Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC) Jean Mensah Thursday disclosed that the Commission was in the process of acquiring technology that would guarantee the absolute sovereignty of the Ghanaian electoral process.
The system, which she said would be owned, managed and operated at a lesser cost by the Commission, would ensure that elections were free, fair, credible, and not subject to third party manipulations.
Madam Jean made the disclosure when the EC called on President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at the Jubilee House in Accra.
The call on the President formed part of the Commission’s wider consultations with key stakeholders as it seeks to initiate reforms to promote efficiency, transparency and accountability around its activities.
Explaining that the EC was weakest at its Information Technology Department, the EC Chairperson said since 2011, vendors controlled elections and had unlimited access to the department both remotely and physically.
And as a result, the vendors, who supplied both software and hardware and managed it for the EC, could shut the Commission’s Data Centre down at anytime.
The situation, according Madam Mensah, had to be rectified because “the sovereignty of our nation was in the hands of a foreign entity.”
She said those loopholes in the electoral process exposed the country to a situation where the will of the people could be subverted.
“We came in to discover a 55-member department who couldn’t run an election for two people; we had no clue as to how to conduct an election and since 2011, 2012, our vendors controlled the IT Department solely.
“They had unlimited access to the Department both remotely and physically and they could shut the data centre at any time,” she revealed.
She continued, “Indeed when we came to office, in the first week, we had before us a proposal for $56 million and the idea was that we needed to expend that money to enable us conduct the referendum of 2018 and the registration process that we’ve just gone through.
“We were of the view that we’ve just come in let’s take our time and assess what was going on; Mr President go into our data centre, it’s half of this room with four locks, a little untidy room with wires all over the place and we were paying them a whopping $4million a year in maintenance.
“You ask IT Director what are we doing and he says to you, we don’t know, madam I don’t know; we don’t know what they do, but every year since 2012, we’ve paid $4million and another $1.2million for internet.”
The EC Chairperson said what was worrying was that upon all the huge sums of money being paid out to the vendor- the controversial Israeli company, STL- the Commission’s data centre “is not even operational unless you have elections.”
She said the Commission, owing to the development, decided, after a review of the contract with STL, terminated the agreement and asked the company to hand over the data centre and its management to the EC.
“Thankfully we’ve been successful at that; today, we are managing our own systems with the help of an external consultant and in-house staff who has been brought it.
“We are happy to note that for the referendum and registration, we have not had to spend a penny of the $56million”, she noted.
“What we are doing is to bring on board new technology; indeed the Commission last year invited an EU-approved biometric consultant from Canada to come in and brief us and he came in and spent 10days at the Commission and he was of the view that technology had evolved and today there was modern user friendly technology end-to-end both software and hardware that would cost half of $55million.”
“Indeed he did the calculations for us and to bring on board new technology, new software, we will be spending in the range of $30million and the $56million was just an upgrade; it was not even to bring on board new technology. It was just to upgrade a data centre and nobody even knew whether it was going to be done or not and it was to upgrade equipment, change batteries here and there,” she stated.
Madam Mensah told the President that the many challenges confronting the Commission were being addressed systematically.
“We came to office and what we found was that we do not even have a single policy to guide procurement, to guide finance, to guide HR, to guide administration; nothing exist.
“So in a nutshell, the Commission existed as some sort of an election machine and over the year we’ve spent quite a lot of effort trying to plug the loopholes to the best of our knowledge and to the best of our ability; it’s been run as a free for all sort of institution till date…you’ll find staff who have been in the same for 15-17years without promotion”, he noted with worry.
But she revealed that “since we took office, we’ve tried to the best of our ability to come up with some policies and guidelines to structure and to regulate our operations,” she said.
However, the Commission developed a working relations with KPMG, leading provider of Audit, Tax and Advisory Service, to do an institutional assessment and following that assessment, KPMG would put in place a framework to guide all aspects of the EC’s work.
Additionally, she said they were working with the Public Services Commission (PSC) to develop a Scheme of Service that would regulate the operations of the Commission and set out clear terms the various mandate, structures and departments and functions of staff of the institution.
“They (PSC) have a clear direction of what the institution, what their clear functions are, what each department is meant to do; so we have a governing framework of a sort that regulates our activities.”
Madam Mensah disclosed also that the Commission took lessons from last by-election at Ayawaso West Wuogon and was engaging the security agencies to set up election security taskforce ahead of next election.
She informed the President that the Commission was taking steps to implement the Representation of People’s Amendment Law (ROPAL) in accordance with court ruling and would be presenting its report and budget soon to Parliament for direction.
“We will have to review our Constitutional Instruments and we are working to do that. We’ve asked for a meeting with the majority leader to discuss this with him ahead of time and the leadership of Parliament,” she said.
On the Inter-party Advisory Committee (IPAC), Madam Mensah said the platform was institutionalised and progress was being made in streamlining the activities of the political parties, to ensure that all those entities did not fall foul of the electoral laws.
“For the first time in our history, our budget has been released on time for us to carry out our mandate…we value the independence that you have given us,” she said.
She assured that the EC was committed to transparent, credible and peaceful elections.
“We can say with confidence that we have a fairly robust and tight and credible electoral system,” she emphasised.
President Akufo-Addo on his part commended the EC for the work they did in the referendum that led to the creation of the new regions and was happy that the process went off without hitch and helped to settle the anxiety that characterised the Referendum.
“We have not heard any constituency denouncing it. It has helped to settle the anxiety. Ayawaso was a pity and government will soon issue a whitepaper on it,” he stated.
The President said it was alarming that “there was a time in our recent history that the commission was a subject of capture by people who sold its equipment; the vendors could shut it down when they want and had monopoly of the data.”
He pointed out that if efforts were being made to reform the workings of the EC “we should support it; reforms are in right direction. Let us hope that it proves to be efficient; the overall goal to set up a system that will enable the EC to have control of its own processes, and data and therefore be able to serve its mandate with greater assurances and confidence of our people.”
“That goal is a worthwhile goal that will get the support of the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians…that we are being free from a situation of capture by foreign elements is something that everybody would want. We want to commend you,” he said.
The President was emphatic that elections should not be open for manipulation and that “what the ballot should do is to give the verdict of the will of the people.”
“There shouldn’t be any interference. It would be a distortion of the popular will of the people and will make the democracy questionable.
“Our duty is to support the EC to enable it fulfill its mandate,” he added.
He commended the Commission for the reforms it was undertaking and for institionalising the IPAC to enable key stakeholders make their concerns known.
“All efforts to enhance capacity should be welcomed by all people,” the President held.