BIOMETRIC REGISTRATION IN GHANA, 2012
By CAMERON DUODU
Ghana has allowed itself to become a ‘victim’ society. We accept the unacceptable from our own Government and its agencies, and sulk within ourselves. When it is suggested that we might be able to do something about our complaints, we smile enigmatically and say, “Don’t worry. We’ll give it to God.”
The only thing wrong with that attitude is that it ignores the fact that God has already done his bit. He gave us brains to think with, and arms and legs that can be used to take action against those whose actions – or lack of action – cause our complaints.
In many other countries, if you cut off people’s electricity for 24 hours or more – even with prior warning — you’d get into serious trouble. The businesses that have to close down because they cannot operate without power; the hospitals whose generators are inadequate – assuming they have any to begin with; the individuals who have managed to stock their freezers with perishable foods so that they don’t have to brave heavy traffic to do frequent shopping; all these victims could make you legally liable to pay damages for the harm you have caused through your lack of planning.
But not in Ghana. Those paid to provide services often regard what they do as a ‘favour’ to the public. And luckily for them, justice is not always easily accessible to Ghanaians because most of our lawyers do not appear to have heard of the “no win no fee” system. Legal aid, too, is something that probably exists, but only somewhere in a file that has been mislaid at the Ministry of Justice.
It is because our legal system is so impenetrable that we haven’t had any demonstrations taking place at at the Attorney-General’s office, with people carrying placards that say things like: “Hire outside lawyers to prosecute cases in which the AG’s office is implicated.”
In some countries, citizens, watching things closely, would have organised sit-ins at some courts, calling on the judiciary to take it upon itself to protect the national interest, whenever it notices that the Government’s lawyers are unwilling, or unable, to do what it takes to preserve taxpayers’ money.
Where are the patriotic philanthropists offering to finance the former Attorney-General, Mr Martin Amidu, to appear in the most famous case in the land, to act as a gargantuan “amicus curiae” (friend of the court) who will take on a “watching brief” to ensure that the Government’s lawyers do not botch it up by making deliberately ignorant submissions? Or blatantly omitting to argue aspects of the law which strengthens their own case?
Why hasn’t any of these things happened? The answer is: Why should anyone bother? “God is dealing with it for us.”
But the trouble with that notion is that it ignores the fact that we are not the only people who think God is on our side. Some of the persons who have ‘chopped’ Ghana’s money without working for it, also think that it is “God who made it possible” for them to find so many officials who were willing to sign Ghana’s money away gladly. Indeed, their supporters go to prayer meetings to pray to God to lift the threat of imprisonment from them! They probably think it is God who is “wonderfully” directing the Government’s lawyers to be so lackadaisical in seeking to protect Ghana’s money.
Our ‘victim’ society can be seen in operation in such a straight-forward things as the biometric registration currently taking place. I have heard the case of a young lady who had to queue for three days running before she could be registered. On the first day, she gave up after queueing until 1 am. The second day, she queued until 2 a.m. Or thereabouts. All in vain. Then, just as she was about to give up, she did manage to get herself registered.
It isn’t “anybody’s fault” – of course – that this happened to her. It’s just that there are too many people anxious to get registered. And – of course – that could not have been e foreseen by the Electoral Commission. The EC is so efficient – invited as it is so often to assist other African countries – that it didn’t think it necessary to test the ground with the equipment it had ordered at a cost of scores of millions of cedis, before actually using them.
So the Chairman tells us himself that some of the machines malfunctioned because they were being operated without any ‘shade’! I beg your pardon? Yes: the machines were being operated without ‘shade’! Did the screens become unreadable in the sunlight? Probably. And that was a surprise to the Electoral Commission? Apparently.
Conversely, were the machines overheating? Probably. If so. where were they manufactured? Someone mentioned a European country. But what about countries like India, Brazil or South Africa, whose climates are not too different from ours?Shouldn’t common sense have suggested that countries of that type, if they do manufacture such equipment, should be tapped for supplies? I don’t even want to mention China, in case the old bogey of new-colonialism, is thrown at me. It must be stated, though, that my Hewlett-Packard laptop was “Made In China!”
For its US manufacturer.
But that is assuming that the “no shade” argument is actually accurate. It may just be a fig-leaf. It is the system that is wrong. It is only now, when some registration centres have been attacked, that the EC is telling us it may introduce continuous registration, to end the rush that people feel to go and register. Why was the rush introduced into the system in the first place? To show us that the ECF is independent of every sector of our society, including public opinion. Only the EC knows best what must be done to give meaning to our democracy. We started registering voters for elections in the old Legislative Council and Municipal Council days of the 1940s. But only our current EC has the key to a fault-free registration of voters.
I don’t think that in the year 2012, the Electoral Commission should be using the argument that equipment broke down as an excuse to rationalise away the fact that many people have been physically punished severely for merely trying to register to vote. Indeed, if the political parties in Ghana were alive to the concerns of their own supporters, they would have made it clear UNANIMOUSLY to the EC from Day One that the anomalies associated with the current registration exercise are not acceptable.
To be deterred from registering, because registration conditions are not attractive, is to be denied the franchise. And that is unconstitutional. The question is: where are the loud-mouthed NGOs who claim they want to help us entrench democracy successfully? Dr Afari-Gyan has charmed all of them so much that they see but cannot see, and hear but do not hear?
A person who is actually engaged in registering people told me that the EC does not provide them with water to drink, or food to eat, as they carry out the registration exercise.
“But you can buy your own food and water?” I asked.
“I have no money”, he said. “Others like me were unemployed before we got the job and we have no money.”
“You should be given rations. Or an advance payment”
“Such a system does not exist.”
“So how do you survive during the long hours you sit at the table, registering people?”
“Sometimes, the officials of the political parties who come to see how things are going on, take pity on us and give us things like biscuits and bottles of water.”
I shook my head. If the political parties have access to Electoral Commission agents in this way, can’t they try to influence the actions of them agents in one way or the other? Like persuading them to register minors? Or non-residents?
I strongly urge the Electoral Commission to make a quick survey of the problems being faced on the ground by the registration staff and take urgent steps to solve them. If it cannot pay monetary advances to the registration personnel, it can at least pay them by the day, so that they will be able to make ends meet, while they are doing their best to carry out the important task the EC has engaged them to do