The Chairperson of Ghana's Electoral Commission has finally showed up in parliament to answer questions concerning a new constitutional instrument that intends to make the Ghanacard the sole primary document for voter registration.
The Minority Caucus had earlier expressed reservation that her continued snubbing of the legislature's invitations has reached intolerable levels and, thus, intended to haul her before the Privileges Committee if she repeates her snubbish conduct.
The Ranking Member of the Defence and Interior Committee, Mr James Agalga, told the media that it was high time Mrs Mensa was forced to respect parliament.
“I have indicated to you that her continuous absence is contemptuous. First of all, the assurance has been given that she would appear. If she doesn’t, seriously speaking, we will escalate our actions to include the referral of Jean Mensa to the Privileges Committee to be dealt with for contempt of Parliament”, Mr Agalga warned.
Mrs Mensa was expected to appear before the house today, Tuesday, 28 February 2023, along with the Executive Secretary of the National Identification Authority, Prof Ken Attefuah, to brief the legislature about the controversial C.I.
Mrs Mensa, according to a statement earlier issued by the election management body, was in Nigeria, as part of an election observer mission.
The EC mentioned in that statement that parliament's invitation came late, thus, the inability of the Chairperson to honour it personally.
In its release, the EC said: "The Commission, especially its Chairperson, understands the importance of the institution of parliament, having worked with parliament for two decades prior to her appointment as Chairperson of the EC".
"The Chairperson upholds the institution of parliament and will, therefore, not disrespect it in any way".
"The fact remains that the invitation from parliament was sent a day before the meeting, at a time when the Chairperson was out of the jurisdiction".
"Had she been aware of the request prior to her travel, she certainly would have prioritised the meeting and attended upon the honourable house", the EC said.
Last week, the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Alban Bagbin, summoned Mrs Mensa to appear in person over the C.I.
Despite one of Mrs Mensa's deputies honouring the imvitation on Thursday for that purpose, Mr Bagbin insisted the EC Chair herself show up since Dr Bossman Asare, in the Speaker's view, cannot give the needed assurances the houses needed to hear.
The summoning of Mrs Mensa followed the insistence of Minority Leader Cassiel Ato Forson that she be present in the house for herself.
Majority Leader Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu had counter-argued that since the invitation was extended to the EC, as an institution, it was in order for Dr Bossman Asare to represent the election management body.
Mr Bagbin, however, said it was important for Mrs Mensa to honour the invitation in person.
"The Deputy Chairperson in charge of operation is quite high enough, but he cannot be giving the assurances that the Chairperson will give", Mr Bagbin said, adding: "In the circumstances, I will be compelled to adjourn the house".
"We will insist that the EC be represented at the highest level and together, we will find solutions to this. It’s very, very important for the peace, the security and the development of this nation", the Speaker noted.
In October last year, Mr Bagbin said until the Electoral Commission briefed the leadership of parliament about the new constitutional instrument, it cannot be laid before the house.
The EC’s new C.I. seeks to make the Ghanacard the sole proof of nationality for the forthcoming limited voter registration exercise.
Mr Bagbin, however, said at the time: “…I have not been given any brief by the EC on any proposed instrument coming from them. And so I raised this some time ago, and I’m yet to receive them to be briefed on them. Until that is done, they should forget about laying such Instruments in the House”.
In August 2022, the EC announced that after a series of meetings with the political parties and civil society organisations, they agreed with the parties that the Ghanacard be used as the sole document for voter registration.
“It was agreed that now that the Ghana card has made a lot of impact in our society – as we speak now, almost 17 million Ghanaians have registered for the Ghana card, so, the Commission, in collaboration with our partners, took the decision that: ‘Now, let’s have the Ghana card as the main requirement’”, Dr Bossman Asare, Deputy Chairman of the EC in charge of Corporate Services, said.
“So, what this means is that as soon as you acquire your Ghana card, with the continuous registration, you just go to our district office then you go and register then your name will be put on the roll of voters”, he said in an interview on Accra-based Joy News at the time.
His comments came a few days after Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia had hinted at the likelihood of using the card for voter registration for either the 2024 or 2028 general elections.
Dr Bawumia promised Ghanaians at the 2022 Civil Service Awards ceremony in Accra on 29 July 2022 that with the Ghanacard and digitalisation drive, “very soon, you’d see that our problems with voter registration would disappear”.
“It’s only a matter of time. If not at the next election then the next election after that because we spend so much on voter registration but once unique identification is determined and you cannot have underage people coming to register to vote and all of that, I think the Ghana card would be a good identification document as we are already seeing so that we sanitise the voter registration system”, Dr Bawumia said.
He noted: “In many countries, once you are 18, you are essentially on the voter register and that is it”.
“There’s no complication to this and going to fight and break legs and so on, as we register to vote”, he noted.
“I mean the system is the system”, added Dr Bawumia, stressing: “If you are 18, you are on the register – simple!”
“And, I think this is where we are headed”, he hinted. In his view, Ghana has been stuck in the brick-and-mortar model of development, which, in his estimation, has not generated the needed transformation.
Systems, as being put in place by the Akufo-Addo government through the digitalisation drive, are what will transform the country, Dr Bawumia argued, in support of an earlier assertion by him that he would prefer the Ghanacard – which, he observed, is the fulcrum of the establishment of those systems – to 1,000 interchanges.
“A lot of the time, we have, as a country, really focused on brick and mortar for development: build this road, you build this and build that but we have not focused on systems for the longest time but systems and data and institutions are what develop countries, it’s not brick and mortar”, he explained.
“So, these systems that we are putting in place – digitalisation of the various public sector offices and all of that: national ID, mobile money and all of that – is what will transform Ghana; it’s really what will transform Ghana and that is why as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we have to pay attention to this”. The Ghanacard is a valid verification document issued by the National Identification Authority (NIA) to Ghanaians and resident foreign nationals living everywhere for the purpose of identification.
The card bears personal information about the individuals whose identity can be verified at all times. The NIA National Identity System utilises three types of biometric technology for identification purposes.
These are the fingerprints unique to each individual in the form of digitised templates, and facial templates in the form of a digitised colour photo of the cardholder and the iris. The card contains basic identification information including a photograph of the cardholder, along with a name, date of birth, height, and a personal identification number that has been randomly generated and assigned to the holder and has an expiry date.