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"Biometric Verification Is Key"   
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“If the system cannot be verified then it will come with serious problems for the nation”.

This was the assessment of a coalition of Civil Society Organizations on the much-talked-about biometric voters’ registration exercise to be carried out by the Electoral Commission (EC) for the 2012 general election.

“We are very clear in our statement. Verification is something that everybody wants and it is important that we should not make verification an ‘either or issue’. In case there is a challenge, we want to find the means of verification then upon that we can be able to insist on what is right but if we do not have verification mechanism how are we able to engage one another?” it stated.

The coalition, Civic Forum Initiative (CFI), made the statements at a news conference it organized in Accra yesterday to share its ‘perspectives’ on the impending biometric voters registration which it said was “one of the most troubling political developments in our country as we prepare towards the 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections”.

The organizations that make up the CFI are the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG), West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP), African Security Dialogue and Research (ASDR), Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), National Chief Imam’s Office, National Catholic Secretariat, Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Women in Law and Development (WiLDAF).

Addressing the media at the premises of IDEG, Emmanuel Bombande of WANEP, who read the CFI’s statement, said it was no secret that the bidding process for the procurement of biometric registration equipment had been a matter for litigation before the courts while verification on election day in the biometric system had become a very contentious issue between some political parties and the EC.

He said, “Just yesterday, September 27, 2011, the Commercial Court, a division of the Fast Track High Court, cleared the way for the EC to award the contract for the procurement of the biometric register for the 2012 elections.

“We are of the view that unless these issues are urgently addressed, they could pose a serious threat to the credibility of the 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections as occurred in 2008.

It is also important that all efforts are made to reduce delays to the minimum and raise public confidence in the biometric registration system that is being introduced.”

Mr. Bombande noted that all stakeholders, especially political parties, should maintain the trust in the EC and support the commission not only to complete the biometric registration process but also deliver free, fair and transparent elections in 2012, emphasizing, “As major stakeholders in Ghana’s democracy, political parties and the EC should work closely together and do so in good faith.”

“Constitutionally, the EC is an independent state institution that must not be subject to the control of any other body or institution in the performance of its functions. However, we also recognize that the EC, like all state institutions, must be fully accountable to its various publics,” he added.

According to the WANEP boss, the functional effectiveness and past successes of the commission had been enhanced by “its responsiveness to ideas and proposals that invariably contributed to the integrity of both the processes and outcomes of Ghana’s widely acclaimed record of holding free, fair and transparent elections”, and should continue to be receptive to dialogue.

He said the EC, since 1992, had established a good track record in the management of elections and had won the trust and confidence of everybody including the international community, adding, “In view of its past performance, the EC is an institution that must be trusted to conduct free, fair and transparent elections.”

“We recall the serious flaws and abuses associated with the manual voters’ registration in this country. At this stage we think the nation should not consider manual voters’ registration as a viable option.

“In that regard, we appeal to the EC to take concrete measures to ensure that issues raised about verification, quality and security of the biometric voters register are comprehensively addressed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, and in a timely manner,” he noted.

“The EC and other stakeholders such as the NCCE, the media and CSOs,” he stated, “should be supported to intensify public education on the biometric registration system. This should be done early enough to enhance general understanding and appreciation of the value addition we hope the system will bring to the credibility of the electoral roll and the conduct of free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections in 2012”.

He said the people of Ghana and the entire international community were looking up to the country to maintain the very high standards the EC had already set in managing competitive elections, adding, “We cannot afford to fail in 2012.”

During question time, Mr. Bombande emphasized that it was important and urgent for the EC to work towards regaining public confidence towards 2012, saying, “It is what we do before that provides the quality and not what happens on voting day, and so there is that component of public education.”

“Associated with that is the key stakeholders. If you noticed, we highlighted the question of trust. When mistrust deepens, it creates the grounds for these contentious issues to become more difficult to deal with,” he added.

He said all the stakeholders would agree that they wanted a credible election, wondering, “But if we all agree that we want a credible election and there are issues that need to be put on the table, why are we taking so long to sit down and talk about them?”

“In our analysis as Civic Forum Initiative, we see that we are seeing a growing and deepening mistrust and we are saying let us stop that mistrust now… and for that reason we have called the track record of the EC and we have drawn the attention of the people Ghana to the fact that we have done it before and therefore cannot afford to fail.”

He said the problems were not due to the fact that it was a biometric registration but because key stakeholders mistrusted each other, stressing, “That is why we are calling on the EC to institute those measures that allow the consultative processes, the dialogue processes for the consensus building.”

Mr. Bombande said the journey to December 2012 was going to be achieved based on every stakeholder being part of the consensus building and consultative process rather than standing on the sides and raising the issues without being part of the whole process.

Source: William Yaw Owusu

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