The Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC), Mrs Jean Mensa, has defended the compilation of a new biometric voters register (BVR), saying it is the surest way to deliver free, fair, credible and transparent elections.
She said the EC’s decision was in the interest of all political parties and that it was committed to delivering incident-free and peaceful elections.
Mrs Mensa explained that an audit of the current system had established potential room for election manipulation, with dire consequences on the general election, saying that was something the EC wanted to avert with the new BVR.
Addressing the leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) before proceeding to a closed-door engagement on the compilation of the new register in Accra yesterday, she said the reason for compiling a new register was two-fold.
First, she said, the current system required a mandatory upgrade and refurbishment, which had been awarded on contract at $56 million before she assumed office in 2018. However, the cost of the refurbishment was far more expensive than obtaining a new system.
Mrs Mensa said although on an assumption of office stakeholders, such as the vendors, mounted pressure on her to allow the contract to run or risk a system breakdown, the EC did not succumb but commissioned a thorough analysis and audit of the system and concluded that the refurbishment, which could not last for the next six years, was not the way to go.
“The refurbishment was only going to support the 2018 referendum and the 2019 limited voters registration,” the EC Chair said.
“I am pleased to note that the EC did not make good that contract and that money has not been spent as we speak,” she added.
Relating the new system to the new register, she said the experts had indicated that the new system would require a new operating system which would, in effect, require a migration of the old data onto it.
“But the experts say the migration process could cause a huge loss of data and that may result in people not finding their names in the register on the voting day, and this is what we don’t want to compromise on,” she said.
In addition, the experts also cautioned that the quality of the print could reduce to an unreadable level during the migration, she said.
“That will also cause a situation where prospective voters cannot be verified with their thumbprints, and that will force us to use manual verification to ensure that no one is disenfranchised,” Mrs Mensa said.
“However, mass manual verification will give room to manipulation because anybody can vote with any card, even if it was not his or hers, because there will be no electronic way of verifying, and we do not want to come to that,” she said.
Credibility of register
Second, Mrs Mensa said, the current register was not credible because it had been bloated with the names of foreign nationals due to the EC’s acceptance of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) cards for voter registration and the demise of about a million registered voters.
She said the Supreme Court determined that the NHIS card was not a sure proof of citizenship and asked the EC, in 2014, to expunge the names of those who used NHIS cards for the voters’ registration from the register.
That, the EC Chair added, had become challenging because determining who used the card had become almost an impossible task.
She gave an assurance that the EC would not conduct itself in any way that would compromise the peace of the country but would continue to ensure that its activities were transparent, inclusive, involving and peaceful.
The meeting, which was at the invitation of the TUC, took place after a social policy dialogue by the TUC to discuss the preliminary report of research it conducted to collect data on the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on employment, livelihoods and enterprises.
The Secretary-General of the TUC, Dr Yaw Baah, said the congress invited the EC over public concerns raised against the compilation of the new register by a number of political parties and civil society organisations for various reasons.
He said the invitation was premised on petitions the congress had received from a couple of stakeholder institutions, appealing to the TUC to intervene through dialogue to facilitate a win-win situation for stakeholders and help avert a national state of anarchy.
“The TUC is concerned because it affects all of us and the majority of our members, and so knowing what election-related disputes have caused in other countries, we cannot sit unconcerned.
“This is why we invited the EC to the dialogue table to enable us to understand the issues better by hearing from them officially for the first time before speaking publicly on the issues. We are grateful that even at a very short notice EC Chair is here with her two deputies,” he said.
Dr Baah said the TUC was committed to the interest of all its members, workers and stakeholders.