Story by ALFRED AHIATSI
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, it will be recalled that the EC has, time without number and in line with its constitutional mandate, served notice that it intends to procure a new Biometric Voter Management Solution ahead of the 2020 General Elections which will, therefore, lead to the compilation of a new voters register, and has proceeded to justify the need to do so.
In arriving at this decision, the Commission consulted all the relevant stakeholders particularly the political parties through IPAC, where extensive deliberations have been held between the EC and political parties on the subject. The EC, in justifying the need to compile a new register, informed the parties and indeed the general public that its decision is based on the advice of its IT team and external Consultants to the effect that, it would be prudent to acquire a new system rather than refurbish the current system which had become obsolete and thus unfit for purpose.
“We have been made to understand through the expert opinion that the amount of money spent on refurbishing parts and renewing warranties could be used to acquire a brand new system that is robust, modern and durable user-friendly with full functionality and warranties” the EC stated in a press conference it held recently. Also, according to a letter from the immediate past vendors of the current biometric system, which was contracted by the Charlotte Osei-led EC, the Commission would assume so much needless risks if steps were not taken to change the equipment. Accordingly, in a letter they wrote to the EC, they stated that:
“We would be like to announce that the items in the present BVRs are End-of-Life including laptops. This means that no components are available to repair the items. For purposes of availability, maintainability, and compatibility in the future we recommend to purchase new BVRs. If you have any questions please contact us”.
So, ladies and gentlemen, we wish to ask that if you inherit a biometric system and you are advised by the entity handing over the system to you that the system had reached its end-of-life and that, it will be imprudent and unwise to want to continue spending on refurbishing the system as compared to acquiring an entirely new system, what will you do? This reasonable man will ignore such advice and continue to spend on a system that had clearly become obsolete and out of date when he could use a much lesser amount to acquire a brand new system that is robust, modern and durable user-friendly with full functionality and warranties?
Why are we being disingenuous to ourselves and not allow sincerity and candour to govern our conduct in this conversation? We should not also forget that it has always been the practice over the years for the EC to replace the voters register after every 8 years: that is after two General Elections and two District Level Elections due to population dynamics and technological innovations. The reason for the periodic replacement of the voters’ register is mainly as a result of reforms to improve the credibility and integrity of the register.
Also worthy of note is the fact that the current Biometric Verification Device (BVD) is unable to verify a number of voters electronically resulting in a high number of manual verification on voting day, which is largely unreliable and a potential source of dispute as it tends to compromise the integrity of the elections. Whilst the current Biometric Voter Device (BVDs) and the Biometric Voters Register Kits(BVRs) that the Commission uses are often challenged due to their inability to do fingerprint verification, a significant number of these devices can also not be repaired. The EC tells us that for the recently ended District Level Elections (DLE), the Commission had to refurbish and repair them to get them ready for the DLE.
“This was a labour intensive and expensive process that spanned through several months from May 2019 to December 2019 with the Commission having to hire additional hands to get the devices ready for the DLE. The Commission spent close to Two Million Ghana Cedis just for the refurbishment of the BVDs and BVRs ahead of the DLE”.
To make matters worse, the current biometric architecture does not have a facial recognition technology nor does it allow for a facial recognition add-on to be added. The new Biometric Voter Management Solution that the EC intends to acquire ahead of the 2020 elections will have a facial recognition as an additional feature for those whose fingers cannot be verified and thus reduce the high incidence of manual verification which often proves to be problematic and tends to compromise the integrity and credibility of our elections.
Not only that, but the new biometric system will also significantly reduce if not completely eliminate the increasingly high identification failure rate by using new scanners and software with improved fingerprint capturing algorithm and the use of certified fingerprint image quality assessment software to ensure image quality. Registration officials will now, have real-time image quality feedback to improve capture.
Last but not least, the EC tells us that its staff were not trained on the current solution per the contractual terms to enable the Commission takeover after the expiration of the contract. “The EC staff, therefore, are not able to, by themselves, update or enhance the software solutions at the time of the handing over. The EC is currently building and enhancing in house capacity and recruiting skilled IT Professionals. However, the source code for the software solution is not available.
It is in the possession of the vendor. It will be highly unwise on our part to continue to run a solution we do not have control over. This will be a huge risk to the Country and is akin to mortgaging our sovereignty to a vendor. A case in point is the last elections in Kenya where the vendor of the solution traveled outside the country after the elections and locked up the data. This led to a re-run and violence”. Is this what we want as a country? Certainly not…