Ghana once again, is back to the discussion on the need or otherwise for a new voters’ register, heading into the 2020 December 7th general elections. Again, the discussion has taken political twists, with the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) kicking against the drive by the Electoral Commission (EC) for a new register while the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) is for the decision by the EC to compile a new register.
On the part of the taxpayer, how does this serve his or her interest when basic social services are missing in the Ghanaian society? When people are constantly demonstration over bad roads? When the total amount of Ghc444 million, the equivalent of USD72 million could be used to fix and asphalt some 70 kilometres of roads that are in bad state?
From a neutral point of view, there is need to have, at all times, a credible voters register that guarantees that the people’s choice at public elections, are what the system produces. In effect, when the people say it is this person or that person they want as their president or Member of Parliament, the processes that lead to their decision, must produce the exact decision they have made. For this reason, it is imperious to ensure that at all times, the voters register is a credible one that reflects the general consensus of the people.
What must engineer the induction of a new register, must be some defects detected in the existing register. As we speak, that point has not been sufficiently pushed to convince anyone on the need for the current register to be set aside for a whopping USD72 million to be spent in compiling a new register to perform the function the existing register can perform.
Indeed, the Deputy Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr. Bossman Asare was reported severally to have alluded to the credibility of the current register. However, he made claims that a new register would be “more” credible, (https://www.theghanareport.com/2020-polls-ndc-describes-ecs-justification-for-new-voter-register-as-ridiculous/). The degree of an extended credibility, remains a subjective matter, a matter of semantics. It is too technical to prefix the word credible with “more”, a measurement that we cannot determine.
This article would handle the issue of a new register on two fronts; the path of the Electoral Commission and the path of the New Patriotic Party in order to interrogate their reasons for support of a new register. This article would raise some critical questions that would be further interrogated to provide a perspective to readers.
While we must admit that the Electoral Commission is an independent state institution whose independence is guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution under Article 46, we are guaranteed the right to freely subject their reasons to strict and logical examination as their functions have a bearing on us and especially that our taxes is what goes in to execute their programs and activities.
As far back 2018, there were hints of a new register. The nation in December 2018, proceeded with the same register to engage in an important exercise of a referendum to create six additional administrative regions increasing its regional capitals from 10 to 16. After the creation of these additional regions, the Commission applauded the process and endorsed the outcome as being credible and valid. Indeed, ahead of the referendum of 2018, the EC through its Chairperson, Mrs. Jean Mensah, declared that all was set for a successful referendum. We must be mindful that all those processes that were “set”, included the provision of a voters register that makes credible, that important exercise, (https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/All-is-set-for-December-27-referendum-710845).
Subsequent to that the Electoral Commission, in June 2019, opened the existing register for a limited registration exercise that allowed citizens who attained the age of 18 to apply to make entry into the voters register as well as for those who for one reason or the other, were more than 18 but could not registered into the system, (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2019/06/17/ec-begins-nationwide-limited-voter-registration-exercise/amp/). This exercise was carried out and classified as successful. This meant that we were building up on a credible exercise that feeds into the EC debatable for credible future elections.
As a point of information, it must be recalled that somewhere March 2019, there was a release by the EC which is said to contain minutes of a meeting held with the political parties under the banner of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) where the meeting was supposed to have reached a consensus on the compilation of a new register. Following from that, the media had severally reported same, (https://www.myjoyonline.com/politics/2019/March-27th/ec-to-compile-new-voters-register-for-2020-elections.php). Soon after that, the opposition NDC issued a letter distancing itself from the said minutes and hinted that no such discussions were held and no decision was reached on same, (https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/IPAC-Meeting-EC-lied-We-did-not-discuss-compilation-of-new-voters-register-NDC-734008). The People’s National Convention (PNC) followed after and affirmed the position of the NDC that no such discussions were held for the EC to seek to inform the public that any such a decision was reached, (https://www.myjoyonline.com/politics/2019/march-28th/pnc-affirms-ndc-claim-new-voter-register-wasnt-discussed-at-ipac.php).
Since then, it was obvious the intentions to introduce a new register for the 2020 elections has been on the chest of the Commission. However, it was difficult for the EC to introduce the defective claim to justify their proposal. That appears the only convincing argument that can logically warrant a new register. This happened for some reasons.
The first reason under that is, the EC would have used the same register to conduct a national referendum to amend Article 55(3) of the 1992 Constitution, an entrenched provision that could only be amended through a serious process. Secondly, using the same register, the Electoral Commission, was to use (and has used) the same register, for the election of District Assembly members as well as Unit Committee members. If the EC had gone to embrace the defect argument, its own effort at using the defective register to elect Assembly and Unit Committee members, would have been questionable. Hence, the EC was forced to admit the credibility of the register. Indeed, when Dr. Bossman Asare was queried, he admits that the current register is credible, except that a new register would be “more” credible. What is more curious is how a system we are yet to use has already produced a “more” credible database than what we have.
In an addendum, in the position of the EC, from one of its Deputy Commissioners in Charge of Operations, Mr Samuel Tettey, the Commission explains that the machine is unable to detect the fingerprints of some voters, (https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/EC-to-compile-new-register-for-2020-elections-817777). He admits however, that, they rely on manual verification at certain times. He never said at no point were people unable to be verified to vote. If it is some of the machines that have gone defective, would the cost of changing those defective machines exceed the total cost of procuring new machines in its entirety and compiling a totally new register?
In the referendum held in December 2018 and the just ended Assembly and Unit Committee elections of 17 December, 2019, all voters who went to participate in the voting exercise were verified and certified to vote. Indeed, in the referendum of 2018, these were some of the turnouts:
▪ Salaga South recorded 96%
▪ Nkoranza North recorded 97%
▪ Jasikan recorded 97%
▪ Krachi West recorded 98.5%
Indeed, many other constituencies recorded over 90% turnout. As a matter of fact, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), has had cause to express concern over the high turnout during the 2018 referendum, (https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/politics/ghana-news-extremely-high-turnout-at-referendum-raise-serious-integrity-questions-codeo.html). But the turnout and results were accepted and declared by the EC, (https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/politics/confirmed-results-of-the-2018-referendum-on-new-regions.html).
In all of these, it must be emphasized that all who showed up, and in some cases the 98.5% were verified. Is it a case of assumption that the 1.5% who didn’t show up to vote in this constituency, are those likely to be affected using the same register for the 2020 elections? If that is what the EC wants us to believe, that, on a balance of probability, the 1.5% of electorates at the Krachi West Constituency, stands a greater chance of losing their fingerprints and perhaps names from the register. That is even insignificant though their rights are guaranteed equally, as compared to the 98.5% who showed up and were able to partake in the referendum that created the Oti Region.
As an individual, I personally think the reasons adduced so far, have not convinced me, and as a taxpayer, I think it is needless to spend my taxes in this manner. One other claim was that, the current register, though credible, is overstretched, (https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Voters-register-credible-but-overstretched-EC-816961). I would have loved to hear commitment to safeguard the taxpayer who has been rather overstretched with nothing really tangible to show for the consistent payment of taxes. Is this argument to say that pumping Ghc444 million into the compilation of a new register is not a drain on the taxpayer? For me, if the current register was able to create new regions, elected Assembly and Unit Committee members, and would have been able to amend an entrenched clause of Article 55(3) of the 1992 Constitution but for its withdrawal, then the register must be credible and fit for purpose for the election of a president and members of parliament.
The nation has embarked on national census every 10 years. In recent times, one was carried out in the years 2000, 2010 and another expected in 2020. The compilation of a national data through a national census, provides the nation a solid statistical base for projections for its development. This automatically provides all state institutions that use public data and population for their activities, the baseline for their projections. A new census data, would provide the EC with the base target for registrants onto its register. As we speak, that data is yet to be collated, yet, the EC is determined to run ahead. What is the motive? Is there anything the public is yet to know?
The second perspective of the argument, would raise some very critical questions for the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Indeed, the NPP supported the EC in every activity it proposed to undertake since assuming power and especially since Mrs. Jean Mensa and her other deputies were appointed in 2018 by the President His Excellency Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo.
Indeed, since taking office by this new Commissioner and her other Deputies, their first major assignment was to oversee the conduct of the 2018 referendum that created the six new regions to help the president fulfil his campaign promise of 2016. Indeed, the President Akufo-Addo lauded the EC for having passed its first assignment, expressing his satisfaction, (https://mobile.ghanaguardian.com/akufo-addo-praises-jean-mensa-led-ec-for-passing-first-test).
Again, from the entrenched perspective of the NPP, the 2012 elections were won by Nana Akufo-Addo except he was not declared. At the time, it was the current register that was used for that 2012 elections. Following from their defeat in the protracted elections petition case that lasted 8 months, they ventured into the 2016 elections with the same register, and emerged with a 1 million gap victory. Till today, they tell the people of Ghana how that never occurred before that a sitting president was defeated with 1 million votes and assures the opposition NDC of another defeat since it is the same candidate the NPP defeated in 2016 that the NDC is repeating. So one would ask what has become fundamentally wrong with the said register that produce that resounding and unprecedented victory for the NPP?
Again, following from the 2018 referendum, the New Patriotic Party, successfully cites the creation of the new regions as a fulfilled campaign promise of the NPP ahead of the 2016 elections, an indication that they endorse fully the outcome. That automatically means an endorsement of the register used for the process. At what point did that register become defective for use in 2020?
Again, of more critical demand is that, we have been told severally of how the Akufo-Addo administration has delivered beyond any other government in Ghana’s history. Indeed, at some point, he was said to have performed better than the 8 years of the previous NDC administration. Indeed, the current Vice President Dr. Bawumia, has led that claim, (https://www.myjoyonline.com/politics/2019/December-9th/the-records-show-npp-govt-has-performed-better-bawumia.php).
Since Ghanaians definitely want to see into power a very performing person as their president, and having been graced with a president who has performed in less than 3 years than what his predecessors did in 8 years, should the same register that produced him the overwhelming victory in 2016, not be comforting enough to guarantee him another term? Must he throw away what provided him the victory and embrace a new system which may rather erode his fortunes since he hasn’t stood elections on its account?
Indeed, president Akufo-Addo himself has indicated how he is cruising to victory and how it would be a bad decision for Ghanaians to return John Dramani Mahama to power, (https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Ghanaians-willl-reject-sleeping-ideas-brankrupt-Mahama-Akufo-Addo-796491). The president and the New Patriotic Party must have very assuring future in the register in its current form with their superior achievements that Ghanaians are only seeing under Nana Akufo-Addo as president.
From the above, unless there is/are some other reasons other than those presented which have been assessed, I am not convinced for the need to expend Ghc444 million hard currency into producing a new register when that can go into fixing some social needs of our people. Today, we have communities whose indigenes are unable to have access to potable drinking water, we have communities where people have their children sitting under trees or dilapidated structures to learn. Those people all have the rights to enjoy the social amenities that anyone sitting at the Seat of Government, the Electoral Commission, Parliament, is enjoying.
I think we can put our resources to some good use since there isn’t any compelling reason so far to justify this huge expenditure in the name of creating a “more” credible register for the 2020 elections.
A Merry Christmas to you all, and an anticipated Happy New Year.