A coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) under the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC) has waded into the new voters register issue, saying that if there is need for the collection of fresh data on citizens, the more appropriate, most lawful and financially responsible and justified approach will be to let the National Identification Authority (NIA) to collect and process the information.
It said the NIA would then send the Electoral Commission (EC) the subset of the information needed for the purpose of elections, reports Graphic Online’s Emmanuel Bonney.
“The EC can then use that information to update its systems. This way the nation moves forward and avoids the wasteful duplication of efforts at great expense,” a spokesperson for the coalition, Mr Kofi Bentil, said at a press conference in relation to the current brouhaha over the EC’s plan to have a new voters register.
The members of the coalition include the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), IMANI Africa, SEND Ghana, Africa Centre for International Law and Accountability (ACILA), Financial Accountability and Transparency <\a> Africa (FAT-Africa), Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and Youth Bridge Foundation.
The others are the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), Citizens Movement against Corruption (CMaC), Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC), Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG), Parliamentary Network Africa (PNA), Community Focus Foundation Ghana (CFF-Ghana), PACKS-Africa and the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC).
Requirements for EC
Mr Bentil said to address the issue of compilation of new register, the EC should open up the electoral register for voters to verify their names, remove names of persons suspected dead or who do not verify, update the existing software in ways to make it more efficient and work with the vendors to prime the hardware and where needed replace faulty ones.
He said the EC should acquire new hardware to augment the existing stock and work with the existing systems, adding that “this is the more justified approach given time and resource considerations and indeed is the most technically feasible and defensible approach compared to totally replacing the entire system at great cost and running the nation through the trauma of another voter registration exercise.
“We reject the EC’s informal, off the grapevine, costing of the alternatives to a full end-to-end replacement. We stand ready to debate the EC in any forum it prefers about its costing.
“We need to bear in mind that the NIA has struggled to complete its exercise in three years, so the EC purporting to do this in less than one year suggests a very stressful time for everyone with no guarantees of success, but a definite requirement for huge resource expenditure,” he said.
The EC, Mr Bentil said had focused on technical issues as the major motivation for a new voters register, and that the Commission had mentioned the vulnerability of current systems and equipment.
“However, it appears that this position has been reached based on the advice of a single vendor. Similarly, the procurement cost assessments have also come from a single source.. The EC places a lot of emphasis on STL’S purported correspondence about the costs of refurbishment and fresh procurement.
“The EC says that STL have offered BVRs for $ 5145 brand new or $ 3500 refurbished, and BVDs for $ 917 brand new and $ 244 refurbished. The EC should be canvassing the market for the cost of these equipment, and investigating the possibility of an open-source central software application, as Nigeria has done in recent years.
He said the coalition believed that the EC had not demonstrated that there was a defect with the biometric data which was used as recently as two months ago on a nationwide scale, to necessitate spending $70 million on mass registration.
“It has already conducted limited registration for the district elections and should be using that benchmark cost for the general elections limited registration. If it wishes to acquire new BVRs and BVDs,and so far it has said little to justify why it needs to do so; it can publish a transparent, well-publicized, tender to bring the costs to less than $15 million, not the $36 million it claims it requires.
“We base our figures on average BVD costs of $160 as per our market benchmark study, and average BVR tablet costs of $750. The EC announced a fingerprint non-recognition rate (thus requiring manual verification) of 0.6% in the last District Elections and then promptly declared the BVDs to be irredeemably defective”.
Had the EC reached out to truly independent experts to advise it, he said it would have been told that a failure rate of 0.6% is rather reasonable. No biometric authentication system can offer a 100% matching accuracy under our conditions at the scale we are talking about. The EC cannot be in a position to seriously assess the quality of the existing system if it relies on the information provided by a single vendor or narrow set of vendors.
“In summary, the EC does not seem to have undertaken a comprehensive assessment to ascertain that an entirely new system is a Hobson’s choice. We, therefore, do not support the proposal for a New Voters Register by the EC.
BY: Emmanuel Bonney