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Opinions of Friday, 31 October 2014

Columnist: Hayford, Kwesi Atta-Krufi

Is the Electoral Commission serving the democratic needs of our times?

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The seeming fiasco and the sense of apathy that clothed the just ended voter register exhibition exercise sends a strong signal how Ghanaians are fatigued about the Electoral Commission and its activities. Hosting a programme on London based WBLS ONLINE radio during the week, I could feel the sense of anger and frustration pouring out of Ghanaians against the Electoral Commission (EC) and its sidekick the National Commission for Civic Education ((NCCE) about the lack of education, transparency and clarity of their activities.

Listening to callers views from UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Ghana, one could not help but glean from their views that the lack of clear timetabling of the EC activities runs at the top of their grievances. In the course of the years when the EC has a cycle of either voters registration or register exhibition exercises, the Commission has never in its 22 year old history published one clear year calendar of its activities to prepare stake holders adequately for them.

Throughout the years we have been plagued by instant calls, often with ridiculously dictatorial time frames, of voters’ registration and of exhibition exercises. The recent show of a turn off of the voters gives a clear example of when people are not adequately prepared for an exercise which obviously matter to them.

The lack of education and information about the actions and inactions of the EC will very soon kill our hard won democratic independence. They have become dictatorial and as a result very off-putting to say the least.

The lamest excuse the EC and the NCCE who are supposed to educate us about EC activities tell us is that we do not have the required funding to do our work properly. The Executive appoints the EC and its officers and provides the funding for its activities and yet we are constantly bombarded by the EC with constitutional quotes that no one can touch us and yet when it comes to finances to do the work in order to meet the democratic needs of the time, it is the government’s call. If the EC is statutorily superior and beyond the reach of all mortal beings, how come it is not able to claim the same superiority when it comes to funding of its activities?

IPAC meetings with political parties have never been clearly timetabled and the summoning of which has been left to calls from hilltops by one or two political parties whose interest feels threatened. The recent comments by the secretary generals of the two major political parties the NDC and the NPP speak volumes of the existing gorge between the EC and its biggest stakeholders the political parties.

Of course ruling governments do not give a damn whether the EC will call IPAC meeting or not and the recent Supreme Court petition gave credence to the comfort and compatibility of the government and the EC in bed. It is becoming clear that the EC feels it needs no one, no stakeholder, to do its work. Well the public have bared their teeth at the attitude of EC at the just ended exercise by showing very little interest.

The question is what is the take of the political parties on the public reaction? The poor preparation of opposition parties for the just ended exercise has been placed at the doorsteps of the EC but I fail to accept this push blame game. In the army we say “Kullum Shirri” (be battle ready at all times) and this should be every parties mission statement, especially when you are facing any Ghanaian institution, not least the Electoral Commision.

Another view that was expressed during contributions to the radio programme was the lack of credible database on which the EC works. The voters register is fraught with a number of challenges. Words like bloated, double, minors, foreigners, ghost etc. have been used as adjectives for our voters register.

All calls for its streamlining or auditing have fallen on deaf ears. Political parties feel less empowered to push the dead wood EC on this. The problem about lack of challenge stems from the lack of a primary database from which to challenge the voters register. How many are we as a country? The population census data was badly handled in 2010. Any challenge of how badly managed the voters registration has been handled by the EC over the years has to be done from a credible population census.

From the world of academia to statistics, the year 2000 population census has been the most credible to quote from. The least said about the 2010 census the better. Judging from even the poorly conducted census figures we are saying over 56% of the population is on the voters’ register. This makes it appear very unlikely to be a credible register. The biggest democratic problems we face as Ghanaians is the historical imperfections of our 4th Republic. Desperate and longing for democracy after the failings of the 1970s and the 1980s, it appeared as if we as Ghanaians were ready for any form of democracy and the one that we were sold in 1992 was not fit for the purpose intended. We became bad victims of a poor sale of goods act. The 1992 Constitution was badly written and institutions created under it were very badly empowered. The sins of the 1992 constitution framers are being visited on us today. A constitution that makes the President next to God with powers to appoint over 5000 personnel and not accountable to anyone cannot be said to serve a 21st Century democracy. The atrocious powers the EC has arrogated to itself stem from the historical imperfections of our acceptance of the multi-party democracy in 1992. An EC Commissioner who does not appear to retire; an unaccountable EC; presidential indemnity clause and many more cannot be said to be helpful to our democracy. Finally a suggestion which appeared to be the crown jewel of all panaceas to the lack of credibility that the EC suffers now was a pyramidal approach to the EC leadership structure. It was suggested that as the president appoints the EC commissioners, he or she could be called Chief Commissioner who sits at the apex of the leadership pyramid. Below the chief commissioner will be permanent Political Commissioners. The political commissioners will be appointed by political parties with MPs in the Parliament at any given time. Below the political commissioners will be the regular six deputy commissioners of equal powers who are technocrats in charge of finance, IT, operations, elections, etc. as it probably pertains now. This pyramidal approach will mean the President gets to choose his or her EC Commissioner, political parties have their permanent representations on the commission and the technical know-how is equally present. For me listening to callers’ view was a very humbling experience and I feel obliged to share these here. There is no doubt that the EC is currently facing a credibility crisis and this will likely have a negative impact on the 2016 elections if steps are not taken to redress the imbalance in public minds. The almost yearlong Supreme Court Petition must lead to some political legacy for our democracy. We need to change the way we hold elections in Ghana and it must start with EC self-introspection before we have a national implosion. We have a great opportunity to put our badly run democracy back on track and it must start with the way our elections are conducted. Let us put transparency and credibility back into our governance in order to remove the heightened political tension as mentioned by Mo Ibrahim earlier this year. Kwesi Atta-Krufi Hayford Political Analyst-UK.

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