Ghanaians go to the polls in 21 months, and as a rudimentary requirement, the electoral commission would have to ensure the credibility of the voter register.
Ghana has transitioned from a voter register without images to one that came along with images and is now a biometric voter registration, which was done in 2012 ahead of the general elections that same year.
The chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Ghana, Jean Mensa, has indicated the need for Ghana cards to be used as the sole evidence of citizenship to enable registrants to get onto the voter roll. This is only possible if the Electoral Commission can lay a Constitutional Instrument before parliament, which matures in 21 days.
What is a Constitutional Instrument (CI)?
According to Article 295 (interpretations) of the Constitution 1992, a “constitutional instrument” means an instrument made under a power conferred by this Constitution, and according to Article 45 clause A, the Electoral Commission has the function of compiling the register of voters and revise it at such periods as may be determined by law. With such powers, the EC has gone to parliament with the continuous voter registration CI.
Continuous Voter Registration CI
The Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, in a presentation to parliament on 28/02/2023, explained the rationale for the draft CI before parliament and added the two important features of the CI and how these features will help in getting a credible register.
“The CI before parliament seeks to promote the continuous registration of voters and advocates for all-year-round registration of eligible voters at district offices of the EC. It is a clear departure from the previous system wherein the voter’s roll was done for a limited period.
“Like its name, under the Limited Voters Registration Exercise, new voters were registered only for a limited period. It was not all year round. As such, persons who turned 18 years old after the registration period and persons who had not previously registered to vote could not do so when the time was set aside for registration. Usually, three to four weeks elapsed.
“Another significant feature of this draft Constitutional Instrument is the proposal to adopt the Ghana Card as the sole source of identification for any person who wishes to register as a voter. This implies that the guarantor system, which hitherto allowed a registered voter to vouch for the citizenship and age of prospective applicants, will no longer be relied upon as part of this new Constitutional Instrument,” Ms Mensa stated.
The Minority Disagreement
The minority in parliament is, however, opposed to the CI. Dominic Ayine, Chairman of the subsidiary Legislation Committee opined that the CI used for the 2020 registration, CI 91 regulation 9, affords the EC the same powers of continuous registration and remains potent. He said this on the floor of Parliament, which was streamed on parliament’s Facebook page on 28/02/2023.
Stating his opposition to the CI, the Minority Leader, Cassiel Ato Forson, made the point that,
“Using the Ghana card as the only voter registration means will negatively impact the electoral roll and deny some otherwise qualified persons from registering to vote. We cannot take assurances as the basis. Let the NIA resolve the challenges with issuing the Ghana card first. Until that, I am sorry, we can never be part of that.”
He further added in a press statement, as captured by the bftonline.com, that the NIA has admitted that there is a backlog of cards yet to be issued,
“The National Identification Authority (NIA), which is responsible for issuing the Ghana Card, has admitted that t backlog of millions of Ghanaians is yet to be issued the Ghana Card. It is also a fact that several difficulties, including logistical constraints, have characterised the registration process for the Ghana Card.”
The National Identification Authority’s Assurance
A search on NIA’s website reveals the following data on the registration number of Cards issued, among others, as of 03/03/2023.
Total New Registrations: 17,385,548
Total Cards Printed: 16,753,909
Total Cards Issued: 16,111,846
Total New Registrations: 170,176
Update & Replacement
Total number of records updated: 67,129
Total number of cards replaced: 244,331
Responding to the minority’s opposition, the Executive Secretary of NIA, Kenneth Agyeman Attafuah, said on the floor of parliament that:
“The number of cards not yet printed, i.e., persons who have registered, whose records are with NIA but whose cards have not yet been printed, stands at 541,529. This figure represents the financial difficulties we have had lately, beginning approximately in July/August of last year,”
On the query about a backlog of cards that need to be printed, the Executive Secretary said:
“We have the capacity, we have over a thousand functional printers, and we have trained people, and professionals sitting at home are doing nothing and are anxious to work. We will call those people back to work. With 500 printers, we can print 50,000 cards a day.”
Ministry of Finance Assurance
The Minister of Finance gave assurance about the financial difficulties that resulted in the backlog on the floor of parliament. He said transfers had been made to the NIA to enable the process of printing cards,
“I think that the main question was about the GH¢100 million to be transferred to CalBank IMS, and as confirmed by the [Executive] Director for the NIA, we have indeed transferred the GH¢80 million, and today, with swift instructions, the GH¢20 million has also been executed. That is the assurance we want to give that we will continue to work with the programme we have agreed with CalBank.”
The National Democratic Congress has given its backing to the minority in parliament against the CI. In a statement signed by the General Secretary, Fifi Fiavi Kwetey, the NDC urged all its MPs to be present in parliament to kick against the ‘obnoxious’ CI.
The majority in parliament is, however, in support of the CI. In a presser, Majority Leader Kyei Mensah Bonsu said it would be impossible to stop laying off the CI anyone.
“I will not say that the Speaker has no business in what business is transacted in parliament; I wouldn’t say that at all, except that no speaker has the right to say that I will not allow government’s business to be transacted. No Speaker has that authority,” the Majority Leaders said.
Dr Harrison Belley, Lecturer EPUC, Ho prescribes the usual consensus building to see the acceptance or otherwise of the CI. He said the right to vote is enshrined in the constitution, and no subsidiary law should be seen as disenfranchising some sections of Ghanaians. He added that the minority has the numbers to topple the CI before it expires hence the need for the majority side to engage the minority, especially seeing that this is not an Executive Instrument.
Can the Speaker of Parliament stop laying off CI?
On whether the Speaker of Parliament has the power to kick against the laying of the CI, article 11, clause 7 of the Constitution 1992 states that any Order, Rule or Regulation made by a person or authority under a power conferred by this Constitution or any other law shall-
(a) be laid before Parliament;
(b) be published in the Gazette on the day it is laid before Parliament; and
(c ) come into force at the expiration of twenty-one sitting days after being so laid unless
Before the expiration of the twenty-one days, Parliament annuls the Order, Rule or Regulation by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of Parliament.
Consensus built, CI thrown out
The controversial CI on 31st March 2023 was thrown out of parliament unanimously. The deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei- Owusu in presenting the report of the whole committee, urged the Electoral Commission to bring a new CI that included the guarantor system.
The constitution backs the EC to lay rules regarding elections before parliament for approval. The speaker has no power to reject the laying of the CI, and if the minority has the support of two-thirds or more of the Member of Parliament, the CI can be annulled within twenty-one days after laying. A consensus is the only way to ensure that Ghana has a credible Voter register without disenfranchising qualified citizens.