Ghana’s Electoral Commission – Independence vis-à-vis Ttransparency

In 1992 multi-party elections in Ghana ended the PNDC military dictatorship, ushering in civilian governance.

Ghanaians acknowledged the 1992 Constitution as the ‘Supreme Law of The Land’, providing for the establishment of an Electoral Commission. The EC has conducted 6 presidential and parliamentary Elections. Whereas the EC has improved the administration of elections, more is required. A dynamic and ambitious Ghana needs the EC to meet the expectations and aspirations of the citizenry.

A transparent and independent EC is the hallmark of any democratic society. However the EC has used ‘independence’ as an excuse for denying transparency, refusing vital interaction with stakeholders. The EC’s independence mantra, derived from the constitution, doesn’t remove the need for transparency and fairness.

In acknowledgement of this, EC’s Vision Statement; “To become an institution that is adequately resourced, staffed with professionally trained and highly motivated personnel, totally independent in the performance of its functions and dedicated to the efficient delivery of transparent, free, fair and incontrovertible elections as a contribution of good governance”. EC’s Mission Statement – “to advance the course of democracy and good governance for enhanced development of Ghana by institutionalizing free, fair and transparent elections and the acceptance by all stakeholders.”

The Constitution states “Ghana shall be a democratic state dedicated to the realization of freedom and justice: and accordingly, sovereignty resides in the people of Ghana from whom government derives all its power and authority through this constitution”.

It continues, “Except as provided in this constitution or in any other law not inconsistent with this constitution, in the performance of its functions the EC, shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority”.

Ghana’s EC cannot use ‘independence’ to deny Ghanaians the freedom, transparency and sovereignty of a fair process of electing its leaders.

Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) defines transparency in Electoral Management Design, as ‘referring to the ability of Electoral Management Bodies (e.g. EC) to be open and truthful, and to the availability of stakeholders to timely information and access to EMB records’.

How transparent, has the EC been providing information to Ghanaians and how easy is it to access EC’s records? The refrain given to information-thirsty Ghanaians on EC’s records is “go to court.” No wonder, the Presiding Judge Justice William Atuguba admonished Dr. Afari Djan, “I hope you have seen that telling someone go to court, go to court is not such an easy thing to do”. This statement received the loudest laughter in court not for its taunt value but for its true meaning of the non-delivery of information to Ghanaians by the EC.

The EC’s attitude of denying stakeholders information must cease. ‘A bad attitude is like a flat tyre, you can’t go anywhere until it’s changed’. The EC must purge itself of retrogressive attitudes, and take Ghanaians into 2016 and beyond.

Examples of non-transparent attitudes

Regulation 2(3) of C.I.72, Registration of Voters; “The Commission shall at least 14 days before the first day of national registration of voters, inform political parties and the general public by publication in the Gazette, the radio, television or any other medium of mass communication of a place it designates as a registration centre,” In Prestea Hunni Valley the EC violated this regulation and instead moved the registration equipment to unknown centres.

During the Voter Registration exercise, The EC exported electronic data of voters periodically to its Central Data Store, the Eastern Regional Director was approached for copies, but he refused. Stakeholders needed to reconcile the exported data with Daily Returns given to political parties. This was meant to be a check on corrupted transmitted data (if any), differing from the daily-declared Registration Returns.

After Voter Registration, no international industry-accepted standard AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) search was used to remove multiple registrations. At an IPAC meeting it was agreed that political parties would be present to observe the proprietary ‘de-duplication’ exercise. Why the non-standard ‘de-duplication’ exercise was performed away from the eyes of the political parties reinforces the EC’s non-transparency.

Public Election Regulations 17 (6)a of C.I 75, “The Commission shall publish at the District Office of The EC the name of persons it proposes to appoint as presiding officers and polling assistants not later than 10 days before an election and (b) furnish a copy of the published names to any political party which requests for it”. Many District Offices including Prestea Hunni Valley violated this regulation.

There was no transparency in vote collating at the constituencies. At Collation Centres, stakeholders had no access to detailed polling stations results that make-up the Constituency summary.

The National Collation Centre for Presidential Elections (Strong Room) had no display-information of the running tally (figures & percentages) of results faxed from the regions. Political party agents in the ’Strong Room’ append their signatures to confirm their acceptance of the constituency result. How the result was arrived at and how it will affect the total figures and percentages are neither open nor transparent. In Nigeria and Kenya, large visual displays of the received results are mounted on walls as they stream in. This avoids the accusation of massaging the flood of results being received.

The work plan of the EC must be made public at the beginning of every year. This information will assist political parties and stakeholders to plan. Why EC keeps this information secret does not augur well for our nascent democracy.

The Aflao and Kejetia stations existing at the EC Headquarters, and other Regional/District offices where information is selectively given out must stop. A voter’s destination be it Aflao or Kejetia should not matter to an Independent EC; rather the EC should chauffeur Ghanaians to a free, transparent and fair 2016 elections, as one people with one great destiny. Information and data must be given to all in a fair and equal manner. Justice Atuguba can go to sleep, as there would be no ‘go to court, go to court’ saga.