Friday, December 5, 2008

Ghana will not be another Kenya” says Kwadwo Afari-Gyan

“Ghana will not be another Kenya” says Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission as the country goes into elections in two days.
By OLOLADE ADEWUYI (interview conducted in October 2008)

How prepared is the EC for the December 7, 2008 elections?Election preparation is a steady process. You do one work after the other, they come in stages. The first stage is about to come to an end which is the registration and very soon we will carry out an exhibition of the voters’ register, a public display at all our polling stations for people to g and see whether their names are there. And if there are any persons whose names are on it, people can object to it. Afterwards we will be in a position to prepare the final register, take the nominations and from then onwards. We’re going in stages.

There has been some controversy trailing the registration of voters’ exercise that you have a bloated register in terms of under aged registration and double registration to vote, how are you looking to resolve this issue?
It is not a controversy really. We ourselves as a commission believe from what we saw in queues of people lined up for registration and various people who observed the process indicated to us that there were people who could not be 18 years old. And from the pictures that we’ve seen on the registration forms, we’re led to believe that this is the case and it is rather widespread. So we’re concerned about how to remove those people, the under aged, during the exhibition process. We also believe that there are some people who are not Ghanaians who managed to get their names on the voters’ register. This will also be a target group during the exhibition process. Another group is people who have already been on the register but want to register again because they have lost their ID cards or damaged them or have moved from away from where they registered. Even though we have a process for replacing damaged and lost cards, and transferring voter location, they didn’t wait for the process. Those are also part of the target group and we have to get them. So it’s not really a controversy. It’s a question of the belief that there are some people who are in the register but do not belong in the register. And we should try to get rid of them during the exhibition process.

What’s the number of voters you are looking to present for the general elections?
This registration was a limited one because we already had the database and we were only adding to the database people who had come of age since the last registration exercise. And our target was no more than a million but it turned out, because of what I have just indicated, the minors, non Ghanaians and the multiple registrants, we ended up with over 1.8 million people. If you add that to the people on the existing register, we’re saying that we’re going into the 2008 elections with a voter population of close to 13 million.

How much is Ghana spending on the elections?Well, it is very difficult until you finish the elections to know exactly how much money you need. But the election budget was over $40 million.

How is the Electoral Commission funded?It is the state. What we do is that we make a budget before the election. Parliament approves the budget after that the finance ministry releases the money to us. We don’t require the money at one time. There are phased releases of the money. As I told you the preparation is in phases. And for each phase we need so much money and when we’re about to begin a phase we apply for the amount we need for it. Up till now we have received all the money we need in connection to the elections.

Do you want to put a figure on it?Oh no, I wish the deputy in charge of finance will be here to tell you.

Does the EC get funding from international organizations?We don’t do our budget with international organizations in mind. The election budget is the bill of the government. If the government for one reason or another cannot find the money, it can appeal to the foreign donors to assist. That is the responsibility of the government not us. We do not go to donors and ask for money.

Recently, the EC increased the cost of nomination forms for candidates and the parties are claiming that you didn’t carry them along.It’s not the nomination forms. According to our laws you have to pay a fee to get nominated as a candidate. It’s a nomination fee and not a form. This is a deposit real, you put the money there to indicate your seriousness as a candidate. And after the elections you get a certain percentage of the votes, and then you get your money back. This is not money that the commission is collecting for its use. The money does not belong to the commission, it belongs to government. Of course if you fail to get up to a stipulated percentage, then you forfeit that money to the state. They are saying that the fee is high but we don’t think so. It’s about $500 for a parliamentary candidate and $5000 for a presidential candidate. We do not think it’s too much.

Are foreign organizations allowed to donate funds to candidates?By our law, no. it’s only Ghanaians that can contribute.

What if an organization is registered in Ghana?Well, Ghanaians organizations, yes, but you have to do it through a certain medium. The contributions directly to candidates are supposed to be on an individual basis. If you want to contribute as a company, you can contribute for the collective use of the political parties.but foreigners are not allowed to contribute.

What about foreign companies registered in Ghana?Yes, if you’re a company registered in Ghana, you’re a Ghanaian entity you can do that.

Are there any challenges you’re facing that you hope to surmount before the elections?
Yes, an election is always a challenge no matter how often you’ve done it. Of course the number of illegitimate registrations that we’re trying to get rid of presents a challenge. We hope that the Ghanaian people will assist by scrutinizing the register closely during the exhibition and object to names that shouldn’t be there. There’s also the challenge to get the right caliber of people to administer the elections come election day. It’s such a big undertaking that you have to hire a lot of temporary workers to conduct the elections. They have, ideally, to be people of integrity and it’s difficult because you’re hiring a lot of them. No less than 100,000 people will be hired. It’s a challenge to get people of the right caliber, honesty who will treat the poll fairly and so on. Training them is also tough because you have a short period of time to do that. So lections always present their challenges.

Looking at the coming elections, the stakes are higher than the last one because Ghana has now struck oil in commercial quantity, how independent will you say the EC is from the government in power?About that one, I don’t think anybody doubts our independence. The law not only guarantees our independence, it does actually insulate us from the control of the government. So unless you’re a wicked person you don’t have to do anything to please the government. We’re very well insulated from control by the government. I don’t think there are people in this country that doubt the independence of the EC.

Looking at Kenya which has had a lot of smooth transitions over the years and then suddenly imploding after their most recent elections…Well, like what we said, it’s not only the EC that is responsible for free and fair elections, it’s a collective responsibility. We have a part to play, the politicians have a part to play, the government has a part to play by providing the money. The police has a part to play by making sure that they don’t tolerate nonsense from any politician particularly with regard to election related violence and infractions of the electoral law. So we will play our role but let everybody else play their role. If everybody else does, there’s no question of Ghana becoming another Kenya.

Are there going to be foreign observers?
Yes, plenty of them. The Carter Centre is already here and they’ve been observing the registration process. The European Union has given an indication that they are coming. The Commonwealth are coming. The ECOWAS are going to be here very soon. And I’m quite sure that African Union is coming too. So there will be quite a large number of observers.

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