Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC) on Wednesday assured Ghanaians that they had put in place adequate checks and balances to prevent double registration during the upcoming biometric registration exercise.
He assured that the biometric verification would be conducted on the election day, on December 7, but called for a high sense of vigilance on the part of all stakeholders in building a credible voters’ register for Election 2012 and beyond.
“The Commission is procuring about 30,000 verification machines at an estimated cost of about $30 million, for the 23,000 polling stations across the country with back-ups to cater for any possible breakdown of the equipment on voting day,” he said.
Dr Afari-Gyan gave the assurance at a round table discussion on the topic: “Biometric Voters’ Registration and Verification System in West Africa: Nigeria’s Experience, Ghana’s Perspective” in Accra.
It was organised by the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) in partnership with the Civic Forum Initiative (CFI) and with sponsorship from the European Commission and Star-Ghana.
The discussions threw more light on the Biometric Voter’s Registration System and shared the experience of Nigeria in the implementation of the system, in order to sensitise the public on the prospects and its effectiveness.
He said the Commission had taken notice of all concerns raised about verification of the new voting system.
The Chairman of the EC explained that with the Biometric Voter’s Registration System eligible voters would have their personal data, which included names, age, sex, residential addresses as well as their finger prints taken and processed into a data system to be verified on the voting day.
He indicated that the EC had successfully completed a pilot process of the Biometric Voter Registration and Verification and was optimistic that the process would eliminate the previous challenges such as bloated registers that led to double voting.
Dr Afari-Gyan maintained that while it was critical to ensure vigilance and high security throughout the Biometric Voters’ Registration and Verification processes, it was important that parents observed high standards of integrity, honesty and sincerity in respect to the provision of biometric information on their wards, especially in respect to their ages.
Comparing Ghana’s situation to that of Nigeria, which had already conducted a successful election using the Biometric Voting system, Dr Afari-Gyan said Ghana intended to devote 40 days to register about 12 million eligible voters, compared to Nigeria, which used 23 days to register 73.5 million voters as it had only 7,000 equipment for the registration process and therefore had to rotate them to cover all the 119,973 polling units across the country.
He said EC had therefore, grouped the country into four clusters of polling stations and would be spending 10 days in each cluster to register all eligible voters, while provision had been made for the physically challenged to ensure that no person was disenfranchised.
However, Dr Afari-Gyan enumerated challenges in respect to technology and difficulties in transferring logistics to remote areas of the country during the voting day.
He said the Commission had built a Data Recovery Centre to keep back-ups of all data for safety and a Central Search which was a system to cross check data submitted daily from all the Regions and Districts with would be via satellite to eliminate double registration.
Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria, encouraged Ghana to forge ahead with her option for a Biometric Voter Registration System and Verification process, saying although the system was costly, complicated and required huge logistical deployment and close details in order to capture credible data of eligible voters, it was achievable and worthwhile.
He said although it might be the first time Ghana would be using a biometric voters’ registration for elections, the system had been tried and tested in other African countries such as Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Nigeria, but many had still raised doubts about Ghana’s EC’s capability to complete the exercise in time for Election 2012.
Prof Jega said although Nigeria had her own challenges in terms of funding, technology, logistics supply and data segregation in terms of the scale of the population, she also had to deal with, training of officials and security, but was able to prevail at the end with a successful electioneering process and a quick declaration of election results.