The discussions on the need to compile or not to compile a new voters’ register has rather unfortunately, received an intransigent position from the arbiters who are expected to take and evaluate the opinions of stakeholders and which is expected to feature prominently in their decisions. It is clearly understood that the 1992 Constitution, under Article 46, guarantees the independence of the Electoral Commission. While that is indisputable, it must be pointed out that engaging stakeholders and involving them in decision making, doesn’t connote interference in the work of an independent state institution. Indeed, decisions reaches on the basis of consensus and broad consultations, rather strengthens the position of such institutions, not the least, an Electoral Commission whose work must at all times, engender trust.
Unfortunately, even in the face of an intervention by the Committee of Eminent Advisors to the Electoral Commission to the effect that the Commission was advised to convene a meeting to engage political parties and other stakeholders further to make good their case, the Commission has proceeded to set a date for the compilation of a new voters’ register without any effort at calling for the meeting as advised by its own Committee constituted for the purpose of advising it to ensure effective administration of its mandate. It must be noted here that the date, 18th April 2020 earmarked for the registration exercise the Commission intended to begin, was first announced on a local radio station Asempa FM on a program dubbed “Ekosisen” by the General Secretary of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr. John Boadu almost a week before the Commission made this date public from its outfit.
In Ghana, the single personality who acted as an arbiter at the Electoral Commission and had established credibility for himself both locally and internationally, is Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan. It came as a surprise that when the Electoral Commissioner was looking for eminent men and women to constitute a committee to advise it on election matters and the administration of their mandate, they never found the experienced Dr. Afari Gyan eminent and competent enough to be on that committee. With due respect to the men and women assembled by the Commissioner for the purpose of advising it, which of them has had experience in matters of election than Dr. Afari Gyan? But that is the reality. This is where we are as a nation.
Day after day, it became clear that the Electoral Commission had embarked on some earlier actions and are only using the public discourse to establish reasons for their actions and to seek legitimacy for same. Just last week, it emerged that the Electoral Commission had since last year, awarded a contract for construction of a data center. That being the case, the questions that arise are, so why are we discussing issues today when a decision was taken in the past and a contract already awarded? Should the Commission abandon the move to compile a new register, who pays for the cost incurred already? These are some of the things we must begin to think about. And by thinking about these, we can come to some conclusion which reveals the reasons for the intransigent position by the Commission and the unwillingness to entertain arguments that seek to adduce reasons for which the move to compile a new voters’ register must be abandoned.
In the debate that had ensued since the Commission intensified its public clamor for a new voters’ register, several other experts have spoken and punched holes in the claims made by the Commission to validate their decision. Some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), have organized public fora to advance their arguments against the compilation of a new register. While some are of the view that the existing machines, which according to the EC, had proven to be effective at a success rate of 99.4% at the recently held District Assembly and Unit Committee elections could function for the elections of 2020, others are of the view that the huge sums of monies allocated for this exercise, could be channeled into dealing with challenges in the areas of road, water, schools, hospitals, among others. To the EC, they have fear that the existing machines may fail during the 2020 elections. The Commission made claims that there was some expert report that advised on the need for a complete change in the system currently at the Commission for the purpose of the 2020 elections. What is more curious here is that the Commission is unable to make public that report for the perusal of the general public whose endorsement they are seeking to validate their decisions already taken.
It is important to establish that elections consist of several processes and not an event. That being the case, for the final results of an election to be accepted as a true reflection of the representation of the people, the processes leading to the elections, must be fair and trustworthy. If already, there are concealment of vital information, which information the EC alludes to in public to justify their actions and decisions, but the said report is kept from the view of the public, it leaves people to speculate including doubting the existence of any such report.
It is important for integrity to be established in the processes leading up to the elections. Quite surprisingly, some key actors in this election process, have acted in a manner that jeopardizes the trust required in the 2020 elections. How possible could it be that an arbiter, a Deputy Commissioner of the Electoral Commission, Dr. Bossman Asare, describes one of the contesting political parties in the 2020 elections as a danger to Ghana’s democracy? By every stretch of logic, can one not simply deduce that given the chance for the Deputy Commissioner to choose between the ruling party and that opposition party that is a threat to Ghana’s democracy according to his own words, he would choose the party that does not pose a threat to our democracy?
Again, if you have a Commission whose Deputy Commissioner cannot think twice and remind himself of his current role as an independent arbiter, but can jump into a campaign and campaign for a position on a proposed referendum in line with the position of the government in power, that Commission is doing more damage to its credibility which is one reason there is a problem of trust between the Commission and some political parties especially those in opposition.
One other matter that got swept under the carpet, but which is of great significance was the presence of Mr. Joe Anokye, the current head of the National Communication Authority (NCA) at an Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting with the Electoral Commission. In December last year, the Electoral Commission called a meeting with political parties and their representatives to observe the exhibition for the new systems the Commission intended to procure ahead of the 2020 elections.
At that meeting, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) was represented by Mr. Joe Anokye, the head of NCA and a man believed to have been ‘instrumental’ in the victory of the NPP through the use of technology. With his current position, he is the state and for that matter, government’s controller of telecommunication services. He is to determine which network has the power to undertake one activity or the other. This is the man who attends the IPAC meeting on behalf of the ruling party. He was not there as a government representative, but as the representative of the New Patriotic Party. Is this a move to observe how his ‘skills’ can be employed for a similar victory as was in the 2016 elections?
The conduct of Mr. Anokye, and his representation on that platform, exposes his biases, dents his credibility to be fair, and ought to have been shown the exit. Indeed, Mr. Ankoye and Dr. Bossman Asare, by now, ought to have been pushed aside for some credibility to be restored at the Commission and the processes leading to the 2020 elections. You correct a system like this and build confidence by sacking people whose actions have raised credibility issues for the institutions they represent, and not by keeping them and hoping they would repent. Their continuous stay in their offices damages further, the image of the institutions they represent and act for.
In a statement issued on the 19th of January and signed by Mrs. Sylvia Annoh, acting Director of Public Relations for the Electoral Commission under the heading EC clears air on ownership of Persol Systems Limited, one paragraph, paragraph 4, positions the Commission as being on a collision course with “sections of the society”. The paragraph reads “In the lead up to the General Elections in December, the EC is mindful of the fact that there will be attempts by sections of the society to malign the integrity and credibility of the Chairperson, her Deputies and the Commission”. I found this statement on this paragraph worrying and needless from an institution that is struggling to gain trust. Already, it appears the Commissioner (Chairperson), and her Deputies are mindful they are political actors and who are mindful that their ‘opponents’ would adopt strategies to outwit them in this political space. Statements like these simply suggest that the Commissioner and her Deputies are aware that their terms in office are tied to a certain government’s tenure. Meanwhile, until evidence is adduced through processes to show they must be exited, the 1992 Constitution they so make reference for their independence, assures them the security of tenure.
Quite amazingly, some section of the public are unable to detect that processes towards an election can be skewed to favour one political party over the other. To them, once there are claims to the effect that elections are won at the polling stations, that is cast in iron, and nothing could change that illusion. It remains a fact that elections are won at the polling station. On election day, one out of the many contestants, would be declared winner. But, when the processes are skewed towards the winner, the fact that he is declared at the polling station to have won doesn’t mean the elections were fair.
For instance, if, during the registration process, there were massive breakdowns at the strongholds of one party while they function perfectly at the strongholds of another party, the elections have already been compromised so long as no fair playing field was offered the parties to have equal opportunity of winning.
Again, let us even assume that the registration process was done fairly, providing the maximum opportunity for registrants to register, and on election day, they are unable to verify themselves to have the opportunity to vote from the strongholds of one party while those of another party’s stronghold runs smoothly, the outcome of that election cannot be said to have been credible.
Again, let us assume that the registration process was perfectly done, and on election day, someone was able to manipulate the records from the strongholds of a political party because he or she has control of the most vital information of voters of the strongholds of a political party, that election results could not be said to have been credible. It takes a lot to establish credibility.
We were told by the Commissioner of the Electoral Commission, Mrs. Jean Mensa that the EC had had to rely on foreign vendors to establish and operate its systems in the past years, the reason for which she is seeking to make changes that would allow her administration the needed control of the systems. However, the vendors shortlisted in her recent procurement efforts, are all foreign companies. As an individual, I would prefer leaving the control of systems in the hands of individuals be they foreign, who have proven neutral and without interest in the outcome of Ghana’s elections to placing such a system completely under the control of individuals who have proven to be bias towards a political party in an election they are to be arbitrators over.
The Mrs. Jean Mensa led Commission is suffering from credibility crisis following the ousting of the former Chairperson, Mrs. Charlotte Osei. One is free to cite the law and to allude to a said petition that led to her removal. In the same light, one can also refer to a petition by some youth to the Office of the President for the removal of the then Chief Justice over what they believed were sufficient grounds for her removal. That petition, unlike the swift nature the Charlotte Osei’s was undertaken, never moved from the Office of the President for action to be taken. That should settle the issue of interest in these two issues.
Flowing from this credibility crisis of the Jean Mensa led Commission, there are conspiracy theorists who are of the view that the compilation of a new voters’ register remains one of the reasons for her appointment. Such people are of the view that her task is to ensure the compilation of a new register and the procurement of a new systems that she can have full control of and place at the manipulative discretion of the ruling government. It is against these conspiracy theorists that I hold the view that Mrs. Jean Mensa and her Commission, must take steps to regain some confidence and trust from a cross section of Ghanaians by managing and allowing the existing systems to determine who next becomes president of Ghana. I am of the view that she should not have a problem with the NPP winning if that even is her wish. This is because, the NPP won elections with some 1 million difference in the 2016 elections. In addition, the government and party says it is achieving unprecedented records. And knowing that Ghanaians would definitely elect a working and performing government, the NPP must proudly win the 2020 elections on the current register.
I believe that the Commission can shift gear and begin deliberating on the procurement and compilation of a new register after the 2020 elections. Two things would make their case for a new register post 2020 more acceptable. In the first instance, the Housing and Population Census (HPC) would have been concluded and the data tested for use for such an exercise. The Commission would have had the proper targets and the proper statistical basis for their projections. In the second instance, the Ghana Card registration exercise would have advanced if not completed. Once that data is tested and certified, it then can become a viable platform for the Electoral Commission to extract a voters’ register at a more reduced cost to the taxpayer.
The current Commission under its current leadership must defy the political pressure from the appointing authority if there is/are any, and stand on the side of the taxpayer and the ordinary Ghanaian. Their preoccupation must be on how to build trust for themselves when the scars of the removal of Mrs. Osei are still fresh. No matter what, their actions today, would be read within the context of their appointments. If they can recoil and reconsider their posturing and rather take steps to build some level of confidence in themselves and the system, they can survive the many years they have ahead of them. As it stands, the current system they are seeking to introduce is being met with suspicion and should the outcome of the elections go in favour of the ruling government, using this new system they are burnt on procuring, they would have confirmed the suspicions of a cross sections of the Ghanaian public which automatically secures their jobs only when the ruling party NPP remain in power. Mrs. Charlotte Osei nonetheless, was removed from office even though she did not establish any system and never acted in a manner that sought to retain in power the party under which she was appointed.