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16.03.2020 Feature Article

The New Voters' Register: A Necessity Or A Wastage Of Resources

The New Voters' Register: A Necessity Or A Wastage Of Resources
LISTEN MAR 16, 2020

The Electoral Commission addressing a press conference at its headquarters in Accra on Tuesday, December 31, 2019 presented the nation with two very clear and distinct changes. In a 16-page press release which the Deputy Chairman in charge of operations, Mr. Samuel Tettey, read, the EC made a case for a new voters’ register and another case for a Biometric Voters Management System. The new voters’ register will mean reregistering eligible voters as well as clearing deceased people from the system and the BVMS is to replace the obsolete data management system of the EC with new features that is, facial recognition and advanced fingerprint verification.

In the ensuing debate, it appears the country has been split into two; those who prefer a new voters’ register and those who consider the act of the Electoral Commission as ingenuine. This writeup seeks to examine the issue from the perspective of those who consider the act ingenuine and further arguments on why given the opportunity, the EC should not create a new voters’ register.

There are two very important metrics to consider when it comes to policy implementation in a country like Ghana: obligation of the state actor and capacity to execute. On obligation of the EC, the questions the writeup would be answering are, whether the EC is morally justified in proposing and implementing these and on capacity, there would be a look at questions of time and political expediency at play in this process.

It is important to note a few things.
Both sides have very strong arguments, indeed the EC exhausted most of the 16-page press release and subsequent press engagements rebutting arguments and trying to convince people that its decisions are good but in the long run, we need to ask ourselves, what is really good for Ghana, for a peaceful, free and fair elections and for the deepening of our democracy. It appears that a new voters’ register would exactly be against all of these.

Firstly, on EC’s legal obligation. Even though the EC has created a new voters’ register as it did in 1995, 2004, 2012, prior to the elections, the question to be asked is do they have the legal & moral right to do so now? The National Identification Authority Act, 2006 Act 707 clearly states that the NIA collects all data of citizens to advance political, social and economic activities in this country. Article 45 of the constitution also states the functions of the Electoral Commission as to compile a register. Keyword compile not create one altogether.

In 2012, the argument could be made that the NIA was not ready with the information but now, in 2020 with the Ghana card near completion, the EC is restricted by legal provisions to compile that information from the NIA records. This would not be the creation of a new voters’ register but the updating and cleaning of the existing one. Again, we should begin asking ourselves whether it is justified legally to create a system that can disenfranchise someone of his constitutional right to vote, simply because he couldn’t recapture his name? the NIA’s system would prove better where people are automatically added to the register when they come of age.

Also, from the standpoint of morality, it appears that the EC has lost the moral high ground to create a new voters’ register. Evidence in July 2017 shows that Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) begun investigations that senior EC official had misappropriated funds in 2012 and 2013. Note that 2012 was the last time a new voters register was created. In November of the same year, the Chief Justice assembled a panel charged with investigating an array of corruption claims against the then EC Chairperson Charlotte Osei. Mrs. Osei was accused among other things of spending GH₵ 3.9 million to partition her office, receipt of a bribe and spending $ 14 million on district offices- double what the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) had authorized.

The current EC boss, Jean Adukwei Mensa was appointed hurriedly after the esteemed Prof. Joy Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu turned down the appointment and even she has been embroiled in some scandals given her political utterances as well as her husband’s several NPP related contracts. For the Deputy EC’s, their biases have become increasingly glaring and they’ve been defined as “dye-in-the wool” supporters of NPP. At the backdrop of such deep-rooted concerns regarding the integrity of the EC, one wonders whether the EC is morally justified to undertake something so fundamental as recreating a voters’ register.

Again, the NPP opposed the last creation of the last register in 2012 dragging the whole nation’s business 6 months backward in a long-fought election petition in 2012 as well as huffed and puffed until the EC boss who oversaw that register was deposed. What is to say the NDC if their concerns are not listened to would not do same? Can’t we avert this situation?

Secondly on capacity, considering the time and political expediencies, it is clear that a new voters’ register cannot be created at least not efficiently.

There is no time to create a proper alternative to the existing voters’ register. To do due diligence to the creation of a new system, various procedures must be met. This means the EC’s idea of using 50 days, between April and May, to finish the new system is not plausible and the resultant register would not equal the existing one, talk less of been better. We have only 9 months into the elections and creating a new system will mean channeling all attention and time to convincing people to get themselves registered on the new database.

Aside a new voters’ register, there is a mountain of logistic and capital input and investment needed by the EC, stakeholders and the country during an Election year.

Constitutional Instruments by Parliament, months of campaigning, Peace and Security arrangements, Limited Exhibition exercises, registration of citizens abroad, etc. It is therefore not realistic for the EC to meet their targets before the elections and even if they do, they will get few people to register their names on the database. This in the long run will make it impossible for people to make corrections and rectify their details in case issues arise. It must be noted that Ghanaians who find themselves in abroad may be prevented from registering in the system, the over 6,500 Ghanaians students and 250,000 immigrants more stuck in China and across the world due to this corona virus outbreak and others in the diaspora who won’t be captured. Indeed, recently with the corona scare, I wonder who would want to cramp themselves into long, crowded queues with sweaty strangers interspersed with cough and sneezes here and there.

On political expediency, this act is questionable especially when elections are nearing. The trend of updating voters’ registration during election years is one that is worrisome in the least. This is because election years are exactly the worst times to carry out these activities.

During election years, political tensions rise and people become more intolerant of situations. It means that for example more violent clashes occur during registration etc and voter apathy can lead to many Ghanaians simply deciding that it is not worth the stress especially since, the Ghana Card initiative means that the voters ID is no longer the primary national identification tool for many.

Lastly, the EC has not proven any great defects in the old register. The defects in information management system can to a large extent be dealt with without having to change the register totally. The old system when improved can ensure the running of a free and fair election as well as ensure the peace and national security they seek to achieve.

This writeup therefore sides with the opposing side which believes that the act of the Electoral Commission is ingenuine and with the issue of obligation and capacity, the EC cannot create a new voters’ register. Even the good book says, all things are lawful unto me but not all things are expedient. Given the mandate and the support of the current administration, the EC could ignore the entirety of the opposition and all Ghanaians and go ahead but I ask? Is it expedient to Ghana?

By: Jessica Afful Tuleassi

Jessica Afful Tuleassi
Jessica Afful Tuleassi, © 2020

The author has 2 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: JessicaAffulTuleassi

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