Kofi Boateng writes: An incumbent bent on creating a new voters’ register

Only a novice expected the New Patriotic Party to denounce its objective to create a new voters’ register. In May 2016, when the Supreme Court held that the Electoral Commission “must take immediate steps to clean the… voters’ register,” Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia said at the time that “in fact, the voters’ register is not credible.” He added that it was the party’s “long time” held view to clean the register.

So before the National Identification Authority (NIA) even started its work it was obvious why the government was embarking on the project. Not to belittle the relevance of national identity to the advancement of our country. But the Veep’s recent announcement that the national identification cards will be used to compile the new voters’ register let out the unexpressed thoughts of the incumbent.

Albeit the subtlety, it is clear that come hell or high water Ghana will have a new voters’ register for the 2020 General Elections.

As such, realising its “say” was no more regarded, the minority in Parliament boycotted the proceedings that saw the approval of the estimated budget for the EC to carry out the procurement of new Biometric Verification Devices and the creation of a new Biometric Voters’ Register. And as usual, Parliament rubberstamped.

Reading the Electoral Commission’s justifications for a new voters’ register it is clear we need one.

However, it is also evident that if the government is very eager to clean the register and clean it well, this year is not the year. This is because the NIA has captured a little over six million Ghanaians. It has a long way to go to finish its work. A Population Census is due this year. With the insights from the census coupled with a broader issuance of the national identification cards, the EC will be able to compile a very solid register.

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The EC was also blaming political parties for not encouraging their members to take part in the deletion of the names of the dead in the register. I have been thinking about the utility of the Births and Deaths Registry in this country. If we focus on improving the operations of this institution can’t the EC get data from there to automatically delete names of dead people from the voter’s register? Rather than strengthening this institution, we have been spending huge sums of money, approximately every eight years to compile a new register. It is not really sensible considering our woes us a country.

As it stands now the government is bent on its objective. Unfortunately, with constraints of time and inadequate insight, mistakes made in the hurried 2012 compilation is likely to be made. This will render the activity useless.

The reason I say it is the government that wants to do this is that without the government’s consent the needed resources for the EC will not be available. The government will virtually cease to have money. So the EC’s reliance on the Constitution as a leeway is just gimmick.

Moreover, the NPP won the 2016 elections overwhelmingly regardless of all the ills they touted about the register. So why the rush to have a new polling roll? Can’t we wait to put in place measures that will ensure the prevention of the consistent perpetuation of this waste?

Maybe the procurement syndrome is rushing with the force of a lake’s undercurrents in all of this brouhaha. But for that, I don’t see why there should be a rush to do something as important as the compilation of the voters’ register. I’m not too sure about the relevance of a facial recognition device either, but it will definitely cost more than the usual BVDs that I’m sure.

Instead of furnishing Ghanaians with the “actual costs involved” in this process the EC says it will do so at the “end of the procurement process.” What can be salvaged after the carcass is rotten?

Regrettably, these pertinent issues are lost in the flood of political talk. The phenomenon of us repeating avoidable mistakes will be perpetuated and the ordinary Ghanaian will continue to wallow in penury because of deliberate waste of scarce resources.