The Electoral Commission (EC) is on track to compile a new voters’ register to replace the blemish-fraught roll.
This came to light during the EC engagement with some civil society organizations (CSOs) at Alisa Hotel in Accra yesterday to justify the need for the compilation ahead of the 2020 general elections in December.
The determination of the commission could not have been better expressed than when it pointed at its lack of control over the source code to the country biometric data, an important ingredient for the independent management of elections.
The EC represented by some of its top officials, one of them an IT expert, raised concern over the security of the electoral system as one of the key reasons a new voters’ register must be compiled.
The commission does not own the source code of the current Voter Management Solutions (VMS), a situation that subjects the system to manipulation by third parties including vendors, thereby compromising the security and credibility of elections.
The Deputy EC Chairman in charge of Operations, Samuel Tettey, said that contractual agreements that were entered into with the vendor of the system prior to its acquisition in 2011 did not make provision for the commission to own the source code of the software solution.
He said the unavailability of source code had hindered the efforts of the EC to build in-house capacity and to recruit skilled Information Technology (IT) professionals to man the system.
“It is highly unwise on our part to continue to run a solution we do not have control over and this will be a huge risk to the country and it is akin to us giving our sovereignty to a vendor,” he said.
“Staff members of the electoral commission on the current solution were not trained per the contractual terms to enable the commission to take over after the system after the expiration of the contract. The EC staff members were, therefore, not able to update or enhance the software solution,” he disclosed.
He disclosed that the vendor of the system had since 2012 charged the EC a maintenance fee of $4 million per annum to also manage the data centre that needed to be updated at a cost of $15 million before the December elections.
“But today we are acquiring a new data centre at $6 million, exclusive of tax. Which of the two is more cost beneficial?” Mr. Tettey queried.
Dr. Yaw Ofori Agyei, who is an IT Consultant, also hinted at a risk of data loss with the current system as there is no backup or data recovery plan.
He also identified some operational issues with the system that included the application system designs that gave no insight into the quality of data being egested.
He said that there were no checks and balances in the system to determine if some records were missing.
“This process had to be done manually through a laborious process of running queries on the database and cross-checking it with manually recorded tallies from the field,” he said.
DAILY GUIDE is informed that the CSOs arrived at the Alisa Hotel, venue of the engagement, armed with their already-prepared press statement rubbishing the reasons for a fresh voters’ register.
The sincerity of the guests of the EC was already punctured even as they pretended to have turned with open minds.
They headed for the International Press Centre immediately after the meeting to rubbish the points the EC raised in favour of a new register.
In the statement they presented to the media, the CSOs referred to the controversy underpinning the EC’s determination as being about plain facts and values which can be resolved by what in their estimation are “transparent and sincere evaluation of the data and the evidence.”
The CSOs claimed to have thoroughly examined the EC’s submissions and found them quite defective.
On the EC’s position on the costs for the refurbishment and fresh procurement of equipment, the CSOs said: “the EC should be canvassing the market for the cost of this equipment, and investigating the possibility of an open-source central software application, as Nigeria has done in recent years.”
“We believe that the EC has not demonstrated that there is a defect with the biometric data which was used as recently as two months ago on a nationwide scale to necessitate spending $70 million on mass registration,” they insisted, adding that “it has already conducted limited registration for the district elections and should be using that benchmark cost for the general elections limited registration.”
Had the EC, according to the CSOs, reached out to truly independent experts to advise it “no biometric authentication system can offer a 100% matching accuracy under our conditions at the scale we are talking about. The EC cannot be in a position to seriously assess the quality of the existing system if it relies on the information provided by a single vendor or narrow set of vendors.”
The CSOs asked the EC to seek the support of the National Identification Authority (NIA) which they said: “will be in perfect tandem with the law and be a most justified approach.”
It is the view of the CSOs that “under the present circumstances, the expense for an end-to-end system, as opposed to a precise surgical augmentation and improvement of the existing system, is not justified.”
“If even we have to spend money on collecting new data they said ‘then it is the NIA which must do so and complete its database and National Identification process, which we were promised would be completed by now.”
The proposed addition of Facial Recognition according to the CSOs ‘is an exotic appendage that adds little after the person has been identified by fingerprint, name, location and other attributes.”
If the present fingerprint system doesn’t identify the person, there is little the additional facial recognition can do, and if it identifies the person, the facial recognition is superfluous even if desirable.
By Issah Mohammed|DGN Online