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Opinions of Friday, 25 September 2015

Columnist: Brig-Gen J. Odei

The challenge is credibility

Opinion Opinion

The need for a new voters register has passionately been pursued by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) long before the new Electoral Commissioner (EC), Mrs Charlotte Kesson Smith-Osei was sworn into office on 30th June, 2015.

The NPP has pursued this policy not because it believes it will gain any political advantage in the 2016 general elections by its renewal but with the revelations from the Supreme Court trial of the electoral petition, it is the right thing to do as we approach the 2016 elections.

The retirement of Dr. Afari Gyan was received as a blessing because it paved the way for the new management to restore some sanity and confidence in the administration of the electoral process. Notwithstanding the fact that some Ghanaians felt that the President had hoodwinked the Council of State in the appointment of the new Commissioner, many Ghanaians have resigned themselves to accept the appointment and allow the lady to prove herself.

The new EC during her swearing-in promised to push through electoral reforms needed to deepen the credibility of Ghana’s electoral process. She promised to be IMPARTIAL and work with CONSCIENCE and CONVICTION. Impartial and conscience I appreciate but conviction I am not sure because the second definition of CONVICTION in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is “a strong opinion or belief, strong political/moral convictions” and if her strong political conviction is that of NDC’s, then a new register will never be compiled.

On 1st of August, 2015 the Deputy Chairperson of the EC, Georgina Opoku Amankwaah bemoaned the loss of confidence of Ghanaians in the Commission and referred to the recent barometer report which revealed that the confidence of the electorate in the Commission has reduced from 75% to 45% in 2014 and described the situation as precarious.

In an address to facilitators and participants in a workshop prior to the recent district elections, the EC Deputy Chair in charge of finance and administration insisted that the low level of confidence was based on ignorance of the public on the work of the Commission. She believes the solution is to change the public’s perception of the EC by educating the public.

Unfortunately, her recommended solution gave a clear indication that she does not understand the magnitude of the problems facing the Commission. The loss of confidence of Ghanaians in the Commission did not start yesterday but from the 1992 elections when the “stolen verdict” was written after the elections. The revelations that emanated from the petition trial badly exposed the Commission’s inefficiencies, impartiality, lack of conscience and poor conduct of elections. The pathetic sight of “all knowing” Dr. Afari Gyan in the witness box eroded the little confidence that Ghanaians had in the EC.

Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur revealed that the EC expended GH¢310 million in the lead-up to the District Level Elections which was later annulled by a Supreme Court ruling and this negligence further deepened the woes of the Commission. The low turnout at the just ended District Council elections is a serious indictment on the performance of the Commission because it is its responsibility to make the district elections more attractive and convincing for the electorate to participate in it. Article 45(d), which is one of the functions, directs the EC, “to educate the people on the electoral process and its purpose”.

The sad thing about the District elections is that since its inception the turnout had always been low and yet these elections are organised at a great cost to the nation without the EC introducing any innovation into the process to make it more interesting. From these observations it is very clear that the restoration of the image and credibility of the Commission cannot be achieved through workshops (“tea party”) but rather through an unbiased demonstration of its commitment to execute all its functions and electoral reforms which will ensure that the regulations keep pace with the electoral developments in the country.

The fallen image of the Commission should be considered as one of the major priorities of the new Commissioner and the preparation of a new register will help restore some lost confidence in the Commission. Issues such as lack of funds should not come from the EC. The EC should take a decision that will ensure the restoration of its credibility because all disputed elections have come about as a result of loss of confidence in the electoral process. The cost of preparing new voters register is insignificant as compared to the cost of a civil war and the Commission should concern itself with its mandate and leave the Government to find the money to finance the elections. After all the Government found it expedient to pay Woyome’s alleged judgement debt and defended it. Besides, elections in this country have always been supported financially by some donor countries and it’s up to the Government to do its homework.

The call for a new register therefore poses a credibility challenge to the Electoral Commission and any attempt to stick to the flawed decisions of the former Commissioner will spell the doom of the Commission. So many reasons have been advanced necessitating the call for a new register and I am not going into the merits or demerits of the arguments because I think the demand being made is legitimate and has been justified beyond reasonable doubt.

I do not also want to go into any arguments with the NDC because the NDC is not the EC and by defending the EC the NDC had badly exposed itself regarding the role it played covertly in bloating the register and thus confirms the justification to prepare a new one. With the conduct of the NDC, the Public Relations Department of the EC should be scrapped to save the tax payer’s money in maintaining that Department. If the EC wants to build confidence with the political parties and the Ghanaian electorate, it should distance or disassociate itself from all the arguments being put forward by the NDC.

It is important to emphasize that the restoration of the Commission’s image rests on the Commission ALONE and any attempt by any political party to whip the Commission’s support as being witnessed today may worsen its plight because such an action is bound to be subjected to different interpretations and thus serve to undermine the Commission’s credibility.

On reforms, the most important issue that needs to be tackled is the credibility of personnel of the Commission which has been badly tainted. The permanent nature of the appointment of staff of the Commission as enshrined in the Constitution ensures the independence of the Commission, the security of the tenure of office should embolden them to take decisions without fear or favour of the political party in power and lastly offers the personnel the opportunity to acquire the experience required to perform the various functions. Unfortunately, observations in the conduct of elections in this country suggest that they have learnt nothing. The sad part of it is that most of them are seen to be corrupt and compromised thus making the implementation of any reform a difficult task. After the botched District Council Elections with the loss of over 310 million cedis to the State, Dr Afari Gyan retired on full salary garnished with a national award. Countries that have developed promote excellence and not mediocrity.

Reforms are vital ingredients in running any organisation but no matter the reforms, the implementation will depend on the people who work in the organisation and one such area that needs serious reform is the selection and appointment of Returning and Presiding Officers whose main responsibility is the conduct and management of elections. These officers are hired during elections and fired after the elections and the temporary nature of the appointments makes them easily corruptible. In the 2012 elections, Dr. Afari Gyan sidelined teachers who hitherto had been appointed Returning and Presiding officers during elections and replaced them with illiterates and people who were sympathetic to the NDC, thus succeeded in rigging the elections for the NDC. In Venezuela, these officers are picked at random and appointed but in our country this will not work because those who are appointed to do the picking will be compromised. The options left to us are either the Commission returns to the practice of using teachers or allocate slots transparently to political parties to fill them.

From the above, it is clear that the task facing the EC is one of credibility and whether the Commissioner will pass the test or not depends on her leadership qualities and how she handles the issue of the new register. Prof. Jega of Nigeria provided transparent and incredible leadership qualities and succeeded in organising the only credible elections ever held in Nigeria. The new Commissioner can carve a name for herself by providing such leadership or open herself to public ridicule.

“A good name is more desirable than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1).