Elections

Ghana’s Voters’ Register: Who is the British High Commissioner Deceiving?

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK January 29, 2016

Last Monday January 25, Mr Kwesi Atta-Krufi Hayford, a former UK & Ireland NPP Chairman posted an article on Ghanaweb with the heading “Ghana’s Voter Register Bloated by 1.3 million – British Government”. He quoted extensively from a letter written by UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO – Ministry of Foreign Affairs) Desk Officer for Ghana, Vicki Morley in reply to Mr Adreba Kwaku Abrefa Damoa, of the Concerned Ghanaians in the UK Against Electoral Fraud, who had presented a petition to the UK Prime Minister over Ghana’s Voters’ Register. A section of the quotes which was the basis of the heading of the article was in my view undiplomatic so I decided to verify the accuracy Vicki Morley’s letter. I contacted FCO Newsdesk by e-mail and provided weblink of the aforementioned article. I telephoned FCO Newsdesk and hour later and told that my enquiry had been forwarded to the Policy Team and someone should get back to me but no one did. Later in the day, the British High Commissioner in Accra issued a statement stating among others that, “we are disappointed that certain media outlets continue to report inaccurately the British Government’s views, and have wilfully misrepresented what we have said”. This article is an analysis of paragraph two of Vicki Morley’s letter and the denial by the High Commissioner and FCO.

Vicki Morely’s letter dated December 23, 2015 (a scan copy of which I have) and written on behalf of the Prime Minister or UK government stated in paragraph two and I quote the relevant section. “We are fully aware of the concerns regarding the voter register – we note that the average population percentage in Ghana of those eligible to vote is approximately 52%, which is 10% higher than the continental average”. On Tuesday January 26, 2016, the Daily Guide published a copy of Vicki Morley’s letter with the denial of the High Commissioner (see, “British High Commission Clarifies Bloated Register, Daily Guide”). I sent a weblink of the Daily Guide report containing a copy of Vicki Morley’s letter to FCO Newsdesk and asked for further clarification because I thought the claim of wilful misrepresentation of by the High Commissioner was disingenuous.

Wednesday January 27, 2016, I received e-mail response from Imogen Maxwell of the FCO Newsdesk, among others repeating what the High Commissioner in Accra had said and I quote. “We are disappointed that certain media outlets continue to report inaccurately the British Government’s views, and have wilfully misrepresented what we have said”. I replied as follows, “I note that you did not deny the contents of Vicki Morley’s letter. However, I am disappointed that you claim that, “certain media outlets continue to report inaccurately the British Government’s views and have wilfully misrepresented what we said”. What Vicki Morley stated in her letter is a statement of fact, which was, that the British government was aware Ghana’s Voters’ Register was 10% higher than the continental average. This is not a statement in dispute as Ghanaians say “book no lie” (what is written cannot be disputed). I think it is the FCO and the High Commissioner in Accra that are diplomatically being economical with the truth on what Vicki Morley stated in her letter to the extent that you may be patronising the Ghanaian media. However, I blame Ghanaian journalists for not probing this matter further”. I have not heard again from FCO.

Now let’s critically analyse what Vicki Morely stated in her letter “we note that the average population percentage in Ghana of those eligible to vote is approximately 52%, which is 10% higher than the continental average”. Who is the “we” referring to? That is indisputable and is the British Government. What is 10% of the eligible voter population in Ghana? There is no accurate figure on website of the Statistical Service as the data gives age ranges of 10 to 19, 20 to 29, 20 to 39 and 45 plus. The figures for ages 19 to 45 and above should give total eligible voter population of 12,352,450 as at 2012. It is therefore reasonable that if those age 18 is added the total eligible voter population of 13 million will be reasonable. What is 10% of 13 million? That is 1.3 million. These are facts and therefore accurate that Vicki Morley stated that the British government is aware that Ghana’s voter register is 1.3million more than what it should be. So what is the British High Commissioner in Accra or the FCO in London disputing? Why are they patroninising Ghanaians by claiming that the 10% statement is being “wilfully misrepresented what we have said” or inaccurately reporting the British government’s views?

The above analysis is logical, reasonable and accurate interpretation of Vicki Morley’s letter and they should stop being economical with the truth. Perhaps, they did not expect Vicki Morley’s letter to become public and now that they have been caught red handed, they are trying to put their spin (propaganda) on an embarrassing situation but some of us will not buy it.

The British High Commissioner has got away with insulting the intelligence of Ghanaians because most journalists in Ghana are lazy and afraid of challenging authority. Instead of obtaining a copy of Vicki Morley’s letter as I did and challenging the British High Commissioner’s denial of the facts, they just accepted his version and end of story. UK journalists will not accept a Higher Commissioner’s word when there is documentary evidence to the contrary.

There is no doubt that Ghana’s Voters’ Register is not credible and in fact, the Electoral Commission and all the political parties in Ghana admit this. The problem is how to make it credible because no one knows the number of ineligible voters who are on the register. Whilst the ruling NDC prefer the existing register to be cleaned, the opposition NPP wants a new register. In typical Ghanaian political comedy, this has become NDC-NPP turf war instead of an issue of national interest. NPP’s stand on the voters’ register is not unusual to me because had NDC found itself in the same position as NPP (lost two consecutive elections, with a new Electoral Commissioner appointed by the incumbent president and whose language is dismissive of the opposition, etc) NDC would also demand a new register.

The main objective of this article is not take sides on the voters’ register dispute but to point out the dishonesty of the British High Commissioner and FCO and the denial of what is clearly a statement of fact. The other issue of interest raised in Vicky Morley’s letter is the African average that was used to compute the 10% bloated figure. Until Ghana’s Electoral Commission explained why Ghana has more than average voter registration than comparable countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, I was persuaded by this argument. The explanation that Ghana’s higher than the African average registration as a percentage of eligible voter population is accounted for the fact that the voter registration card is used by citizens as a de facto national identity card. Because of lack of a national ID card the voter ID card is accepted by all institutions including banks to open bank account. There is therefore genuine high demand for it and therefore is very good reason for citizen to register and acquire the voter ID card. Moreover, it is free and brought to citizens closer to where they reside, whilst other forms of identity such as NHIS card, driving licences and others cost money to obtain and one may have to travel long distances to obtain it. Is the Vicky Morley as FCO Ghana Desk Officer aware of this?

One must be careful with using statistical data and averages to avoid the dangers of misuse because behind the raw data are the narratives that only qualitative analysis of the quantitative data will throw up such as the Ghanaian’s using voter registration card as national ID because of its universal acceptability in Ghana and lack of a national ID card. That is what attract many including even minors to register not necessarily to vote but to obtain the voter ID Card for other purposes. Unlike in other African countries, where National ID Cards are compulsory and so there is no need to obtain other forms of national identity. In conclusion, the British High Commissioner and the FCO goofed big time and they should stop denying it and patronising Ghanaians. Ghanaians can read and understand English as well as able to analyse and interpret accurately what is written in English.

A copy of Vicki Morley’s letter is attached.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

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