Ghana Card guarantees voter integrity in continuous voter registration exercise - EC Chair Jean Mensa
The Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC), Jean Mensa, has told Parliament that the use of the Ghana Card as the sole identification document for continuous voters’ registration will guarantee the credibility and integrity of the country’s voter register and aid elections as a whole.
For the part of the Executive Secretary of the National Identification Authority (NIA), Professor Ken Attafuah, he insisted that his outfit was ready to issue Ghana cards to eligible citizens voters to aid the EC in the registration process.
Equally, the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, gave the assurance that the government would honour all financial commitments necessary to drive the voter registration process.
However, the Minority Members of Parliament (MPs) were not convinced about the process to make the Ghana Card the sole identification document for the registration, and advanced arguments, backed with questions, to support their position.
The EC chairperson was in the House to brief the Committee of the Whole on the new draft Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, 2022, on the floor of Parliament yesterday.
The Executive Secretary of the NIA and the Finance Minister were also there to brief the committee on how feasible it is for the Ghana Card to be used as the sole identification for the continuous registration of new voters as espoused in a new Constitutional Instrument (C.I.) yet to be laid before Parliament.
It followed a directive by the Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, last Thursday for the EC Chairperson to come and give members insight into the new draft C.I.
She appeared in the House alongside the Minister of Finance and the Executive Secretary of the NIA.
The trio highlighted the diverse challenges confronting the implementation of the commission and the NIA and what the Finance Ministry could do to facilitate their work.
The briefing formed part of pre-laying consultation processes with Parliament before the EC could lay the C.I. in the House.
The C.I. seeks to promote the continuous registration of voters and advocates an all-year round registration of eligible voters at the district offices of the EC.
It is a clear departure from the previous system where voters’ registration was done for a limited period.
Under the limited voters’ registration exercise, the registration of new voters was only done for a limited period.
Positives of Ghana Card
Mrs Mensa told the MPs that the use of the Ghana Card would prevent the enrolment of minors on the register and stop foreigners from registering and voting.
While eliminating the guarantor system which was prone to abuse and promote conflicts and violence, she said it would also prevent costly, time-consuming and tedious follow-up exercises by the district registration review committee established nationwide.
Mrs Mensa said the new C.I. and its provisions were not aimed at disenfranchising eligible Ghanaians.
“The continuous registration process on the contrary will be inclusive as it will make it possible to capture all those who would otherwise have been excluded in a limited registration process.”
“The exercise is not a periodic or limited one that could lead to disenfranchising persons who do not possess the Ghana Card.
More especially it will prevent unqualified persons from influencing our elections and having a say as to who should govern our country. This is an issue that borders on the sovereignty of our nation. Simply put, only eligible Ghanaians must be entitled to vote,” she stated.
The EC Chairperson said by using the Ghana Card as the main source of identification for the all-year-round voter registration exercise, the EC would be conforming to regulation 7 (1) of the Legal Instrument (LI) passed by Parliament--the National Identity Register Regulations LI 2114.
The regulation, she said, stated that the national identity card should be used for a number of transactions where identification was required, including the voters register.
Under the new proposal, Mrs Mensa said anyone who was eligible to vote could simply walk into any of the district offices of the commission in the district where he or she intended to vote and register to vote.
She described the process as a far departure from the previous limited registration exercise, where persons who could not register had to wait for the next round of the limited registration exercise before they could register.
“The main advantage of the continuous registration is that potential voters can register at any time of their choosing once the exercise begins”.
“Interested persons who have not previously registered and qualify to vote will be able to register at their leisure and with ease because it will be an all-year-round activity,” the EC Chairperson said.
Mrs Mensa explained that applicants would not be confronted with long queues, frustrated crowds and conflicts which had the potential to lead to violence, saying that the EC was confident that the registration would minimise the bussing of prospective applicants to the registration centres and thereby lead to an orderly, conflict-free process.
Eliminating guarantor system
Mrs Mensa pointed out that the adoption of the draft C.l. would do away with the guarantor system which hitherto allowed a registered voter to vouch for the citizenship and would make the age of prospective applicants not to be any longer relied on as part of the registration process.
“The reason is that, over the years, the guarantor system has presented us with several challenges. Unfortunately, we were unable to discard it much earlier due to the absence of a national identification document such as the one issued by the NIA.
“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 persons 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.
Mrs Mensa added that with 16 million Ghanaians in possession of the Ghana Card, and with the NIA's assurance that it would print and distribute the remaining cards to registrants in a matter of weeks, the EC did not believe that “we will disenfranchise persons by enforcing the policy requirement of using the Ghana Card to prove one's eligibility”.
In the view of the EC Chairperson, although the Ghana Card was not the only required document to prove a person's eligibility in 2020, at the end of the exercise, over 60 per cent or about 10 million of registered voters used the Ghana Card as the main source of identification.
She told the House that the commission was reliably informed that over 17 million Ghanaians had registered for the card and that about 16 million Ghana cards had been issued.
On the strength of those numbers, Mrs Mensa said the commission was convinced that the 1.5 million applicants “we are expecting to register by the end of 2023 are likely to already possess the Ghana Card”.
“Relying on the 2021 Census report and, per our estimates, we are likely to register between 450,000 and 550,000 Ghanaians every year.
“We believe that of the 17 million people the NIA has registered, it is likely the 450,000 to 550,000 people we intend to register annually have the card, as we speak,” she said.
She, therefore, encouraged any Ghanaian who would turn 18 in 2023 or 2024 and who was interested in voting in the country's elections to visit the nearest NIA registration centres and register for the Ghana Card to enable them to vote in the 2024 elections.
Competence to print more cards
Prof. Attafuah said the NIA as of 2017 had registered 4,554,528 Ghanaians, printed the cards of 2,719,425, and issued 900,000 cards to Ghanaians.
As of February 19, this year, he said, the authority had registered 17,375,861 Ghanaians, aged 15 years or above, onto the national identity database.
At the same time, the authority had printed 16,737,734 cards, the Executive Director said.
“Of the 17,375,861 Ghanaians, the number of Ghanaians captured aged 18 years and above is 16.9 million and the number of registered Ghanaians aged 18 years and above existing on the EC voters’ register is 17,229,000 people.
“The number of Ghanaians aged 15 years and above who are yet to be captured out of the total population of 31 million is 2,565,705,” he said.
Prof. Attafuah indicated that the number of Ghanaians aged 15 years or above and captured onto the national identity register was 17.3 million out of which the number of cards printed but not collected by the applicants stood at 642,403 nationwide.
“The number of cards not yet printed stands at 541,529,” he said, attributing the situation to the financial difficulty the authority had encountered from July last year.
He said the situation resulted in the inability of the authority to get access to some 3.5 million blank cards that it had imported into the country which were currently in bonded warehouses, Prof. Attafuah explained.
The Executive Director of the NIA assured Parliament that the authority had the technical and operational competencies to print and issue those 541,529 cards in record time once those financial challenges were cleared.
He informed the House that it had settled $80 million out of nearly $100 million of its indebtedness to its partners, the Identity Management Limited, and Cal Bank.
For his part, Mr Ofori-Atta stated that an agreement had been reached with CalBank for a GH¢100 million facility to ensure that the over three million Ghana Cards locked up in bonded warehouses were released.
“We have agreed to a GH¢100 million facility to ensure that the 3.5 million cards are released.
GH¢80 million has been deposited, and the remaining GH¢20 million will be paid by this evening,” he added.