Does Ghana Need A New Voters Register?

The country is still battling with the issue of a new voters register when the solution is right at our door step.

The problem is really not the voters register but rather how the country is managing the identification of its nationals.

Currently, everything is being done haphazardly with a lot of cards being issued by different institutions for identification.
But the national identification card, according to law, should be the card used for every transaction that requires identification.

Situation on the ground
Today, every Ghanaian who is over 18 years of age has at least five functioning identification cards.

There is the voters identification card, the driver’s licence, bank card (ATM), passport and the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) card. A few lucky ones also have the National Identification Authority (NIA) card, which is supposed to be a uniformed card that serves as the national ID.

The question is why have all these cards not been harmonised to give the Ghanaian citizen a unique security card which can be accessed by all, be it the bank, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), police, hospitals and can as well be used as a voter ID.

The National Identification Authority (NIA)
The National Identification Authority (NIA) was established to create, maintain, provide and promote the use of national identity cards in order to advance economic, political and social activities in the country.

Established in 2003, the NIA is entrusted with the responsibility to collect personal data on citizens resident in Ghana and abroad and on foreign nationals resident in the country.

Even more importantly, it is also charged with the responsibility to ensure the accuracy, integrity, confidentiality and security of data collected from residents and foreign nationals in the country.

The National Identification Authority Act, 2006 (Act 707) was enacted by Parliament to give the authority the necessary legal premises to operate. The National Identity Register Act, 2008 (Act 750) was also passed to give authorisation for the collection of personal and biometric data and to ensure the protection of privacy and personal information of enrollees.

 The NIA is mandated to establish a national data centre and manage a national database, set up a system to collect, process, store, retrieve and disseminate personal data on the population (Ghanaian citizens - both resident and non-resident, and legally and permanently resident foreign nationals), ensure the accuracy, integrity and security of such data, and to issue and promote the use of national identity cards in Ghana. It is also to make data in its custody available to persons or institutions authorised by law to access the data.

Best practices
According to Privacy International, a UK-based charity that defends and promotes the right to privacy across the world, about 100 countries have compulsory identity cards. The card must be shown on demand by authorised personnel under specified circumstances.

Normally, there is an age limit, such as 18, from which the possession of ID cards is mandatory.

In countries of the European Union, a national identity card complying to certain standards can, in most cases, be used by  citizens as a travel document in place of a passport.

Country specific
In Botswana, the national identity card known as Omang, is compulsory for all citizens at age 16, and there are penalties for not obtaining it within one month of turning 16 or obtaining citizenship whichever comes last.

The cards have features including the image of the individual, with no headgear or spectacles, their particulars, and their right thumbprint. It is valid for 10 years, after which the cards must be renewed and new photographs taken.

The card must be presented by the individual upon request by any agent of the state. The state requires all non-state institutions to use the national ID card as the only acceptable means of identification for citizens  and not passports and driver's licences, even though such documents contain most of the information on the ID card, including the ID card number.

There are penalties for being issued a replacement card when it has been lost, however, if it is changed to update information on it only the application fee is paid. It can be changed upon expiry and legal name changes as and when a woman gets married and assumes her husband's surname. Every time a new one is issued for whatever reason, a new photograph is taken.

The individual keeps their national ID card numbers for life, and in recent years, Botswana has linked the ID cards to the birth certificate of newborn infants.

The national ID card must be surrendered to the government upon the demise of the individual, at which time it will be exchanged with an official death certificate.

Countries such as Brazil, Kenya, China, Croatia, Egypt, Gambia, Germany, Jordan, Morocco and many more have similar practice

NIA Registration
The NIA registration started in 2008 but could not be sustained. Although the registration of foreign nationals is going on , that of Ghanaians is in a limbo. The authority is yet to register many more people, and majority of those who were registered are also yet to receive their cards.

If foreigners can receive their cards instantly, it shows that it is possible for Ghanaians to also be registered instantly.  Is it, therefore, a case of misplaced priorities or sheer irresponsibility on the part of the NIA.

With such a card, it will be easy to know who is a Ghanaian, who is 18 years and can vote among other records.

It is necessary that the NIA continues with the registration of all Ghanaians aged six years and above as it started almost a decade ago so as to help bring sanity into the national identification processes.

With an NIA card the Electoral Commission (EC) for example can know how many Ghanaians are of voting age, and the issue of a bloated voters register will be a non starter.

Presenting the 2016 budget recently, the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Seth Terkper said the National Identification policy was going to be relaunched.

In view of the importance of a national ID, it is incumbent on the government to come out with policies that will give more meaning to the implementation of the NIA law.   

For the National Identity Register Act, 2008 (Act 750) to be fully functional, there is the need to harmonise all the cards in the system onto one biometric card.

Should the NIA get its act together and ensure that it lives up to expectations, the issue of foreigners on our voters register as well as under-aged persons will be easily resolved.