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NPP ON NEW VOTERS REGISTER

PRESENTATION BY THE NPP AT A DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE EMINENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE OF THE EC, THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION AND THE INTERPARTY ADVISORY COMMITTEE (IPAC) HELD ON JANUARY 30, 2020

We, in the NPP have been consistent that there are some fundamental issues with the current biometric register which was compiled in 2012 after we had detected some anomalies therein. This was the basis for our demand on the EC to compile a new voters register in the buildup to the 2016 general elections. It is also noteworthy that since the advent of the fourth republican dispensation, all the electoral reforms that have occurred in the country have been led and spearheaded by the NPP, from the days of opaque ballot boxes to transparent boxes, from ‘black and white’ voter ID cards to colored ID cards, and from manual voter registration and verification to the days biometric. Records have it that the NDC have always kicked against any proposed reforms to our electoral system since 1992, and they haven’t changed.

So, it is not surprising that whereas the NPP is once again supporting these proposed electoral reforms albeit from the electoral commission, the NDC thinks otherwise. This, as we have said, is consistent with our position in the buildup to 2016 elections following the many issues we had identified in the current biometric system which was compiled in 2012. Unfortunately, the EC, at the time, disagreed with us. The Commission proceeded to set up a special Panel chaired by His Lordship VCRAC Crabbe in October 2015 to hear proposals from various stakeholders, collect and collate views from the stakeholders, analyze the views and at a public Forum, conduct the hearings in a free, transparent, fair and objective manner on the issue of the register of voters, and provide recommendations to the EC.

REPORT OF THE VCRAC CRABBE PANEL

In their report, the Crabbe Panel first of all acknowledged that the NPP had made a strong case that the 2012 register which was eventually used for the 2016 elections was BLOATED owing to the fact that it contained several categories of ineligible registrants including multiple registrations, minors who were registered, names of foreigners and deceased persons. However, the committee said it was constrained in its effort to assess the validity of our claims owing to the fact that the current system of identification did not allow for easy detection of the ineligible registrants particularly minors and foreigners. The biometric voter registration system could only detect and eliminate duplicate records from multiple registration of individuals.

After its analysis of facts before it, Crabbe Committee found in their Report that “there is evidence that the register of voters contains a substantial number of people whose names are currently not valid. By all indications, the number of registered voters is not only unusually high, but it may be in excess of the potential number. Based on the 2012 projected population of Ghana, provided by the Ghana Statistical Service, and discounting the population of foreigners, there were about 150,000 more individual records in the Register of voters than the 2012 estimated population of persons aged 18 years and older of Ghanaian nationality.. This would include some thousands of minors who were wrongly registered.

On the issue of dead people in the register, the Committee observed that “further analysis of data, based on the reported number registered in 2012 and 2014, shows that as many as 580,000 estimated number of voter deaths would have occurred cumulatively by the 2016 elections and may well remain in the Register of Voters. It is not clear how many of these deaths have actually been identified and their records expunged from the Register through the established procedure. This constitutes about 4% of the eligible voters on the register.. This margin is almost twice the margin by which most presidential elections were won and more than ten times the margin in the preceding elections.

On the basis of this and the EC’s response, the VCRAC Crabbe committee concludes that:

“Judging by the sheer numbers, the Electoral Commission’s proposition to display the Register, with political party reps, the EC and citizenry to identify and point out invalid names, is not a viable approach. Particularly when the persons who identify these records are expected to expend their time, energy and resources not only to provide the evidence but also to testify before a competent court of jurisdiction. The efficacy of the current provisions may be assessed by the fact that in spite of this system having been in place, there were 8,000 registrants in 2014 who may have been minors on the list since 2012…

The signal is that the system is not effective in achieving the set goals of eliminating invalid records from the Register and must be reconsidered. It is said that you cannot do the same thing and expect different results… The consequences of a bloated register (or invalid records) are not ignorable… It seems that doing nothing more than the usual updating and waiting for the citizenry to pursue those who are illegally registered, will engender the most bloated register, by the mere fact that very few of the names of the dead are likely to be brought up.
As a way of tackling these issues, the Crabbe Committee first of all observed that “it may be difficult to justify more than half a million invalid records in the Register that we seek to characterize as credible.

It may be expedient to try to find a middle ground to creating a new register through a completely new registration process. The electoral commission could consider extending the exhibition exercise to have voters confirm their names on the list, an indication that they would want to maintain their voter status. The benefits include signaling that the EC is doing something about the known flaws in the Register; the more cost-effective approach is being used”.

The Committee proceeds to make the point that “in the same way that a new registration would have required citizens to physically appear for registration, the cleaning would require that they appear to confirm. The major difference is that they spend less time because no forms are filled. Rather than make others responsible for maintaining voters names on the list, the individuals should themselves do that. This also avoids the issue of people looking for documents to support any claim to get a record removed. This is largely what happens with the current system of hoping invalid names would be detected. It would be important to use this opportunity to call on all who are eligible to voluntarily get their names off without facing any prosecution”.

THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION’S CURRENT POSITION

The NPP counts itself lucky that today, the EC has, on its own volition, decided to compile a new voters register ahead of the 2020 general elections and have proceeded to canvass strong arguments to justify its decision. The NPP is therefore at ad idem with the Commission following our long held position. We acknowledge the fact that the EC is the constitutional body that is ceased with the appropriate jurisdiction to administer all public elections in the country, and one of its key functions in this regard has to do with the compilation of the voters register. Article 45 of the 1992 Constitution and Section 2 of the Electoral Commissions Act (Act 451) state in part that the electoral commission shall compile the register of voters and revise it at such periods as may be determined by law.

The constitution, in Article 51 also mandates the EC to make regulations for the effective performance of its functions particularly for the registration of voters and for the conduct of pubic elections. We also recognize that by reason of Article 46, the Electoral Commission is an independent body that is not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority in the performance of its functions except as provided in the constitution.

In view of these explicit provisions, when elections do not go well in this country, it is the EC that will be faulted because it is the only constitutional body responsible for the conduct of elections. It is therefore a legal obligation on all stakeholders including political parties and civil society organizations to support and cooperate with the Electoral Commission to discharge its constitutional mandate and NOT seek to direct the EC on how to perform its functions.

Political parties are however free to make suggestions and recommendations to the Commission for its consideration and possible adoption. This is because political parties are undoubtedly the number one stakeholders in the conduct of elections, and that is why the nation has a special purpose vehicle known as the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) which serves as an opportune platform for political parties and the EC to meet and deliberate on matters of concern in relation to the core functions of the EC. This does not mean that IPAC can dictate to the EC how it should conduct its mandate. Indeed, as pointed out, the Constitution in Article 46, provides clearly that the Electoral Commission is an independent body that is not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority in the performance of its functions.

It cannot be disputed that the EC, in arriving at the decision to compile a new voters register, consulted and continues to consult all the relevant stakeholders particularly the political parties through IPAC, where extensive deliberations have been held between the EC and political parties on the subject. The EC, in justifying the need to compile a new register, informed the parties and indeed the general public that its decision is based on the advice of its IT team and external Consultants to the effect that, it would be prudent to acquire a new system rather than refurbish the current system which had become obsolete and thus unfit for purpose.

“We have been made to understand through expert opinion that the amount of money spent on refurbishing parts and renewing warranties could be used to acquire a brand new system that is robust, modern and durable user friendly with full functionality and warranties” the EC stated in a press conference it held recently. Also, according to a letter from the immediate past vendors of the current biometric system, which was contracted by the Charlotte Osei-led EC, the Commission would assume so much needles risks if steps were not taken to change the equipment. Accordingly, in a letter they wrote to the EC following the EC’s request on STL to update the Commission on the status of existing BVRs after preliminary checks, they stated that:

“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. If you have any questions please contact us”. The letter also added that after examining 2500 of the kits which were, at the time, the kits that were serviceable, the testing revealed that “60% of the laptops need to go under service for replacing CMOS batteries, which the original manufacturer refuses to conduct himself, due to EOL (End of Life) and to take responsibility for the repair. STL continues to make the point that “we would like to remind that in the 2016 registration, we had in total 47% failure rate for BVRs during the preparation to registration process. We had high rate of failure of prepared kits which were sent to the registration exercise.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we wish to ask that if you inherit a biometric system and you are advised by the entity handing over the system to you that the system had reached its end-of-life and that, it will be imprudent and unwise to want to continue spending on refurbishing the system as compared to acquiring an entirely new system, what will you do? Which reasonable man will ignore such advice and continue to spend on a system that had clearly become obsolete and out of date when he could use a much lesser amount to acquire a brand new system that is robust, modern and durable user friendly with full functionality and warranties?

Why are we being disingenuous to ourselves and not allow sincerity and candour govern our conduct in this conversation? We should not also forget that it has always been the practice over the years for the EC to replace the voters register after every 8 years: that is after two General Elections and two District Level Elections due to population dynamics and technological innovations. The reason for the periodic replacement of the voters register is mainly as a result of reforms to improve the credibility and integrity of the register.

Also worthy of note is the fact that the current Biometric Verification Device (BVD) is unable to verify a number of voters electronically resulting in a high number of manual verification on voting day, which is largely unreliable and a potential source of dispute as it tends to compromise the integrity of the elections. Whilst the current Biometric Voter Ddevice (BVDs) and the Biometric Voters Register Kits (BVRs) that the Commission uses are often challenged due to their inability to do fingerprint verification, a significant number of these devices can also not be repaired.

Ladies and gentlemen, you would recall that after the EC’s Limited Voter Registration exercise in 2019, the NDC issued a press statement on Thursday, 18th July, 2019, a copy of which I hold in my hand. In this statement, the NDC itself admitted to the monumental failure rate of the EC’s biometric system particularly the online registration equipment. The said, “Our records show that only a meager 13.8% constituting 110, 125 registrants were captured by the online registration equipment…” One would think that having made this admission, the NDC will be the first political party to demand to more credible biometric registration equipment. But what do we see today, a complete contradiction and lack of principle from them.

To buttress its position for a new biometric voter management system, the EC also tells us that for the recently ended District Level Elections (DLE), the Commission had to refurbish and repair them to get them ready for the DLE. “This was a labour intensive and expensive process that spanned through several months from May, 2019 to December, 2019 with the Commission having to hire additional hands to get the devices ready for the DLE. The Commission spent close to Two Million Ghana Cedis just for refurbishment of the BVDs and BVRs ahead of the DLE”, the commission said.

To make matters worse, the current biometric architecture does not have a facial recognition technology nor does it allow for a facial recognition add-on to be added. The new Biometric Voter Management Solution that the EC intends to acquire ahead of the 2020 elections will have a facial recognition as an additional feature for those whose fingers cannot be verified and thus reduce the high incidence of manual verification which often proves to be problematic and tends to compromise the integrity and credibility of our elections.

Not only that, the new biometric system will also significantly reduce if not completely eliminate the increasingly high identification failure rate by using new scanners and software with improved fingerprint capturing algorithm and the use of certified fingerprint image quality assessment software to ensure image quality. Registration officials will now, have real-time image quality feedback to improve capture.

To add to the foregoing, the EC tells us that its staffs were not trained on the current solution per the contractual terms to enable the Commission takeover after the expiration of the contract. “The EC staff therefore are not able to, by themselves, update or enhance the software solutions at the time of the handing over. The EC is currently building and enhancing in house capacity and recruiting skilled IT Professionals. However, the source code for the software solution is not available. It is in the possession of the vendor. It will be highly unwise on our part to continue to run a solution we do not to have control over. This will be a huge risk to the Country and is akin to mortgaging our sovereignty to a vendor. A case in point is the last elections in Kenya where the vendor of the solution travelled outside the country after the elections and locked up the data. This led to a re-run and violence”. Is this what we want as a country? Certainly not..

On concerns which have been raised about the inadequacy of time, the EC has said time without number that it is NOT unable to compile a new voters register in an election year, and indeed, the election management body observed that in 2004 and 2012, both of which were election years, it compiled a new voters register. So, this is not new. Equally, the issue about cost is neither here nor there because there is evidence pointing clearly that the cost of acquiring a new biometric system which the current EC is proposing is much cheaper than the cost of refurbishing the current system as we have demonstrated. And interestingly, it is even cheaper than the amount of money spent by the Charlotte Osei-led EC in the 2015 on simple Limited Registration Exercise. Facts are sacred and sacrosanct.

CONCLUSION

To conclude, we in the NPP maintain our long held position that there are issues with the current voters register and there is the need for a new register to be compiled. We are happy the EC and at least some 13 other political parties and many Ghanaians have today identified with our position. Our position is fortified by the EC’s convincing arguments in support of its decision to compile a new voters register ahead of the 2020 general elections. As key stakeholders, we associate ourselves wholly with any electoral reforms or process that seeks to enhance the nation’s electoral system and engender the needed confidence and credibility in our elections. We however implore the EC to continue to engage all stakeholders including those opposed to this undertaking in an atmosphere of openness and sincerity.

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