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Is the EC bent on satisfying a political party in government?

Thu, 21 May 2020 Source: Assibid Daida

Ghanaians head to the polls to elect a new president on 7th December, this year. Ghana is a beacon of hope for Africa referred to by many African and world leaders. This is so because of strong Democratic institutions including our electoral system which is one of the many institutions in which democracy is measured.

With the world experiencing the novel COVID-19 and the propensity of the virus to cause a threat in organising our periodic elections and in this 2020, Ghanaians will still go through the process to elect their leaders come what may, with the institutions of proper measures by government and citizens to reduce the impact it would cause to our population.

Ghana since 1993 when it returned to a constitutional Democracy through the Parliamentary system of government ostensibly with the most robust and envied systems and structures of the electoral commission with its mandate to organise credible elections as citizens exercise their franchise through the ballot in the universal adult suffrage system. Due to the country’s through Parliament of Ghana, has made frantic efforts and commitment to supporting the independent established institution to function effectively and efficiently by creating CIs that gives the clear indications and how elections are organised without compromising the integrity of the process.

Funds to enable its operations in terms procurement and other expenditures are well taken care of by the government of the day through the annual budget.

Several other African countries' independent electoral commissions including Kenya have always sought for the support, knowledge and experience from Ghana’s electoral commission.

The disturbing part of Ghana’s electoral commission which has become an old bad traditions, is the argument and advocacy for change of electoral register, depending on which political party is in government and which one is opposition especially, the two major political parties; Npp and NDC.

As scary as it is, the financial implications on the economy in procuring new equipment to undertake an exercise leading to compiling a new register are not always thought true, and not a dilemma any more. Sometimes the timing isn’t even favourably, yet we see ourselves arguing around with a political agenda and with the belief that their chances of winning an election is tied to a new register.

This upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections and the periodic ‘rituals' for change of register has gained grounds with the head of the EC, Madam Jean Mensah bulldozing her way to compile a register for the election come what may. The Noble COVID-19 is not deterrent enough to stop the Jean Mensah to discontinue the process despite the timing and all odds with barely 7 months to go for elections. Independent bodies, political parties through the IPAC have resisted this move including series of press conferences and regional demonstrations organised by a group of political parties to drum home their demand for the EC not to continue the process as a death year by the EC. What is shocking and even kept people wondering and drawing of conspiracy theories about this entire scheme, is when the register can be cleaned to only include only those who are alive at the time of the cleaning exercise, due to the investment done by previous commissioners especially, Dr. Afari Gyan in technology that is strong to eliminate any possibility of double voting and all other electoral malpractices likely to compromise the process.

The recent register was compiled in 2012 which has shown a great improvement in our electoral system with no chances of double voting, impersonation and has had a leap in the strengthening of the confidence level of the electoral system, hence the tendency for post-electoral violence which is almost stemmed from weak and established system and lack of confidence in the officers of the electoral at areas where posts election violence are recorded. The security features of our current register and data gives an excellent and proper way of cleaning the register and can produce the same effect if a new register is to be used.

The calls by many including independent minds, the likes of about twenty (20) civil society organisations have added their strong voices in other places at different platforms and other times on the same platform, giving out clear and strong indications that, Ghana do not need a new register even before this global pandemic hit the world. The argument put out there by political parties and other independent bodies are catalogued on two premises, which is the cost, and timing of compiling a new register. The government of Ghana has released about $200million dollars for the EC to compile the new register at this very challenging time that led us to us IMF to access an emergency rapid credit facility of $1billion dollars, thus, five folds the amount dolled out to the EC to compile such a needless exercise. The bad timing most importantly, is the greater risk it poses to the lives of Ghanaians who will have to queue for this exercise where the COVID-19 thrives, since the Corona Virus needs the masses as a fertile ground to infect many. The exercise would be carried in all polling stations across the country where the registration exercises would be held, including areas with high rates of infections. Others have also pointed out to the fact that, with just some few months to an election and she Jean Mensah strong stance to continue the process proofs how insensitive she is to the lives of Ghanaians when that amount could go to solve the water crisis at many areas, and to also ameliorate the difficulties students are facing with the double track system by building more blocks to contain the increasing number of enrolment figures as a result of the flagship free SHS program. To even use these few months to elections is questionably due to the tediousness involved in the organization of the entire process.

The estimated cost for the new voter list if scrapped can do a lot for a post-IMF bailed out country that has returned to the IMF owing to the devastating impact of the novel coronavirus on our already raped economy.

The money can build over 25 turn-key district hospitals that would have an Outpatient Departments, theaters, adjunct clinical service, accidental and emergency unit, in-patient services, maternity, mortuary, stores, and staff housing units among others or it can build over 5000 CHPs compound.

Investment in health infrastructure has become very necessary due to the lessons taught us by covid19 which has exposed our poor health system that has often been overlooked. In the field of education, it can build over 4000 six-unit classroom blocks across the country. It can construct several kilometres of roads and as we all know, over 80 percent of our existing roads are in very deplorable states and several other areas have no access to quality roads. In industry, over 50 factories can be constructed from scratch to enable the permanent employment of our numerous unemployed youths whilst in Agriculture, over 500,000 farmers with over Ghs2000 worth of farm inputs that will see a drastic improvement of our Agric sector etcetera.

As objectively one may sound, one do not need to be told that, this business of a new register is a fruitless venture when the current register can produce the same effect, and has even successfully two(2) different Presidents both in 2012 and 2016, from different political parties including the 2018 referendum that led to the creation of additional five (5) more regions as well last year’s assembly elections. The notoriety at which the EC has gained in her responses each time this debate is sparked leaves many to think if indeed she was the same person advocating for electoral reforms during her days as the Executive Director of IEA until her appointment as the chair of the independent institution, EC of Ghana. To crown it all in the manner in which the posture poses a danger in the upcoming elections is the inordinate display and show of party colours by the deputy chair who has since resumed the role as the Public Relations officer for the EC, rendering the powerless PR for the organisation to a mere rack.

The Npp government won the election in 2016 with this same register and to reduce the register as not credible is invariably meaning that the current President was not validly elected since the same register was used to conduct the elections. If the current register is a guarantee to NDC's victory then what went wrong in 2016 with Madam Charlotte Osei who was appointed by former President His Excellency John Dramani Mahama as the chair of the EC, and was later on cruelty ousted by a concerted weakly networked by this government to pave way in order to deliver a grand scheme to rig this election for the NPP.

The factors misinforming or informing the EC, to think of doing what she thought of doing but couldn’t do, and sought to centre her reason on the outmodedness of the biometric registration machines, as her responses and that, the cost involves in maintaining the current BVRs would cost the nation more than the $200M to carrying out a fresh process to produce a new register. This argument has been challenged by many including IMANI-Ghana on the logic behind this unintelligent financial analysis. Agreeing without meeting her potpourri of weak, vague and romanticised factors lacking all coherence and subject to varying interpretation points to the fact that, the only factor Madam Jean Mensah has is to secure a victory to Npp through all crooked methods at all cost.

Why were these unreasoned factors necessitated her decision when it came to conducting district level elections and the referendum to create additional five regions, when it is obsolete as described by Madam Jean Mensah, in just a space of 2012 -2016 with only seven years old investment in the current register? Is it an afterthought or just having the lust and taste to conduct and supervise a controversial election due to the danger it might cause in the elections having nursed and modelled our Democratic culture to an international envy? Or she is facing a sack by her appointer should she not be able to deliver what was promised before her appointment? Agreement must be fulfilled but not when it involves destabilizing our peaceful country and bringing our democracy to a decay.

The records below show the ECs' own figures indicating a tremendous and fantastic voter turnout in both the 2018 referendum and last year’s district level elections with the same register now declared as obsolete. How on earth could a defective and useless register deliver such results from these two national exercises ? Make your judgment from the figures below: ? Salaga South recorded 96% ? Nkoranza North recorded 97% ? Jasikan recorded 97% ? Krachi West recorded 98.5% Indeed, many other constituencies recorded over 90% turnout. As a matter of fact, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), has had cause to express concerns over the high turnout during the 2018 referendum, (https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/politics/ghana-news-extremely-high-turnout-at-referendum-raise-serious-integrity-questions-codeo.html). But the turnout and results were accepted and declared by the EC, (https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/politics/confirmed-results-of-the-2018-referendum-on-new-regions.html).

According to the summary provided by the EC on December 28 in Accra, the requirements - 50% of registered voters voting and 80% of the valid voters voting yes - which makes the results valid was met in all the regions.

Comparatively, the highest turnout of registered voters was recorded in the Ahafo referendum where 90.41% of registered voters participated in the polls which translates to 277,663 out of 307,108 persons.

The lowest turnout of registered voters (77.69%) was recorded in the Western North referendum where out of a total of 502,185 registered voters only 390,128 took part in the polls. YES or NO vote

The NO vote was unable to garner 1% of the valid votes cast in the respective regions with Oti recording the highest percentage - 0.89% while Ahafo (99.68%) edged North East (99.67%) with the highest percentage of YES votes.

Biometric Verification Devices (BVDs) functioned well at 93.29% of polling stations, while 6.71% of polling stations encountered instances where the BVDs failed to function at some point in time on election day.

“At 61.11% of polling stations, observers indicated that no eligible voter had their fingerprints rejected by the Biometric Verification Devices.

https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Assembly-polls-BVDs-functioned-effectively-CODEO-819199.

It is unthinkable and unconstitutional for EC to purport to use ‘defective and non-credible’ biometric voters register to conduct district level elections and yet go ahead to compile a new ‘non-defective and credible’ biometric voters’ register to conduct the 2020 Presidential and Parliamentary elections

It is of firm belief and conviction that the demand for compilation of a new biometric voters’ register by EC is not sincere, we have for the past seven years used current biometric voters’ register to conduct the 2012 elections, 2015 district level elections, 2016 elections and 2018 referendum to create six new regions.

This same ‘defective and non-credible biometric voters’ register was used for conduct of December 17 district level elections and would have also been used for referendum to amend Article 55 (3) if the Bill were not to have been withdrawn by the president on December 1, 2019 Compiling a Biometric system and technicalities involved.

Compiling a biometric register with fingerprint and facial recognition features comes with its associated problems.

There are many countries that use, or have used, biometric voter registration technology, but if the conditions are not right, it can be far from successful. We currently have one in place but without facial recognition features. Several experts stress the need to carry out a thorough needs assessment and feasibility study before deciding to introduce biometric technology in either voter registration or verification. The various challenges and the time required to implement such technology should not be underestimated.

Biometric VR is difficult to implement, specification and procurement processes are lengthy, training of operators and data processing are complex and lengthy processes putting a lot of pressure on the EC to produce the list in time. Most countries eventually fail to implement the biometric verification of the voter which renders the entire exercise questionable plus the shaky political temperatures that can throw our country off gear.

Some of the particular challenges associated with the introduction of voter registration biometric technology are highlighted from our 2012 experience: time required to register voters; the calibration of the facial recognition software now that our EC interns capture it. The facial recognition software requires 6 months to analyse according to experts' views from Uganda's experience, this might not be available prior to polling station day. Again, the system has to be set at a lower percentage of similarity because it tends to see all brothers, sisters, sons, cousins, and certainly twins as duplicate registration. This requires human intervention to correct further slowing the process.

An analysis of the process involved might be useful for us here. First and foremost, the machines are not in Ghana at the moment and when they are procured and it arrives in Ghana which will take weeks, it will go through a factory acceptance test. This will take at least 1 week and must be done.

After which a site acceptance test which will see the machines moved to site for testing conducted. This will be preceded with a training of technicians which will take at least another week and these technicians will train user officials to get them prepared for the exercise ahead, 2 weeks of training is involved here. The system will then have to be piloted in selected constituencies across the country, again this will require 2 weeks. After all these testing and training, definitely, the system will encounter issues which must be resolved. This will see the vendors brought into the country to get it fixed, the time involved here cannot be readily determined as this will depend on the gravity of problems encountered during the testing and training process. It could take even a month.

The main registration exercise will now be ready to proceed across the country in every constituency, according to the EC, this will take 40 days to complete. A subsequent process termed by experts as adjudication which will see to the invitation of all political parties and other stakeholder groups to check double and duplicate registration issues will be conducted. At least 1 week is required.

There will be challenges at the various district levels that must be attended to in a process requiring another week.

The register will also be exhibited to enable registered voters to verify if their names have been captured, this process cannot be skipped and will involve 2 weeks. After which the EC will now work on finalising the process to make it available to the political parties. It's worth noting that the EC according to their failed April 18 deadline, that process will have been completed and the register made available to political parties in November.

Here is the case we have not stated and do not know when the EC will begin, so the question is, can the EC manage to get the register ready for use before December 7th if they start now?

As said above, a pilot study is of utmost importance prior to commencement of the exercise to ascertain the feasibility and/or usefulness of the biometric enrolment both in time and resources expenditure to prevent a situation where much can go wrong simultaneously. Let me warn here that our current EC risks undoing all the good work of previous decades in Ghana which must be seriously looked at.

Whether a new register or not the EC must conduct a limited registration exercise for citizens who have recently attained voting age, and so should brace themselves up with the reality that a new voter's register is not possible. The fear of many is the manner in which this EC is relegating and denigrating the office as her registered entity and the doubt of conducting credible elections after exhibiting her Strong stance inline with government’s interest hence made people questioned if the office is now a political organization.

The laughable aspect is when the ECs defective C.I which was rejected on two occasions by Parliament of Ghana, when the document presented for amendments was riddled with unforgivable errors. The document which has since not been laid before Parliament for the third time has on it, been messy, and irreconcilable of logic and understanding, when a birth certificate issued by a constitutional mandatory body and used as a primary document for acquiring a passport, and National Identified Card are not included as a requirement for one to be registered and issued a voter’s register. This has the propensity of disenfranchising the majority of Ghanaians since most cannot meet the requirements to be registered. Funny enough again, the EC now has value for people identifying a person by way of manual and physically accepting that one is a member of the society to be registered than rigorously going through a system instituted by same constitution which established the EC office are not credible per the ECs definition and categorisation of acceptable documents for the compilation of a new register.

This means that a greater number of our population qualified to take part in the voting process would be disenfranchised if the NIA card is going to be used as a primary document to acquire a voter’s ID card from the NIA's own records. The total number registered for the NIA card is 17,251,635 citizens with only 6, 485,074 representing 38.59% with 10,766,560 representing 62.41% not issued with the NIA card. This is unfair, unjust and abuse of every constitution which gave the powers to be independent and. Conduct free and fair elections. Now, where is the fairness when others are not taking part by fault of not theirs? This is a potent danger and all efforts must be put by all Ghanaians to discourage Madam Jean Mensah from continuing with this evil.

By Assibid Daida /email dauda~assibiddauda@gmail.com

Columnist: Assibid Daida

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