Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ghana- Of voter registration and wasted computer science graduates

It's the year 2012 and Ghana is gearing up for her presidential and parliamentary elections slated for Dec 7, 2012. As has always been the custom, the voters' register is revised to take out the names of the dead, add the names of those who turned 18 within the 4 year period from the last elections, and also those who for one reason or the other could not register are given the chance to do so.


This year, the Electoral Commission of Ghana in agreement with all the political parties, has decided to usher in the era of so called biometric voter registration, a move aimed at curbing the incidence of minors who register, double registration and voting among others. This on the surface it's a laudable idea, but- and there's always a but- upon reflection, one cannot help but notice how the entire exercise makes the thousands of computer science students that the nations universities produce each year irrelevant.


How so do I mean? Four years ago the National Identification Authority started what was a nationwide exercise to register every person living in this country for a so called Ghana Card. The one card to rule them all, in LotR speak. One of the main objectives of this exercise was for the data collated to form the basis for a voters' register since the Ghana Card was going to be biometric. Millions of Dollars was spent in carrying out this exercise. 


Fast forward four years and the biometric voter registration kicked off this morning, with the goal of- guess - registering voters to be issued a biometric voter registration card. I've been asking the simple question of what happened to the NIA Ghana Cards? What has happened to the data that was collected? The NIA exercise was very comprehensive. Why can't we just use that instead of spending another US$125M in conducting this exercise? If I can use the voter registration card both for voting and as a national ID, then of what use is the Ghana Card then? 


Is it that we don't have the brains to be able to write a bunch of if-else statements to sort the data collected? What is needed for a voter register? Every data set needed to make up a voter register was collected during the NIA exercise. The same data is going to be collected again, at the expense of time, energy, money and at a considerable disruption of both work and school activities. If we have to keep duplicating duties and wasting hard cash doing so, then what becomes the use of the thousands of CS students graduating each year? Is data sorting, collating and arranging so difficult that the cost of starting from scratch is better than building on what is already available? 


We live in a country where we keep hearing the rhetorics of how we're moving forward and becoming the beacon of ICT in the Sub-Sahara region, yet almost every public act belies this. A causal walk into any IRS office will testify to this. If the politicians won't let the young, fresh CS brains they train help cut down costs, then I really don't see why they should complain about brain drain and how graduates keep leaving the country en masse. 







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