Is IPAC losing its focus towards electoral transparency?
Written by Kwesi Atta-Krufi Hayford Friday, 05 August 2011 08:48
After the much anticipated need for electoral reforms in Ghana to stem the tide of voter fraud, it is beginning to look like the government has finally buckled to the wishes of common sense that the kind of voters register we have used since 1992 is redundant, retrogressive unwanted and to a large extent archaic . The wish of common sense would have been that we switched to biometric registration followed by e-voting. Somehow the government has agreed to fund the biometric registration but has curiously refused to fund the e-voting. Be that as it may the next step is to give the various political parties a clear road map to the implementation of the biometric registration. We are hearing in the grape vine that the last quarter of the year could be when the Electoral Commission will finally begin the registration process. However this is not good enough as we are entering August and an important a national exercise as this cannot be decided on the whims and caprices of a few within the Electoral Commission without a proper calendar laid out for the entire population to plan towards it. We know that last year both the population census and the District Assembly election were fiasco because of poor planning, lack of clarity of timetabling and poor funding.
We are beginning to see the same symptoms of botched job and poor planning in the Biometric registration exercise as the IPAC the Inter-Party Advisory Committee is delaying its much needed meeting of all the political parties to draw the road map for its implementation. To this day, the IPAC has not met the various political parties to discuss confidence building measures that will ensure that all political parties are fully on board.
The Electoral Commission instituted the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) in 1994 to improve the trust, confidence and working relationships between the Commission and registered political parties and to enhance transparency in its operations. This is its primary role, to set the anxieties of the political parties at ease. ¬†IPAC is there to provide an innovative mechanism for the Electoral Commission to meet representatives of political parties as well as donors that support the electoral process such as the biometric process. ¬†Meeting political parties help also discuss issues concerning election preparations. Issues such as photo identity cards, provision of transparent ballot boxes and holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day to avoid the Band-wagon Syndrome have become part of our body politic because of IPAC consultation meetings. Such meeting tend to enrich our journey towards the institutionalisation of democracy. It is crucially important to involve the political parties in the early stages of the biometric registration process.
Mr Nickolay Mladenov, head of the European Union Election Observer Mission (EU-EOM) to Ghana during the 2008 elections noted at the end of the observation that the elections could have made better use of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) platform to better deal with issues raised by political parties. He stated in the final report that ‚Äúthe IPAC meeting should be developed as a more regular platform of dialogue between the Electoral Commission and the political parties. Full transparency measures need also to be introduced, including formal roles, meetings and published minutes.
However two years after such a fruitful advice, the Electoral Commission are finding it extremely difficult to institutionalise the IPAC consultation with political parties for the purpose of the biometric registration.
On 1 March 2011 a one ‚Äďday seminar was organised in Accra to consider a report on how to strengthen inter-party dialogue in Ghana. This was organized by International IDEA in collaboration with the Electoral Commission of Ghana (EC) and ¬†it was attended by representatives of all political parties, among which were chairs, secretaries-general and members of parliament.
The workshop was a response to the requests made of International IDEA for a comparative knowledge resource on how to set up an appropriate mechanism to promote inter-party dialogue. Secondly, and more importantly, the workshop provided a platform for political parties themselves to reflect on challenges facing the Inter-party Advisory Committee (IPAC) of Ghana and also make recommendations that will help improve on its effectiveness.
The report found that IPAC has helped bring about incremental change in the electoral process through the use of transparent ballot boxes and photographic voter identification cards, the presence of party/candidate‚Äôs agents at all polling stations, and the use of numbered seals for ballot boxes during voting.
Parties commented unfavourably on the diminishing frequency of IPAC meetings which, they feel, provides them with less opportunity to understand the on-going programmes of the Electoral Commission. For example, parties are keen to be kept informed about plans for biometric registration. Political parties also thought they could be consulted on matters relating to district level elections to reduce the voter apathy even though these elections are expected to be non-partisan. None of this workshop‚Äôs outcomes have been implemented by IPAC
There is also a question mark as how why EC should always chair IPAC meeting. This is because the EC is sometimes heavy-handed and intolerant as it chairs IPAC meetings. There is therefore a call for the leadership of the EC to respect the decisions of IPAC, especially where there is a general agreement among parties over a particular issue.
In the 2000 general elections political parties were represented at the various printing houses where the presidential and parliamentary ballots were printed. ¬†This made the political parties feel that they were part of the process and therefore took active part in ensuring the success of all electoral activities. As a consequence of the institutionalization of the Inter Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), constant discussions between the Commission, the Political parties and the donor community continue to yielded new ideas, which brought about more improvement in the electoral process.
The use of modern technology such as the introduction of biometric registration raises a well founded anxiety for political parties in the sense that it has been used in many elections in Africa but voter fraud has not been prevented. It was used in Nigeria and Ivory Coast but none of these prevented multiple voting. So it is important that all political parties get to meet to ask questions as to how we can prevent the pitfalls in this exercise
IPAC‚Äôs unwillingness to call the inter‚Äďparty meeting can only fuel the frustration of the political parties into thinking that it is in bed with the government to surprise voters. ¬†The genuine questions that could be raised at such a meeting or meetings would be:
1. Whether there will be pre-piloting in some selected constituencies and if so what processes would be involved in that exercise.
2. Whether queuing to register is the best method since it takes, on average, 15 minutes to complete the process for one person
3. ALTERNATIVELY whether house-to-house registration in the presence of party observers will be a better one
4. Are we going to test-run the new biometric register before the 2012 elections?
5. Will it be reopened before December 2012 or not?
6. How long will the window of registration be?
7. Do we have enough funds to complete the entire nation‚Äôs registration since fifty (50) million is woefully inadequate?
It would be recalled that in 2000, after the photo identification card had been introduced in parts of the country, the Electoral Commission inexplicably stopped the process and in many places in the Volta Region, people voted without photo IDs. I have a deep sense of foreboding that such could be the devil that could befall the biometric registration. The National Census was done in a piecemeal manner, and so were the National Identification exercise and incredibly the District Assembly Election, all under the Mills-Mahama administration. What is to convince me that he biometric registration will be smooth? Dr. Afari Gyan and his team at EC are giving me a genuine cause to believe that it is going to fail.
We need to rise and ask the questions that require immediate answers before we wallow in a deep that could cause Ghana another backwards turn in 2012. I have asked my questions. What about you?
Kwesi Atta-Krufi Hayford.