As the debate for and against the compilation of a new electoral register intensifies, the Executive Secretary of the National Identification Authority (NIA), Professor Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah, says the NIA, has all the data the Electoral Commission (EC) might need for a credible register.
Professor Attafuah, said the NIA, has so far registered 7.2 million people which is more than 50percent of the voting population of Ghana, adding that the EC, which has the constitutional mandate can decide to adopt the NIA’s scientific data or even use the Ghana Card as the voting card when it successfully completes its registration by March 30, 2020.
Bright Simons, Vice President of think tank Imani Africa, has also vehemently objected to the EC case, arguing that “the EC is engaged purely in a PR exercise to legitimise a decision they have already taken.”
On Newsfile, last Saturday, Mr Simons, faulted the EC for failing to consult political parties, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), activists, and other interest groups, before taking the decision.
Professor Attafuah, who was briefing journalists in Takoradi on the Western, Western-North and Central regions’ scheduled Ghana Card registration exercise slated for January 27, to February 18, said it can provide the Electoral Commission with all the data set within five days.
“We have registered over 7.2 million people as of 16th January 2020. That is more than 50 percent of the voting population. Secondly, 94 percent of those that we have registered are 18-years-old or will be 18 by voting date. So already we have over 50 percent of the population that will vote captured and we have everything that the Electoral Commission might want to ask of citizens for purposes of voting, except polling station numbers or centres. But that is as easy as ABC technically speaking and NIA has the capacity to give to the EC all the data sets of all the people who are 18 years and above. We can transfer all the millions of that data set in a maximum of five days”.
The Executive Secretary of the NIA, further explained why the famously discussed EC’s proposed new voter register, must give way for the credible data the NIA, has already compiled and continue to compile.
He said because the NIA had captured enough data, including fingerprints, iris and other details the EC might want, with the exception of polling station numbers, then “there is no need to duplicate or replicate” such data since “there is no constitutional barrier to the EC’s use of the NIA database for the extraction of a national voter register.”
“If the EC were to come to the conclusion that the constitutional provision that it shall issue ID card could be interpreted purposively to include the notion that it can prescribe what document should be used as valid, then perhaps the Ghana Card could be considered as a valid instrument for voting,” Prof. Attafuah noted.
The Head of Corporate Affairs at the NIA, ACI Francis Palmdeti, also addressing concerns raised about vulnerable groups who might not be able to generate the digital address which is a key requirement for the Western, Western-North regions registration, revealed that a large number of people who have already registered for the Ghana Card, are the vulnerable ones, including farmers from the countryside.
The NIA, will from 27th of this month to 18th February 2020, open 323 centres in the Western Region and 138 for Western North for its Ghana Card registration.
The NIA, has four more regions to complete the exercise on 31st March 2020.
A GHS390 million budgetary allocation, has been approved for the EC to compile a new voters’ register ahead of the upcoming general elections later in 2020.
The decision to compile a new register has been criticised by some political parties including Civil Society Organisations but some 13 political parties including the governing New Patriotic Party believes reasons for the new register is valid.
The NIA, began the registration exercise in June 2018. It has so far covered a number of regions, including Greater Accra, Upper East, North East, Northern, Savannah and Volta.
NIA completed the exercise in the Ashanti Region On January 16, 2020.
Bright Simons, on his part, posited that aside the timing of the announcement, the EC has not been transparent, although it decided on a new register in December last year.
“Nobody in media or civil society has an idea what is the research that has led to this outcome,” he said. Who were the people that were consulted?”
Simons believes it would be prudent if the EC adheres to the views of some 18 CSOs who have kicked against the compilation, stressing that, “The 18 CSOs represents, as far as I am concerned, one of the broadest institutional spectrums we have in this country from activists through to research-based organisations.”
On his second point, Simons says the architecture of the current biometric voting system was multi-component.
The EC earlier mentioned it “has begun an international competitive tender process in which the solutions were disaggregated – software, hardware and Data Centre. The Commission ensured, as a mandatory requirement, that the design of the system was based on a standard and open architecture. This will prevent vendor-lock in and ensure that the Commission takes control of its own affairs and limits the dependency on vendors. By insisting on this standard and open systems approach, the Commission would not be limited in future in terms of human resources and technology for its future expansion needs.”
It added that a letter from HSB, partners of previous vender STL dated 18th May 2018 read: “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 purchase new BVRs.”
But Simons argues that, “it is not entirely true that the system as it was designed cannot be separated as far as vender design is concerned.”
According to him, after studying the architecture of the current system, he noticed in case there are problems with specific components of the system, they can be dealt with.
His third point was a counter to claims that the existing system has not been upgraded since 2011.
“You can’t tell us that all the devices started in 2011,” he says. “I have read all your budgets… and I have seen all your procurement plans and I know that you continue to buy equipment. In the Charlotte Osei affair, we saw that STL, for instance, had made offerings to replace some of these equipment the EC had gone ahead to make procurements when she abrogated and renegotiated. We know those numbers. We know what was purchased and we know the pricing.”
Finally, Simons suggests to the EC to take a policy decision to check the biometric devices in order to tackle the error rates the body has noticed.
He says: “To the extent that we have a system that is not 100% right, our way of determining whether we are improving or getting worse is to look at the conduct of the elections themselves.”
The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) as well as a coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) under the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC) oppose the collection of fresh data, stressing that the current one should rather be upgraded.
The NDC, for instance, has asserted that it is a sinister move by the EC to suppress votes in its strongholds and shore up those of the NPP in its strongholds. The party, at a presser, further mentioned that the cost involved is too high for the country, looking at the state of the economy.
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