A former Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has criticised the commission for its move to discard the guarantor system for the continuous voter registration exercise.
In a statement made exclusively to the Daily Graphic, he said the contention of the EC that the guarantor system was not robust and, therefore, the Ghana Card should be the sole means of registration was untenable.
According to Dr Afari-Gyan, as far as the National Identification Authority (NIA) allowed the guarantor regime in the registration for the Ghana Card, nothing prevented the EC from doing same for the voter registration exercise and making that system more robust as it wanted it.
“What prevents the commission from instituting, in the upcoming constitutional instrument (CI), a guarantor regime as robust as or even more robust than the one being used by the NIA for doing the Ghana Card?” he queried.
In line with Article 11 (7) of the 1992 Constitution, the EC is seeking to lay a CI before Parliament to regulate the continuous voter registration exercise.
Per the article, the CI, which seeks, among other things, to make the Ghana Card the sole identification document for the exercise and the only means for registration, when laid in Parliament, will come into force after 21 sitting days, except the house annuls it by a vote of not less than two-thirds of all Members of Parliament (MPs).
Last month, the Chairperson of the EC, Jean Adukwei Mensa, told Parliament, as part of the pre-laying of the CI, that the Ghana Card as the sole registration document would ensure that only eligible Ghanaians registered as voters.
Such a move, she said, would give the country a credible voter roll and enhance its electoral process.
The EC boss said her outfit jettisoned the guarantor system because it was susceptible to abuse, which affected the credibility of the electoral roll.
“The challenges with the guarantor system are that it opens the door for registered voters or guarantor contractors to guarantee/vouch for persons who are less than 18 years and it allows the guarantors to vouch for foreigners. Such unqualified persons used the door of the guarantor system to try to get onto the register.
“Truth be told, the guarantor system was not the best under any circumstances, but we did not have other options, since a significant number of people did not possess the Ghana Card at the time. Even, then, we had 10 million Ghanaians using the Ghana Card to back their citizenship at the time of registration,” she said.
Dr Afari-Gyan is not the only person to criticise the EC over the proposed CI.
The CI has faced a backlash from the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), a civil society organisation, especially concerning the decision by the EC to throw away the guarantor system, which hitherto allowed a registered voter to vouch for the citizenship of another person seeking to register.
The NDC has described the CI as “obnoxious and a threat to the country’s democracy” and directed its MPs not to absent themselves from Parliament to enhance the fight against the proposed law.
For the CDD, the elimination of the guarantor system would make it very difficult for many Ghanaians to register and that would, ultimately, infringe on their constitutional right to vote.
“The current CI 126 allows for a guarantor to guarantee for up to five people; this can be reduced to three,” it said.
Dr Afari-Gyan, who is the longest-serving Chairperson in the history of the EC, further reiterated his criticism of the use of the Ghana Card as the sole source document for the registration exercise.
In a previous statement to the Daily Graphic in August last year, he had said making the Ghana Card the sole identification document would disenfranchise millions of qualified Ghanaians and as such the move by the EC was against electoral inclusivity, fairness and justice.
In his new critique, he said he was not against the use of the Ghana Card and did not also disagree with the EC that the Ghana Card was of great importance and would go a long way to sanitise the electoral roll
“I think that it is grossly unfair and misleading to try to create the impression that the debate over whether or not, as of now, the Ghana Card should be the only basis for a Ghanaian citizen to be registered as a voter revolves wholly around how useful the card is. I have not heard anybody saying that the Ghana Card is not a good thing to have or use,” he said.
According to him, his disagreement was because the EC was gradually making the Ghana Card the only means of citizenship, which is the criterion for one to register as a voter.
It was his contention that the Ghana Card did not bestow citizenship on anyone but rather validated that citizenship; therefore, making the Ghana Card the sole means of registration meant the EC was trying to define those without the card as not citizens of Ghana eligible to vote.
“In my view, as of now, it cannot be reasonably assumed that every Ghanaian of voting age has the Ghana Card, or can get one well ahead of the next elections,” he said.
“In fact, given that even under continuous registration there is a cut-off period, during which time one can register as a voter but cannot vote in the following election, I think it is far too early yet to make a fetish of the Ghana Card as the only basis for registering a Ghanaian citizen as a voter,” Dr Afari-Gyan averred.
Attached below is a copy of the full statement
THE GHANA CARD ALONE PALAVER
Dr. K. Afari-Gyan
As I understand it, continuous registration means that you don’t have to do fresh registration, that is, register everybody anew, for every general or major election, as is the practice in some countries. Instead, you keep registering qualified persons and adding their names to the names already in the voters register until such a time that you decide, or you are required by law, to discard the existing register and do fresh registration.
For me, continuous registration and limited or periodic registration are not mutually exclusive options. In fact, depending on the arrangements put in place for it, under a system of continuous registration, on occasion, say getting to a general election, it may be necessary to do limited or periodic registration, whereby registration facilities are taken as close as practicable to the people, in order to achieve the important electoral principle of inclusiveness. I envisage that this may have to be done under the arrangements for continuous registration in the constitutional instrument (CI) on voter registration now under consideration by parliament.
Let me say that I have a Ghana Card. I also know the benefits that unrushed and carefully done national ID cards can bring to a nation. In this connection, it is to be said that, until the National Identification Authority (NIA) came into being, the responsibility for making identity cards for Ghanaians was given exclusively to the electoral commission by law. During the time that I worked at the commission, towards fulfilling that responsibility, members of the commission went to several countries to learn about the ways they did their national ID cards and the various uses to which the cards were put.
Finally, the commission settled on the way Singapore did its national ID card. One of the things we found particularly attractive was that, over time, the system had developed to such an extent that citizens received their national registration numbers at birth. The actual ID card was issued upon attaining a certain age.
For purposes of voter registration, two things stand out from such a system:
- The ID card serves as proof of citizenship.
- At any time, in place of projections, the actual number of citizens eligible to register as voters can readily be extracted from the national registration database.
Against the foregoing backdrop, I accept the elucidation of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NIA as to the multiple good uses to which the Ghana Card could be put. I also accept the assertion of the electoral commission that the card could be used to produce a credible voters register devoid of foreigners and minors.
However, I think that it is grossly unfair and misleading to try to create the impression that the debate over whether or not, as at now, the Ghana Card should be the only basis for a Ghanaian citizen to be registered as a voter revolves wholly around how useful the card is. I have not heard anybody saying that the Ghana Card is not a good thing to have or to use.
In any case, for me, there are two fundamental issues that are logically prior to considerations relating to the importance of the Ghana Card and the uses to which it can be put. The two issues relate to citizenship and the right to vote.
Let me put the two issues in context. Ghana is a democracy. In a democracy the constitution gives the citizens a fundamental right to register to vote in elections, because they select their political leaders through elections.
So, the question as to who is a Ghanaian citizen is crucial in this matter: and the answer is not simple at all. Suppose a man is a hundred years old, and his Ghanaian citizenship is in contention. You cannot use the citizenship provisions in our current constitution, indeed, in any of our constitutions since independence, to settle the matter. You have to go back to the citizenship law that was applicable a hundred years ago when he was born.
This is why every time a country changes its citizenship law, the new law is prefixed by saying that any person who was a citizen before the new law came into effect continues to be a citizen. For me, there are two implications to be drawn here.
- Citizenship is not something that can be taken away, so to speak, by the stroke of a pen.
- As at now, the Ghana Card cannot be said to define the identity of any person of voting age as a Ghanaian citizen. At best, it validates that identity.
I hear the electoral commission saying that it is jettisoning the guarantor system because it is not robust enough. What prevents the commission from instituting in the impending constitutional instrument (CI) a guarantor regime as robust as, or even more robust than, the one being used by the NIA for doing the Ghana Card?
I also hear some people say that the electoral commission should be left alone to do its work, because it has power in law to regulate the registration of voters. Of course, it has: but that does not mean that it can do so in any way it chooses. The electoral commission itself knows that, as a third order law, a provision in a CI cannot be offensive to a provision in a statute, let alone in a constitution.
In my view, as at now, it cannot be reasonably assumed that every Ghanaian of voting age has a Ghana Card, or can get one well ahead of the next elections. In fact, given that even under continuous registration there is a cut-off period, during which time one can register as a voter but cannot vote in the following election, I think it is far too early yet to make a fetish of the Ghana Card as the only basis for registering a Ghanian citizen as a voter.
Certainly, civic responsibility is important in a democracy, and every qualified Ghanaian must be urged to take steps to get the Ghana Card. But, surely, civic responsibility cannot be used as a justification for an electoral commission not to do what is needful in regard to the realization of a fundamental right. An equally important duty of every electoral commission is to facilitate the achievement of the citizen’s right to vote, by not obstructing it in any avoidable way.