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14 October 2013

Confusion over biometric verifications.

Politicians and election experts almost came to fisticuffs over discussions on whether or not to maintain the same biometric verification system used in the controversial 2012 General Elections.

At an Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) workshop on election reforms organized at the plush Volta Hotel in Akosombo over the weekend, representatives of virtually all the major political parties displayed obvious cold feet towards the verification system.

Legal, technical and communication experts and politicians present at the workshop were torn between two choices: Whether they should advocate for the relaxation of the stringent requirement that voters must undergo biometric verification before voting or that the system should remain as it is with aspects of the entire equipment overhauled.

The representatives at the workshop were extremely passionate about this topic because it was a major subject of contention in the just-ended Presidential election petition, where the petitioners accused the Electoral Commission (EC) of allowing voting without biometric verification, despite the stringent regulation for biometric verification of voters before they were allowed to vote.

Representatives from the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), the Convention People’s Party (CPP), the People’s National Convention (PNC), the Great Consolidated People’s Party (GCPP), the former deputy Electoral Commissioner, David Kanga, legal and communication experts could not come to a consensus on what should be done about the biometric verification machines in the upcoming 2016 general elections.

“The Thumb-print verification has problems…it is problematic; we need to be a bit flexible….It is always better to have alternatives. If we limit it to just one, then we would have problems like the last elections,” admitted David Kanga, the former deputy chairman of the EC.

As enshrined into the current election regulations, Constitutional Instrument (CI)75, voters are required to go through a mandatory three-step verification process before they can vote. They first have to have their voters’ identification card scanned, then a facial scanning process, and the last and most important process is the scanning of a voter’s thumbprint by a special verification machine.

But in 2012, several people successfully went through the first two steps, only for the verification machine to fail to recognise their thumbprints.

“Last year it was true that many people were disillusioned,” Mr. Kanga noted.

“We must see that each stage is as important as the next at the end of the day. We were not made for the machine. The machine was made for us,” stated Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafu, a communications expert who aligned with the school of thought that if voters successfully passed two out of the three processes, they should be allowed to vote.

“A window of opportunity should be given to people who passed through the first two stages of verification but could not get their fingerprint verified,” agreed legal practitioner Gabriel Pwamang who delivered an elaborate paper on key electoral reform points at the IEA workshop.

“I think we should allow them to vote without necessarily causing mayhem. We, at the technical committee who considered verification, we probably didn’t finish our work,” stated Mathew Opoku Prempeh of the NPP.

In his view, the National Coordinator of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), Kofi Portuphy who was also at the heart of the NDC’s election machinery, stated; “ …our real challenge is the process and the equipment, our challenge is the last part of the process [biometric thumb print verification] we must devise ways of solving the problem.”

The dissent

However, Atik Mohammed, a policy analyst at the PNC strongly disagreed with these views, saying the biometric thumbprint system should be maintained, otherwise it would defeat the purpose of the system developed to stop ineligible people from voting.

The National Chairman of the PNC, Alhaji Ahmed Ramadan said, “Let’s improve the system; let’s make sure that the three steps are maintained.”

“It is important to maintain the three steps; that is the only way to maintain a fool-proof system. We should fix the technology. Let us not run away from technology,” said William Dowokpor, an executive of the PPP.

Indeed, the essence of the workshop was for all political parties and stakeholders to develop consensus on areas that needed reforms, as the parties prepared for the 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary polls, particularly when the 2012 was admittedly fraught with several problems.

Several consensuses were reached at the IEA workshop, including suggestions that election timelines should be enshrined in new election regulations, new features for the Statement of Poll and Declaration of Result Form (Pink sheet), the EC should be given more prosecution powers during elections, etc. The only subject that failed to yield a consensus was the biometric verification system. The parties were asked to go and discuss it among themselves for later deliberations.

Machine Problems

Amidst all the debate, one fact became clear; that the biometric verification machines used in the 2012 general elections were not optimal, with some suggesting that it was sub-standard machines that the EC deployed for the election.

Speaking to DAILY GUIDE on the sidelines of the workshop, Dr. Ahmed M. Gedel, a lecturer and an election management expert with appreciable expertise in the biometric system, admitted that the biometric verification machines used for the 2012 elections may have just been picked off the self and did not necessarily conform to the fingerprint structure of Ghanaians.

“When the machines’ standards are being developed, they are developed under certain conditions such that the standards of the machines measurement will conform to a certain standard of the fingerprint. When the standard of the fingerprint does not conform to the standard of the machine, the values that are going to be captured by the machines would be lower than the value of machines, so when the machine is brought to Africa, our fingerprint in Africa is not the same fingerprint value that was used as the standard,” he explained.

According to Dr. Gedel, the EC may not have necessarily imported “bad” biometric machines for the election exercise; rather, it was because technology developed abroad was usually not in favour of Africa: “It happens in every aspect of African technology because the conditions used abroad to measure the standards of machines are not the same control measures they encounter when they come to the field in Africa.”

He further said that about 19 different African countries had attempted using the biometric system for their elections with abysmal result, except for Benin, which appeared not to have encountered serious problems.


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