Everything I read about the biometric registration – from Ododiodoo in Accra right up to the northern part of Ghana, past Asante and Brong-Ahafo through to the Volta Region – suggests that the exercise has been marred by strong-arm methods unleashed on their opponents by would-be candidates of both the two main parties, the NDC and the NPP.
I am in no position to apportion blame, but it is fair to suggest that because NDC “foot-soldiers” and “macho-men” believe they are under the protection of the Government in power, they have been more blatant in attempting to prevent those they suspect to be supporters of other parties from registering to vote. They should be locked up, of course, as intimidation of would-be voters is a serious offence under our electoral laws.
I note, however, that rather than call on the forces of law and order to ensure that intimidation by macho-men of those who want to register stops immediately, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr K Afari-Gyan, says he is “satisfied” with how the biometric registration has been going on so far. He told a forum held in Accra by the Presbyterian Church “to deliberate on Election 2012: Ensuring Peace and Credibility, the role of Religious Bodies, Electoral Commission, Politicians, Security Services and the Media”, that “over eight million persons” had been registered by the end of the second phase of the registration exercise, as against “the anticipated 6.5 million persons.” There would therefore be “no need to extend the period of registration”, Dr Afari Gyan stated. (At the forum, a section of the public had appealed to him to extend the time so that more people could be registered. During registration periods, the numbers declined with time, he claimed.
Dr Afari-Gyan attributed the impression gained by the public that the registration was not reaching everyone qualified, to “the rush” characteristic of “the early days” of registration. “We are sure there is still enough time for Ghanaians to register”, he affirmed.
But his statement begs the question: if he knew from past experience that there would be an “early rush”, then why did the EC only “anticipate” that the early phase would only draw 6.5 million, instead of the eight million who actually registered? An under-estimate of 1.5 million people is not a joke, and points to a general lack of responsiveness that seems to be affecting the EC with regard to this year’s registration. If the EC had its eye on the ball, it would have realised that its estimates were wrong and that in order not to create a tense situation, an extension of time should be announced to ease the minds of those who feared they might not be registered in time.
Even worse, the EC is giving less and less cause for the electorate to trust in its technical ability to conduct the registration as well as possible. Which then raises a more important issue: if its technical ability to ensure a peaceful registration was noted more for its absence than its presence, then what about a peaceful election?
Listen to Dr Afari-Gyan on some of the technical difficulties that have so far been encountered during the registration: “The EC Chairman admitted that there had been some challenges with the …process. He said the biometric data collection equipment were sensitive to weather conditions like extreme heat, water and dust.He also said trained technicians were available to tackle most of the mechanical failures.”
Is that good enough for an election year when everyone agrees, the stakes are extremely high and politicians will be doing everything within their power to bend any difficulties the EC encounters to their advantage, and if they feel dissatisfied with anything, to unleash chaos upon the electoral process? Why did the EC order equipment that was not weather-proof? And why were the deficincies in the equipment not discovered and solved — in a test run — before being used for the real thing?
I have been trying very hard to obtain reports from the “coalface” of the registration, that is from people who have a first-hand knowledge of how it is going on, and I have accumulated them to make up this composite report:
QUOTE: We began training on Sunday after being hired on Saturday and when I saw the companies behind the biometric registration, I immediately Googled them up to get their background and I was satisfied with what I saw. Genkey, HSB Identification and a local content addition STL, were the companies behind the exercise. We started with the theory and by 1pm I was starving to the maximum. We had reported at 8 am, never having had the chance to eat breakfast. Food arrived later — when I had bought my own food already and it was of no use to me….
On the second day of the training, we were given the equipment to be trying our hands with and when I opened the registration kit which looked like my grandfather’s “potumanto”, [portmanteau] I was stunned. ‘HP laptops’!! I said to myself. I thought rlG, a local company, had a few months ago successfully distributed 60,000 laptops as part of the government’s policy to increase school children’s access to ICT. ‘Couldn’t rlG have been brought on board this important project too, given its experience on the Ghanaian scene’? I asked myself. I felt that the equipment was not ‘tropicalized’ and having a local manufacturer could just address this. But there is always a ‘Woyomistic hidden agenda’ present when it comes to procurement, and we were sure to suffer the results of that.
During the training session, my kit was not working properly and I realized the problem was from the backup memory card! It was quickly changed and bingo! it got back to work. Ei!! If this had happened at the polling station, what would I have done? 24th March came and we started the process. We had a little trouble starting the laptop; the “ctrl+alt+del”function which we were supposed to use to log on, was just not working.
Luckily for us, after freezing for some minutes, it came back to life. The crowd of potential registrants and the political party agents were very anxiously watching us as we battled with the equipment. My constituency may be affected when the EC names new constituencies. This made the politics there very interesting. For the two major political parties, this exercise was very important; rigging the elections in December will be difficult with the new system once there is a verification process in place. Hence the most important part was getting a lot of potential voters to register.
With the large crowd I saw, I asked myself: does it mean Ghanaians still have confidence in politicians? Does this mean we are going to have an increase in the voter outcome in 2012? But as people came by and I entered their details, the little I sensed from their conversation was that quite a few had no intention to vote; they just wanted a form of identification.
On day three at my centre the numbers were still rising and I found out from their details that many were coming from far away communities to register. The reason was that the EC did not open all the 22,000 or so polling stations simultaneously for the exercise, hence it was only natural for all these people to move towards the centres where the registration was actually under way, in case their area was never served at all!. To cap it all, the EC failed adequately to inform the communities that the registration exercise would be moving from one centre to another for 10 days. If all centres had been done simultaneously, the long queues would have been avoided and the tension that was building up in certain areas would also have been averted.
There have been reports of violence at some registration centres and with the little I have seen, it’s the result of the long queues that have built up at some centres. When people wake up very early in the morning to go and form a long queue, they become frustrated when the process is slow. I have visited some other centres and I found the data entry clerks are very slow. This raises questions about the selection criteria for the clerks. The EC must make sure that persons with the requisite typing skills are recruited for this exercise in the future. Also when there are faults with the equipment, the response time can be slow and this further raises the tensions. I know at my district office, for instance, only three technicians were available. Hence if you wanted your equipment to be fixed urgently for you, you had to take the kit to the office. The office has only one vehicle and that’s inadequate to serve a whole constituency.
The constant exposure of equipment to sunlight is not the best condition you would want to put laptops under. Some of the polling stations do not have proper shading and it makes working under such conditions unbearable. Our printers too are overworked: they are supposed to do only 100 prints a day. This should explain the frequent printer faults: I do over 200 prints a day! That is twice their prescribed work-load!
Finally: paying the clerks 500-800 cedis for this exercise, especially when there is nothing like advance pay or lunch service, is bad. The pay may sound attractive to an unemployed person, but it’s a tiring job – like “walantu walansa” [to dig-and-shovel earth at the same time!]. The Commission stands the risk of its officials being compromised by the tips the political parties give to its personnel through food and money to help them out. The tips may be done with the best of intentions, nevertheless we know human nature! So it’s important the EC addresses this issue of the hardship faced by its recruits, as quickly as possible.
With so many faults occurring that could have been prevented if the EC had shown enough foresight, one wonders whether Ghana is not living in a fool’s paradise. We may wake up on election day to find that our equipment is failing us and that people are resorting to violence out of sheer frustration, fuelled by dissatisfied or frustrated politicians.
This registration is thus a sort of “yellow card” or serious warning to the Electoral Commission. If it continues to ignore the problems uncovered so far, it will be shown the red card in December 2012. But that red card may take the whole of Ghana off the field, together with the offending players!
God help us.