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Elizabeth Ohene Writes: Our register will remain dirty

Eliza New Statistics

Thu, 12 May 2016 Source: Elizabeth Ohene

I read in the media that the Electoral Commission says it believes that the credibility of elections depends on a clean voters register.

Therefore, the commission has given an assurance that all steps will be taken in line with existing law to ensure that “the final register is clean and credible before the November 7 presidential and parliamentary elections.”

I wish I could believe that but I am afraid I don’t.

I am sure that come November 7, there will be an electoral roll and I suspect the people of Ghana, might hold the view that it is better to have an election with a flawed voters register than not to have an election at all and therefore we would all hold our noses and go through the motions. As for a clean electoral roll emerging between now and November 7, that will not happen.

I am not even veering into any legal complications that might confront the Electoral Commissioner, which might cause delays or extra problems. I am not even thinking of the Supreme Court ruling on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) cards, even though I note that the lawyers are enjoying themselves punching holes in the judgement.

Nor do I for one moment question the capacity of the Electoral Commission to undertake whatever task it imagines it would take to accomplish in order to produce a clean register.

Reasons

We will not have a clean register because there are too many people in this country who think it is okay to subvert and undermine any and every system. We will not have a clean register because too many people in this country have a cavalier attitude towards figures and their ages. And we will not have a clean register because a voters registration card has become the national Identification card that one requires to conduct all official businesses and people will go to any lengths to acquire one.

The subject of age

I am afraid I must return to the subject of age in our society about which I have had much to say. There are three young people I know who all have voters registration cards. This must mean that all three must have been at least 18 years old in December 2012; and therefore all three must be getting on to 22 years. Since 2012, they have been able to deal with banks as adults using their voters cards as evidence.

Well, I have seen their birth certificates and according to those documents, the oldest among the three will be 21 in June this year. In other words, she was 17 years old when she acquired the card. Another one of them will be 19 years old later this year; which means she was barely 15 when she got her voters card in 2012.

The stories about how they got the cards are shockingly similar. Two of them said the headmasters of their schools simply went from class to class and picked out anybody who looked slightly tall and marched them off to the registration centre and they got their cards. The third one was taken to be registered by the Assembly member in the village.

These are not spectacular stories and my understanding is that headmasters of senior high schools and even junior high schools in certain parts of the country regularly condone the registration of minors in their schools.

It should not take a lot of imagination to realise that very, very few children in junior high school can be 18-years-old. If you went to primary one at age six, as most children do, you are most likely to be 15 when you reach JHS 3. We could accept that some might be stragglers and reach JHS at 16 or 17, but any JHS child who comes to register should have to prove that he/she is 18.

Some consequences of manipulating age

I wonder if those who are pushing underage children to register to vote bother to think of the consequences for these children a few years down the line. These same children might in a few years’ time be wanting to enlist in the police service or the military and they would suddenly discover that they are older than the minimum age prescribed for entry. The next thing we know, more criminal activity is employed to enable them to enlist in the services by falsifying their ages again.

We inflate our ages when it suits us and reduce our ages when it takes our fancy. What we seem to forget is that age is not a peculiarly Ghanaian concept and I have never been able to come to terms with the cavalier attitude many Ghanaians have towards age.

We have a football age, we have a civil service age, we have a voting age and all these would not necessarily bear any resemblance to what the real age of a person would be. Ghanaians feel comfortable about swearing oaths to acquire new ages at various stages of their lives.

For as long as people believe it is okay to lie about age on official documents, it is unrealistic to hope that we can have a “clean” document of any kind in our country that has an age component. For as long as the voters card seems to be the main credible identification document, we won’t have a clean register. For as long as teachers and other grownups in positions of authority would encourage underage children to register and vote in elections, we won’t have a clean register.

Our neighbours

Then there is the curious case of the attraction of our neighbours to our country to participate in our elections. I hear that apart from the attraction of acquiring a National Health Insurance card that enables them to access free health services in Ghana, these cousins and uncles and aunts of ours in the neighbouring countries are happy to come and register and vote in Ghana for the inducement of a small fee.

How come then that I never hear of Ghanaians going to vote in Togo, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire during their elections?

Our neighbours can’t offer us free health care as an inducement to come and vote, but am I to understand that the parties there won’t or can’t offer Ghanaians the same amounts of money that we allegedly give them to vote in their elections?

After the Supreme Court ruling on the NHIS cards, it might well mean that some of our attraction as a voters destination might disappear, but it appears Ghana remains the pan-African dream capital and our neighbours feel entitled to come and vote.

In other words, the Electoral Commission can give all the assurance they want, we won’t have a clean voters register. Our register will remain dirty.

Columnist: Elizabeth Ohene