A former CEO of the National Identification Authority (NIA) Dr William Ahadzie has said there is enough technical, economic and administrative reasons that a new biometric voter registration exercise is ill-advised with 10 months to elections in December.
The EC believes the integrity of the 2020 polls could be undermined if a new roll and a new Biometric Voter Management System are not put in place.
The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), as well as some smaller political parties and some 18 civil society organisations have kicked against the EC’s decision.
These groups believe the move is a waste of resource and should not be done 10 months to the December 2020 elections.
However, the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) and some political parties have also thrown their weight behind the EC to compile a new register.
Commenting on the ongoing debate on whether or not the EC should compile a new register, Dr Ahadzie said “it is clear the EC is unaware of the enormity of the field-based operational challenges that lie ahead”.
For him the EC’s registration exercise will fail because of the following reasons:
1. Biometric registration is a massive field operation. It involves the recruitment, training and deployment of large numbers of workstation operators, technicians, drivers and other ancillary personnel on a large scale concurrently. It also involves movement of a large volume of logistics at the same time. It is more intense than voting operations. There are numerous natural, technical and even cultural factors that frustrate the smooth enrolment process. Don’t forget April /May marks the beginning of the rainy season. I am not convinced EC can mobilise the numbers required to get the job done in less than 2 months neither can it control against the likely disruptions by the forces of nature and culture.
2. The capture of biometric data and the instant issuance of a card require a wide and sufficiently fast bandwidth on a dedicated VPN. This will enable simultaneous back and forth data movement between all the workstations and the main server for purposes of de-duplication and the issuance of the card, while the registrant is still before the Operator or the Registration officer. In other words, to ensure that an applicant does not already exist in the database, every single registrant’s data will be sent to the server from each workstation to be matched against all existing biometric data (1 to 1 and 1 to many matching) and the result returned to the workstations in REALTIME. If there is no match the applicant is cleared and a card is issued. If it is queried, the registration is suspended and investigated later by technicians. This requires time and it could take more than two weeks by which time the Registration team may have moved to another location. Several voters could easily be disenfranchised this way. A related problem is the risk of a jam and slowdown of the verification process due to heavy data traffic on the network. This extends the average time required to register one person. Such frustrated applicants create chaos at the centres and further slow the process. Daily registration targets WILL BE MISSED and this will affect the overall target.
3. An illegal Registration Business typically develops during mass registration exercises, especially when time is running out. Some unscrupulous registration officers deliberately slow the process and create conditions for BLACK MARKET registration. This in some cases, involves waiving all or most of the requirements or eligibility criteria. Cards could be issued without the appropriate background data and this can make verification difficult on election day. A recipe for disaster.
4. Given the short time that will be allotted for registration, there will be unduly long queues at each station. Such long queues come with their own problems and frustrations. Eager applicants risk their lives to go and queue at dawn and some even sleep at Registration centres without security They become victims of armed robberies and other forms of assault. Such frustration typically cause some applicants to completely abandon the effort to register. That’s a case of denying them their voting rights.
5. Breakdown of equipment. Not all new equipment will work perfectly even if certified ok. The rain, wind, dust and unnecessary exposure to the sun can cause breakdown. And sometimes the down time is caused by wrong use by the operator.
6. There’s also the vexed issue of challenges. In this politically volatile environment, there will be deliberate schemes to challenge the eligibility of applicants by political activists, with the sole purpose of reducing the numbers of their political opponents on the New Register. Such situations can spark uncontrollable violence at Registration centres and perhaps spread across the country. Politicisation of the lead up to the Registration process is already manifest and would undoubtedly increase during the actual registration exercise, should EC begin it.
Dr Ahadzie stated that the above field-based factors will adversely affect “this pressure cooker generated registration process.”
He said the EC has no time for extension and may be compelled to abort the exercise midstream. “That will have dire consequences for the country especially if they have already decommissioned the current database,” he added.
He urged the EC to heed advice and avoid plunging Ghana into violent conflict.
“Clearly, the decision to proceed runs against popular sentiments and flies in the face of rational judgement. We should not trade the peace of Ghana for ego trips,” he said.