Ladies and gentlemen of the press
We have invited you this afternoon to state our position as political parties on the ongoing national conversation regarding the EC’s proposal acquire a new Biometric Voter Management Solution to enable the commission compile a new voters register ahead of the 2020 General Elections. We shall also use this platform to respond to some deliberate distortions and lies largely being spearheaded by the NDC and one or two minority parties that are against the compilation of a new voters register.
First of all, as political parties, we acknowledge the fact that the Electoral Commission 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.
Even though IPAC has only a consultative and advisory role, it has been of great importance in building trust among political parties and in generating proposals for electoral reforms to enhance the nation’s electoral system. And indeed, almost all the major electoral reforms that we have witnessed in this country from 1996 till date have been spearheaded by political parties through IPAC. It is therefore important for the Electoral Commission (EC) to maintain a close relationship with IPAC and strengthen its engagement with the political parties on issues relating to electoral processes.
THE EC’s DECISION TO COMPILE A NEW VOTERS REGISTER AHEAD OF ELECTION 2020
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, it will be recalled that the EC has, time without number and in line with its constitutional mandate, served notice that it intends to procure a new Biometric Voter Management Solution ahead of the 2020 General Elections which will therefore lead to the compilation of a new voters register, and has proceeded to justify the need to do so. In arriving at this decision, the Commission consulted 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, 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”.
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. The EC 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”.
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.
Last but not least, the EC tells us that its staff 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..
THE OPPOSITION TO THE COMPILATION OF A NEW REGISTER
Regrettably, despite demonstrating enough utility and justification for the adoption of a new Biometric Voter Management Solution to deal with the many challenges with the current system by the electoral commission, some political parties led by the NDC, are hell bent on registering strong opposition to this innocuous intention by the commission to improve our electoral system. You would expect that as key stakeholders, all political parties will rather throw their unflinching support for the election management body to enhance the nation’s electoral administration and not be seen to be thwarting the efforts of the commission.
We are saddened by the continuous bashing of the EC by the NDC in particular for no justifiable reasons, and we wish to call on all well-meaning Ghanaians to call the so called main opposition party to order. The NDC proves to be a big danger to the confidence endeared in IPAC and indeed an agelong stumbling block to the enterprise of electoral reforms for purposes of enhancing our electoral system. You will notice that, consistently, anytime we all sit at IPAC and take decision, the NDC will come out to contradict what we had all agreed on. Here, mention can be made of their betrayal of trust on the U-turn they made regarding the ‘botched’ referendum on local government elections recently among several examples. With all due respect, the NDC makes IPAC look almost useless.
In furtherance of their diabolic agenda against the EC, we have taken notice that the NDC is currently leading a Coalition comprising some 6 political parties under the umbrella name “Inter-Party Resistance Against the New Voters’ Register” to constantly torment the EC in its attempt to improve our electoral system by procuring a new biometric system ahead of election 2020.
It is interesting that out of the over 21 registered political parties operating in the country, the NDC was able to convince only 6 of the parties to join them in this destruction mission. The Coalition, you will recall, held a press conference on Monday to make its case against the compilation of a new register ahead of the 2020 elections. Unfortunately however, their statement was replete with deliberate distortions and blatant falsehoods intended to mislead and incite the Ghanaian public against the EC’s move to compile a new register.
We wish to at this juncture, respond to some of the claims they made and accordingly set the records straight:
a) Why should the EC compile a register in an election year?
Response: Records have it that anytime the Electoral Commission of Ghana compiled a new voters register, it had almost always done that in an election year. Indeed, the current biometric voters register, which was compiled by the EC was done in an election year, which was in 2012. Also, in 2004, the EC complied a new voters register prior to the general elections held that year. Hence, the Commission’s capability to compile a new voters’ register in an election year can certainly not be doubted by any stretch of imagination. So, what we are seeing today is not new… but a continuation of the EC’s own established convention.
b) It is too expensive to compile a new voters register
Response: This is a blatant falsehood because on the contrary, the report from the independent consultants as well as the EC’s own IT team have established that it is rather more expensive refurbishing the current system which had become obsolete and unfit for purpose than to acquire an entirely new system. In other words, the amount of money spent on refurbishing parts and renewing warranties on the current system could be used to acquire a brand new system that is robust, modern and durable user friendly with full functionality and warranties.
Secondly, the amount of money spent by the Charlotte Osei-led EC for just limited voter registration in 2016 is much more than the amount of money proposed to be spent by the Jean Mensah-led EC, not for limited registration but for an entirely new biometric system with more functionalities. Charlotte Osei spent GHc487.9 million on limited registration whereas Jean Mensah is spending GHc 390 million to procure a new Biometric Voters Solution and to compile a fresh voter registration. The EC gave a breakdown of the figures in a press conference it held recently as follows:
“The cost of updating the obsolete Data Centre as proposed by the previous vendor was to have cost the Commission Fifteen Million United States Dollars ($15 million) exclusive of taxes. Today, the Commission is acquiring a new Data Centre at Six Million United States Dollars exclusive of taxes. Further, the cost of refurbishing the obsolete BVR kits as proposed by the previous vendor was 3,500 Dollars per kit. This is how much we are buying a new kit for. The cost of procuring a new BVR Kit as proposed by the previous vendors was $5,145 exclusive of taxes.
We intend to procure a new BVR kit for 3,500 inclusive of taxes. Furthermore, the cost of upgrading the obsolete BVDs as proposed by the previous vendor was $244 and the cost of a new BVD as proposed by previous vendors is $917 exclusive of taxes. The Commission intends to acquire new modern, user friendly BVDs for 400 USD inclusive of taxes. At the end of the procurement process we will inform Ghanaians about the actual costs involved”.
c) Spending GHc 390 million on a new voters register is a misplaced priority
Response: Election is very key to the sustenance of our multiparty democracy, and the cost of a disputed election cannot be quantified. It is certainly not too much to spend GHc 390 million to secure the peace of this country before, during and after a general elections. We also disagree with their claim that this money should rather be invested in building more schools, hospital, roads and in resolving other social problems. In any case, government has not stopped building schools, hospitals and the construction of roads among others. And spending GHc 390 million on a new voters register that will enhance the credibility of our elections will not stop government from continuing to deliver social infrastructure to the Ghanaian people.
Government and for that matter the state has not told us that it cannot finance the cost of compilation of the register. Also, Parliament has given the EC the green light to go ahead and spend that amount of money on the acquisition of a new biometric voters solution and the subsequent compilation of a new voters register. In any case, is the NDC telling us that in 2012 when they were in government and the EC decided to compile a new biometric voters register, all the problems in Ghana had then been resolved? Were all the roads constructed? Were all the school and hospitals needed in the country built? Can there ever be a time where the nation will not clamour for roads, hospitals and schools? Why are we being this hypocritical and disingenuous?
d) Compiling a new voters register is a recipe for chaos in the country
Response: We cannot fathom how the compilation of a new voters register to improve and enhance the credibility of our election can be construed by any reason man as a recipe for chaos. On the contrary, we think that it is rather the NDC’s reckless comments and ugly noises against the compilation of a more credible register as well as their diabolic agenda against the Election Commission including their desperate move to incite the Ghanaian public against the Commission that is jeopardizing the peace and security of this country. You will recall the Ofoso Ampofo’s [NDC National Chairman] leaked tape and recently Elvis Afriye Ankrah [The NDC Director of Elections] leaked tape on the subject.
In effect, the NDC has unleashed its babies with sharp and its leadership to go launching attacks at the EC and inciting the public to stage a sustained protest in a manner that will bring the entire country to a standstill as indicated by the NDC’s director of elections, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah. Also, one of their lead-communicators, Prince Derrick Adjei, in a recent facebook post indicated “NEW VOTERS REGISTER must only be after 2020 election if we are to avoid bloodshed… #Akufo-Addo ABORT”. Certainly, it is this kind of posturing by the NDC that is a recipe for chaos and not the EC’s move to enhance the credibility of the voters register by the acquisition of an enhanced biometric system.
e) We successfully used the current register in the just ended District Assembly and Unit Committee Elections
Response: This is akin to comparing apples with oranges because we all know that turn out in district assembly and unit committee elections is nowhere comparable with turn out in general elections. Hence the pressure that is brought to bear on the biometric system during district assembly elections is nowhere comparable with what we often see during general elections. In any case, the EC tells us that even with the less pressure and turnout associated with the district assembly elections, they had to refurbish and repair the BVDs at huge cost to get them ready. This, they said, was labour intensive and an 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 district assembly elections.
The Commission spent close to Two Million Ghana Cedis just for refurbishment of the BVDs and BVRs ahead of the district assembly elections. Notwithstanding these extra efforts the EC took, the data shows that out of a total number of Five Million, Four Hundred and Thirty One Thousand, Nine Hundred and two (5,431902) verified, Thirty-Four Thousand, Eight Hundred and Forty Three (34,843) were manually verified. This is a significant number which can determine the winner of an election, as we saw in the 2008 general elections. However, we all know that the inclusion of facial recognition which comes with the new system, will completely eliminate manual verification and will ensure that the will of the people stands and that every vote cast matters.
To conclude, we are convinced ladies and gentlemen by the Electoral Commission’s justification for acquiring a new Biometric Voter Management System (BVMS) and also compiling 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.
The commission must continue to demonstrate that it has the wherewithal within the constraint of time to administer the new Biometric Voter Management System (BVMS) and also to compile a new voters’ register ahead of the 2020 general elections. As political parties and key stakeholders, we assure the Ghanaian people that we shall continue to keenly police the process and not hesitate to make our concerns public should we have any, in order to have same addressed by the election management body for the advancement of our multiparty constitutional democracy and for the love of country.
and many others