I had initially promised and drafted an opinion piece on the brouhaha over the Voters’ Register in Ghana but shelved it when I realized that other well-meaning citizens shared the same views. For me, there was no need belabouring the point if others were speaking from the same page. However, it seems the matter will not go away so I’ve summarized my take.
At the heart of the debate is the absence of a comprehensive national database. It is a long term perspective that any serious person interested in our nation moving forward should not lose sight of. However, in the short term, a credible register is imperative. Does a new register guarantee that? Yes and no. Yes, if the processes for registering are foolproof. No, because the processes can always, have always and will always be circumvented by parties on both sides of the aisle.
The fixation with a new register and, by implication, elections is only a reflection of how short-sighted we are. Everything is about elections and then it ends there.
But since we are obsessed with elections , let me hasten to say that a credible register is but one of many factors that may guarantee free and fair (used advisedly because the standards for meeting these have not yet been meet by any country yet) elections. In other words, a credible register is important but not the ONLY ingredient for the conduct of free and fair polls and any election expert can attest to this. So neither a new nor cleaned register guarantees a 100% credibility of an election . Let us therefore go for a mechanism that minimises the challenges of both a new or cleaned register. It is my opinion that the answer lies in the design of a robust national identification database.
Arifin Hussain, an expert on biometric technology, argues that the design and deployment of national ID can serve many purposes. This includes the use of the ID for the distribution of social benefits like healthcare and other welfare arrangements. Thus, a national ID can act as an electronic passport, voter identity document, border security credential, and identification for healthcare and welfare service distribution.
He further states that some biometric modalities are extremely hard to clone due to their ‘sophisticated liveness detection’ features to prevent fraud and spoofing. Therefore by deploying a biometric-enabled national identification card stemming from one central biometric database, the ID card can be leveraged for several different purposes and can help save the costs of developing and issuing different identification cards for different programs.
In sum, Hussain clearly establishes that national IDs can be used for accurate citizen identification, tracking of refugees and migrants, enhancing border security and the protecting of the citizens’ right to vote.
In Ghana, we seem to have a penchant for designing different cards for different purposes- social security, health insurance, elections, driver’s licence, bank cards etc. What it means is that one has to literally carry these cards around just in case one needs to access any of these services. How clumsy and inconvenient!!
This , in my candid opinion, reflects the absence of prudence in the use of resources and a disquieting lack of focus on the issues that matter.
For now, Ghana cannot be spending millions to get a new register when we could use same resources to establish a credible national identification database. It defies both common and economic sense.
In the short term, I suggest that we should clean the old register and invest in the creation of a national database that will serve multiple purposes in the long term. If that is well done, we could eliminate the incidence of under-aged voting and alleged infiltration by people who, by our laws, are not qualified to vote in Ghana.
It does not matter how many people or political parties mass up on either side of the debate. The truth must be confronted and vigorously too. There have been occasions where one man has stood against many in a debate and has been right. And there have been occasions where many have been right and one man has been wrong. Again, popular opinion is never always the right opinion. I dare say that even as we debate, our conscience knows the truth but many will accept because for them, elections are more important than development.
We are where we are because of our fixation with elections. Even if we have such an obsession, does our conscience not ask us the bigger question: “elections and so what”? Will a new or clean register elevate the politician or elevate the nation? Let our nation Ghana and its development count in this debate