A former Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has criticized the commission for its move to discard the guarantor system for the continuous voter registration exercise.
In a statement made exclusively to the Daily Graphic, he said the contention of the EC that the guarantor system was not robust and, therefore, the Ghana Card should be the sole means of registration was untenable.
According to Dr Afari-Gyan, as far as the National Identification Authority (NIA) allowed the guarantor regime in the registration for the Ghana Card, nothing prevented the EC from doing same for the voter registration exercise and making that system more robust as it wanted it.
“What prevents the commission from instituting, in the upcoming constitutional instrument (CI), a guarantor regime as robust as or even more robust than the one being used by the NIA for doing the Ghana Card?” he queried.
In line with Article 11 (7) of the 1992 Constitution, the EC is seeking to lay a CI before Parliament to regulate the continuous voter registration exercise.
Per the article, the CI, which seeks, among other things, to make the Ghana Card the sole identification document for the exercise and the only means for registration, when laid in Parliament, will come into force after 21 sitting days, except the house annuls it by a vote of not less than two-thirds of all Members of Parliament (MPs).
Last month, the Chairperson of the EC, Jean Adukwei Mensa, told Parliament, as part of the pre-laying of the CI, that the Ghana Card as the sole registration document would ensure that only eligible Ghanaians registered as voters.
Such a move, she said, would give the country a credible voter roll and enhance its electoral process.
The EC boss said her outfit jettisoned the guarantor system because it was susceptible to abuse, which affected the credibility of the electoral roll.
“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 people 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.
Dr Afari-Gyan is not the only person to criticize the EC over the proposed CI.
The CI has faced a backlash from the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), a civil society organization, especially concerning the decision by the EC to throw away the guarantor system, which hitherto allowed a registered voter to vouch for the citizenship of another person seeking to register.
The NDC has described the CI as “obnoxious and a threat to the country’s democracy” and directed its MPs not to absent themselves from Parliament to enhance the fight against the proposed law.
For the CDD, the elimination of the guarantor system would make it very difficult for many Ghanaians to register and that would, ultimately, infringe on their constitutional right to vote.
“The current CI 126 allows for a guarantor to guarantee for up to five people; this can be reduced to three,” it said.
Dr Afari-Gyan, who is the longest-serving Chairperson in the history of the EC, further reiterated his criticism of the use of the Ghana Card as the sole source document for the registration exercise.
In a previous statement to the Daily Graphic in August last year, he had said making the Ghana Card the sole identification document would disenfranchise millions of qualified Ghanaians and as such the move by the EC was against electoral inclusivity, fairness and justice.
In his new critique, he said he was not against the use of the Ghana Card and did not also disagree with the EC that the Ghana Card was of great importance and would go a long way to sanitize the electoral roll
“I think that it is grossly unfair and misleading to try to create the impression that the debate over whether or not, as of now, the Ghana Card should be the only basis for a Ghanaian citizen to be registered as a voter revolves wholly around how useful the card is. I have not heard anybody saying that the Ghana Card is not a good thing to have or use,” he said.
According to him, his disagreement was because the EC was gradually making the Ghana Card the only means of citizenship, which is the criterion for one to register as a voter.
It was his contention that the Ghana Card did not bestow citizenship on anyone but rather validated that citizenship; therefore, making the Ghana Card the sole means of registration meant the EC was trying to define those without the card as not citizens of Ghana eligible to vote.
“In my view, as of now, it cannot be reasonably assumed that every Ghanaian of voting age has the Ghana Card, or can get one well ahead of the next elections,” he said.
“In fact, given that even under continuous registration there is a cut-off period, during which time one can register as a voter but cannot vote in the following election, I think it is far too early yet to make a fetish of Ghana Card as the only basis for registering a Ghanaian citizen as a voter,” Dr Afari-Gyan averred.