREDIBLE VOTER MANAGEMENT SOLUTION FOR ELECTION 2020?

The answer to this question, the writer submits, is an emphatic NO. The independent Constitutional Body that is clothed with the sole-mandate of administering public elections in this country, the Electoral Commission of Ghana, has told us time without number that the country, as we speak, has no voter management solution that is fit for purpose. So, what is the current status of the biometric voter management solution that was used for election 2012 and 2016?

The EC tells us that based on the advice of its IT team and external Consultants on the status of this voter management solution, it would be prudent and cost-effective to acquire a new solution/system rather than refurbish the current system which had become obsolete and unfit for purpose.

The Commission also produces evidence of a letter from the immediate past vendors of the current biometric system, which was contracted by the Charlotte Osei-led EC stating that, the Commission would assume so much needles risks if steps were not taken to change the current equipment. The letter stated in parts that:

“We would be like to announce that the items in the present BVRs are End- of-Life including laptops. This means that no components are available to repair the items. For purposes of availability, maintainability and compatibility in the future we recommend to the EC to purchase new BVRs. If you have any questions please contact us”.

We should not also forget that it has always been the practice over the years for the EC to replace the voters register after every 8 years usually in election years; i.e. after two General Elections and two District Level Elections due to population dynamics and technological innovations. The reason for the periodic replacement of the voters register is mainly as a result of reforms to improve the credibility and integrity of the register in line with advancement in technology.

The need to have a new system has become even more compelling because the current biometric system is unable to verify a number of voters electronically resulting in a high number of manual verification on voting day, which is largely unreliable and a potential source of dispute as it tends to compromise the integrity of the elections.

Also, the current biometric architecture does not have a facial recognition technology nor does it allow for a facial recognition add-on to be added. The new system the EC intends to acquire ahead of the 2020 elections will have a facial recognition as an additional feature for those whose fingers cannot be verified and thus reduce the high incidence of manual verification which often proves to be problematic and tends to compromise the credibility of our elections.

The new system will also significantly reduce if not completely eliminate the increasingly high identification failure rate by using new scanners and software with improved fingerprint capturing algorithm and the use of certified fingerprint image quality assessment software to ensure image quality. Registration officials will now, have real-time image quality feedback to improve capture.

Finally, the EC tells us that their staffs were not trained on the current solution per the contractual terms to enable the Commission takeover after the expiration of the contract. They say, their staffs are not able to, by themselves, update or enhance the software solutions at the time of the handing over.

“The EC is currently building and enhancing in house capacity and recruiting skilled IT Professionals. However, the source code for the software solution is not available. It is in the possession of the vendor. It will be highly unwise on our part to continue to run a solution we do not have control over. This will be a huge risk to the Country and is akin to mortgaging our sovereignty to a foreign vendor. A case in point is the last elections in Kenya where the vendor of the solution travelled outside the country after the elections and locked up the data. This led to a re-run and violence”, the EC said at a press conference it held recently.

WHY SHOULD GHANAIANS TRUST THE EC?

The Constitution of Ghana makes the EC the sole authority to administer public elections (including the registration of voters) in this country and also said, the EC, in the discharge of its mandate, is not subject to the direction of anybody or authority. Having regard to these explicit constitutional imperatives, the EC takes sole responsibility for the conduct of elections in Ghana, and so, if anything goes wrong, it is the EC that will be faulted and not any person or authority.

Nobody will fault the NDC and their Asiedu Nketia who cannot think beyond seeing Mr. John Mahama occupy the Jubilee House. Nobody will fault the CSOs a lot of whom become relevant only when they take controversial position on national matters. So, if the EC, being the body that will be held solely responsible for any election-mishap, tells us that it cannot conduct a credible election in December without acquiring a New Biometric Voter Solution, why should anybody who has no such responsibility seek to force the Commission to do what they clearly said they cannot do? Are we setting a trap for them to fall into and later blame them?

On any day, I will choose to believe the EC than any political party. In any case, to say you don’t trust the EC is tantamount to calling for a civil war, because what that will mean is that if the EC conducts the elections (which will definitely happen), you are going to reject the outcome of same, and that, could prove very problematic and a recipe for chaos judging from the experience of other countries.

THE NDC-LED DEBATE ON THE PROPRIETY OF THE EC’S C.I. THAT IS BEFORE PARLIAMENT

The NDC, you would recall, held a press conference recently accusing the EC of conspiring with the NIA to rig the 2020 elections for the NPP, and that, in furtherance of this conspiracy, the EC has failed to involve the NDC in its consultative processes leading to the compilation of a new register. The NDC alleges that the Commission had unilaterally, and at the blind side of the party [NDC], decided to remove the old voters ID cards and birth certificate from the requirements for a new voter registration.

The writer submits that the NDC had lied when it said, the EC deliberately failed to consult political parties before laying its proposed amendments to the Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, 2016 (C.I. 91) in Parliament. The facts are that, first of all, the EC invited all political parties to an IPAC meeting on March 25, 2020, primarily to discuss the Commission’s proposed amendments to C.I. 91 on voter registration. However, the NDC failed to attend this IPAC meeting and they served official notice of their boycott in a letter they wrote to the EC on March 24, 2020 citing Covid-19 as their excuse.

Secondly, contrary to the NDC’s claim that the EC did not inform the political parties that the said IPAC meeting was meant to discuss voter registration matters and that same could not also have been discussed as part of “AOB”, the Commission’s invitation letter [dated March 19, 2020] to the political parties to attend the said IPAC meeting, a copy of which the writer has attached to this article, actually stated in clear terms that:

“The agenda for the meeting are as follows: 1. Registration of voters [writer’s emphasis] 2. Any Other Business”

So, obviously, voter registration was the main agenda for the meeting that the NDC boycotted. At the meeting, the parties made inputs following which the EC felt compelled to withdraw the initial proposed amendment it had laid before Parliament on March 16, 2020, in order to incorporate the inputs made by the parties at the IPAC meeting, which was duly done, whereupon it was re-laid on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Clearly, the NDC had sat on its right for boycotting the meeting thereby losing a fine opportunity to make the case it purportedly made at the press conference.

Thirdly, on the NDC’s allegation that the EC had taken out birth certificate from the requirements for voter registration, this again, is a palpable falsehood because birth certificate has, since 1994, NEVER been a requirement for voter registration in this country because of its “suspicious” means of acquisition. Of course, the EC could not also have maintained the current voters ID card as a requirement for new registration because that is the very card that has issues necessitating its replacement.

Finally, on Ghana Card, it is untrue, the NDC’s claim that the EC unilaterally included the Ghana card as a requirement for voter registration in the new proposed amendments to C.I. 91. Indeed and in fact, the Ghana card is already a requirement for voter registration in C.I. 91 and it has been the case since 2012 predating the Jean Mensah-led EC.

DECEMBER 7 ELECTIONS IN THE MIDST OF COVID

There is no denying the fact that the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country has affected many things and has led to the postponement of many events. However, what Covid-19 cannot do is to make Ghana postpone its December elections, and any such contemplation can only be calamitous because of the constitutional injunctions. It can even be more calamitous than Covid-19 itself. Certainly, the nation will be plunged into a constitutional crisis after the expiration of the mandate of the first 4-years of President Akufo-Addo, on January 7, 2021, if elections are not held in December.

It is most likely that beyond January 7, 2021, if we are unable to hold elections, the exercise of Executive Authority of Ghana by President Akufo-Addo will be greatly undermined especially by members of the opposition. Even within the President’s 4-year mandate, he sets up a committee on Covid, the NDC also sets up a committee on Covid. The President addresses the nation in a nationwide broadcast on Covid, Mr. John Mahama of the NDC also does same.

So, if the NDC can essentially purport to run a parallel administration in the country even before the expiration of the first 4-year mandate of President Akufo-Addo, you can imagine what they will do after that mandate has expired on January 7, 2021 and there has not been an election to extend it or otherwise. Everything shall be chaotic.

I am sure the President, being cognizant of this fact, coupled with his unparalleled fidelity to Constitutional Rule, was inspired to publicly disclose that he would not want to spend even a second at the presidency beyond the mandate given to him by the Ghanaian electorates. This means the President is more than committed to making sure that the December 7 polls come off in line with the constitutional imperatives.

So, if the election has to necessarily come off, then the election has to be conducted by the EC. And if the EC has to conduct the election, then the EC has to be allowed to rollout the necessary processes that will make it possible for the election to be held on December 7 since election is not an event but a process, and at the heart of this process is the compilation of a credible register that will engender public confidence. Covid cannot stop this process. It certainly cannot because the alternative is deadlier.

The nation cannot wait for Covid-19 to be over before holding elections. In any case, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently said clearly that Covid-19 could become endemic like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which will live with us for a much longer time. Accordingly, WHO is urging populations around the world to find a way of adjusting to live with the virus [Covid-19] just like how we are living with HIV.

Even if we were to play the devil’s advocate and assume for the sake of analysis, that, the EC cannot compile a new register because people cannot queue to register because of Covid, and so, the Commission should necessarily use the old register irrespective of the risk associated with that option, it is still not feasible. This is because the Commission will still have to register the over 1.3 million Ghanaians who have turned 18 [first time voters], all of whom have to queue to register in order to entitle them to exercise their constitutional right to vote; a right that cannot be taken away from them no matter the circumstances.

Again, this option will also mean that the 11 million plus voters on the nation’s electoral roll will have to go to designated EC centers to validate their details and be issued with special cards evidencing their eligibility to vote on December 7. Clearly, this option will also prove problematic if the argument against new voter registration is that it will make people congregate thereby compromising the Covid-19 health protocols on physical distancing.

Also worth mentioning is that, if it is possible for the EC to roll out certain protocols to allow this second option to be plausible and also for us to be able to vote on December 7, then the Commission can equally roll out the same protocols to conduct new voter registration especially because the EC has told us that without the new voters register, it will be practically impossible for the Commission to conduct the December polls. We should be comforted by the fact that the Commission has just released some fine protocols ‘towards a safe and secure 2020 voter registration exercise’.

CONCLUSION

Fellow Ghanaians, having regard to the foregoing, it is very clear that if the December 7, 2020 elections have to be held because of the constitutional imperatives, then the EC must necessarily acquire a new voter management system that will invariably lead to the compilation of a new register. Failure to hold elections in December 2020 will definitely plunge this country into constitutional crisis which will be more deadly than Covid-19. So, as the World Health Organization has advised, the sooner we adjust to live with the new world normal, the better for us.

The voice of a citizen NOT a spectator!!!

Assalamu alaikum!!!

Iddi Muhayu-Deen Youth Activist/Columnist #ForGodAndCountry

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