Last week, it emerged from a release by the Electoral Commission (EC), among other things that the Commission would compile a new electoral register for the purpose of the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections.
The news came as a surprise at a time when taxpayers’ money are being used to undertake the national identification exercise. The discourse on this proposed new voter roll should not be limited to the duopolies of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
No one can dispute the fact that the foundation for every credible election is the voters’ register. Certainly, we cannot run the 2020 elections on the current register. Given that, a credible electoral list is central to the conduct of every election, the integrity of the registration process and subsequent register produced becomes crucial for fair, acceptable and transparent polls. The 1992 Constitution and the Electoral Commission Act 451 of 1993 that established the Electoral Commission empowered it among others to; compile voters register for the purposes of elections and referenda. It has been a convention that for every eight years, the Commission compiles new voters’ register.
The big question is: should the Electoral Commission compile its own register independently from the NIA database?
Cost in Perspective 2012 vs 2020
In 2012, it cost the nation an amount of GH¢148,942,378 for compiling the biometric voter registration. Fast forwarding to 2020, considering the rise in voter population and adjusting the 2012 cost to inflation and depreciation of the cedi, a conservative estimate can put the proposed 2020 register at GHC 350 million Ghana cedis.
Ghana Card the need not Voter’s ID
To solve the burden of having to carry multiple agencies and departments having to issue ID cards and to build a functional national identity database, the National Identification Authority (NIA) was established to give effect to this. In the past, there were botched attempts to create the national database and issue ID cards which led to the hemorrhage of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars. However, in September 2017, President Nana Addo launched the commencement and issuance of a National Identification Card popularly called the ‘Ghana Card’.
The card is meant to replace the many identification cards used by Ghanaians while capturing necessary information of every citizen. It will be used in transactions where identification is required as provided by the National Identification Authority (NIA) Act, 2006 Act 70. With a 128-kilobyte capacity, the Ghana Card will enable all stakeholders including the Electoral Commission to run their applications on the national identity card. The Ghana Card Project is expected to cost taxpayers about $1.2 billion in the long run.
With the huge investment and the fun-fare surrounding the Ghana Card, it comes as a worry why the EC is rushing to use compile its own register for the 2020 election ahead of the completion of the Ghana Card. Just this same week, the NIA took delivery of sixty-two (62) vehicles, sixty (60) motorbikes and Two (2) generator sets to facilitate the nationwide registration and issuance of the National Identification Cards.
It is instructive to note that the NIA has a Technical Committee comprising of a number of statutory public service institutions involved the issuance of identity cards or interested in data management. They include the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), Electoral Commission (EC), Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), Birth and Death Registry and among others. Again, why is the EC in a rush?
Putting the Estimated Budget for the 2020 Voter Registration into Perspective
A nation with limited resources should not be seen to be dissipating taxpayers’ money on needless ventures. The estimated cost for the new voter list if scrapped can do a lot for a post-IMF bailed-out country. The money can build 15 turn-key district hospitals that would have an Out Patient 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 1,500 CHPs compound. In the field of education, it can build 1,250 six-unit classroom blocks across the country.
Recommendations and Conclusion
Whilst the constitutional and statutory mandate for compiling electoral register in the country is the exclusive preserve of the EC, the Commission must be reasonable and practical in the light of what can be gleaned from the NIA database. It may require the Attorney General and Cabinet proposing some constitutional amendment to allow the Commission to use the NIA database as the primary records. Countries with a national database to do not give budget lines to their Electoral Commissions to compile voters’ list from scratch.
It is clearly a waste of resources. Parliament must pull the killer switch on this should the Commission comes to Parliament with this request for money. What to do is simple. Anyone who turns 18 years on the national database is automatically added to the electoral roll. What will be required, is for the voter to update his or her address and preferred polling station.
Though the NIA work is still ongoing and it is estimated to be completed by March 2020. The good thing about that the Ghana Card is that it captures lots of information including digital addresses which the EC and its IT Department can extract every information needed and do an exhibition for people who want to change their polling station to do so.
The Electoral Commission must not hold Ghanaians to ransom simply because of its constitutional mandates to compile a new voters’ register. The 1992 Constitution is a human creature and it can be amended if the need be. As a matter of urgency, the EC can set up a technical committee involving the NIA, EC, Inter-Party Advisory Council and CSOs to brainstorm.
The authors is the Country Director for CUTS Ghana, a public policy research and advocacy think tank. For more information visit www.cuts-accra.org or [email protected] or 0302.245652 or 024-392-0926.