Former President Jerry John Rawlings has in a meeting with the leadership of the National Electoral Commission on Wednesday, urged them to do all in their power to maintain the sanctity of the power of the right of choice.
He said upholding the sanctity of the process will ensure the stability and the acceptance of any electoral process by winners and losers.
“The sanctity of the right of choice is something that must be preserved. Freedom and justice is not abstract. It is very much related to the sanctity of the right of choice. Winners and losers will accept the elections if they know that the process has been carried out with utmost integrity,” the former President stated.
At the meeting held at instance of the Electoral Commission in the former President’s office at Ridge, he praised the Chairperson of the Commission, Mrs. Jean Mensa, saying she comes from a background of high integrity which should guide and shape her leadership.
The former President said; “it is not easy to maintain a high level of integrity because we all know what we have been doing in our home electoral processes within our parties’ structures where money is just used left and right to disenfranchise our own people.”
Flt Lt Rawlings said, ironically the parties tend to demand the highest standards from the Electoral Commission when “some of us have undermined and defiled the sanctity of the process.” He noted that the mass of the people must know the thinking process of the commission members.
Earlier, the Electoral Commissioner who led the six-member delegation from the Commission indicated they called on the former President as part of their desire to bring the Commission closer to stakeholders in order to demystify the electoral processes and exorcise the cloak of secrecy that has shrouded the Commission’s work over time.
Mrs. Mensa said, “We are mindful of the fact the Commission has been seen by some as some ivory tower far removed from its stakeholders in our nation’s development and as a very influential person in politics and on the globe as a whole, we thought that it was important as a new leadership of the Electoral Commission to visit you and to share with you some of the things we have been working on since we have been in office. We also wish to seek your insights and experiences because we believe that we will be the better for it.”
In a detailed brief, the Electoral Commissioner listed some of the Commission’s actions since it took over in August last year, describing as unfortunate the fact that the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election was marred by violence.
Ayawaso West Wuogon
“Even though we have maintained that it was not as a result of acts of omission on the part of staff of the Commission, there are many lessons that we have learnt in terms of security and we are working with the security agencies to ensure that such things do not happen again. Indeed, for the limited voter registration we have for the first time in the history of the Commission deployed policemen at the various registration centres,” the Commission’s Chairperson said.
Mrs. Mensa said the Commission recognizes that things are different and even with registration there could be pockets of violence so it has engaged the IGP who has deployed officers to the various centres. She disclosed that for future elections the Commission will engage the security agencies very early in order to undertake training and other forms of preparation.
Touching on the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA), the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission said when she was inducted into office there was an electoral suit enjoining the Commission to implement provisions of the Act and that necessitated the establishment of an implementation committee to engage stakeholders to seek their views. She said the committee was almost done with its report and will be visiting the United Kingdom, the United States and Senegal for further views and assessment of the process after which budgets and the necessary constitutional instruments will be drawn up for Parliamentary approval.
Predecessors’ Good Work
Mrs. Jean Mensa commended her predecessors for the good role they had played in building and strengthening the electoral process from 1992 to date. She however noted that while the process had been improved by successive Commissioners, there are institutional challenges that have affected the smooth administration of the Commission and which the current Commissioners are working to resolve.
“Not much has been done on the institutional front. We have existed like most of the political parties, an election machine so to speak and we recognize that it is an organization that does not have a governance framework. Standard administrative, finance, procurement and Human Resource policies to guide the Commission are nonexistent,” Mrs. Mensa said.
The Electoral Commissioner said some staff had not been promoted for 15 to 17 years leading to staff being demoralized and structures are being put in place in conjunction with the Public Services Commission to regularize the policy framework. She also disclosed that audit, tax and advisory services company, KMPG, was being consulted to provide a comprehensive audit of the Commission as part of the institutional review and governance process.
On the contentious matter of the Inter-party Advisory Committee (IPAC), the Electoral Commission boss said meetings of the committee had been fixed for the first Wednesday of every month. She said even though the Commission was not bound by law to set up the IPAC as a consultative platform to the parties “we felt that it was important to have regular dialogue with political parties for the purpose of building consensus around some of the issues confronting the country”.
The Commissioner however conceded that the meetings had not been smooth-sailing referring to them however as teething problems which would be resolved with time when the Commission builds the trust and confidence of political parties.
Clarifying issues concerning the limited voter registration, Mrs. Mensah said the Commission determined in the March IPAC meeting that the registration will take place at District Electoral offices.
She said the Commission was in the process of reviewing its entire biometric structure because a $56 million proposal to upgrade the existing biometric interface had been deemed uneconomical by a biometric expert who had advised the Commission in 2011.
She said the expert was of the view that because the biometric process had evolved since 2011 it was imperative and actually about $20 million cheaper to embrace a modern biometric interface.
Dr. Benjamin Kunbuor who was part of the former President’s team at the meeting, said the role of the Electoral Commission was a contentious one because parties always view the membership with suspicion.
“Once you superintend over the process of acquiring political power and given the disturbing meaning most political actors give to that power, you are between the rock and a hard place. Therefore, you need to conceptualise and factor in such a reality of the environment of your work.”
He revealed that the original idea behind IPAC was as a forum to deal with the internal dynamics of political parties. He said the only reason why there are agitations and accusations is what psychologists call prolongation.
“What is done within a party becomes habit. Once you use crooked methods internally there is always that fear in your mind that in every electoral process the same will be done,” the former Defense Minister said.
Dr. Kunbuor who is a member of the ROPAA Implementation Committee said beyond the mention of internal party democracy in the constitutions of political parties, they should specify its essentials and the highest decision bodies of political parties should adopt detailed guidelines at their congresses along the lines of Article 55 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution.
Internal practices of our political parties, Dr. Kunbuor stated, are still those of the African political parties of the 1950s and not in tune with modern democratic and governance best practices provided for in the national constitution. He said If political parties are internally democratic then IPAC positions will have a rank and file buy-in and that will give the EC popular legitimacy.
The former Minister said it will be important in the future to legislate for the consultative and consensus building role of IPAC without compromising the EC’s independence.
Earlier, Dr. Donald Agumenu, an aide to the former President urged the Commission to re-look the siting of centres mostly at the District Electoral offices and stated there had been genuine complaints especially in the rural areas of long distances they had to traverse in order to access the registration centres.
He also stated that another complaint was the fact that the registration process was cumbersome and long.
He urged the Commission reconsider extending the tenure of the current registration process or add more centres to embrace those who have challenges accessing the existing centres due to transport challenges.
He reiterated that, the Electoral Commission is the epicenter of our democratic discourse and it’s therefore important to bring the governance process closer to the people.
The Electoral Commission delegation included Dr. Bossman Asare, Samuel Tettey, Lawrence Sarpong, Sylvia Annor and Mr. Andenam. Also on the former President’s team was Mr. Kobina Andoh Amoakwa.