The EC’s New Clothes and Other Stories

“A decorated monkey they say, is still, a monkey” — anonymous

Our November 7 elections would be the biggest test of our 24-year old democracy. It would be a test of incumbency against the force of the opposition to turn tables around their favour. Well yeah, it has always been!

Now, whilst the teams are readying to get onto the pitch in this quadrennial event so much that it might deserve to be called the Electoral World Cup, the fever is getting high, and squads are being selected or benched, coaches and technical crews being enlisted and some, deported, and of course those armchair pundits giving their ‘expert’ analysis across the media — then we are told our referee for the match is considering a change of wardrobe, far fetched from the usual garments that has the seal of our nation.

It beats my imagination why the EC chooses to draw unnecessary attention to herself (the institution) in an election year where obviously the most important activity is, the general elections. A few thoughts about the EC and some observations with other state institutions come to mind;

Is there is a lack of sense of priority?

The word ‘triage’, is often evoked in my field as a software engineer in dealing with client support issues. It is commonly used in emergency medical services and originates from war times in 19th and 20th century including WWI.

In simple terms, triage was how those responsible for transporting the wounded from the battle zones to the medical centres prioritise actions by sorting: Priority 1 (the Highest) — the critically injured and in danger of death; Priority 2 — the severely injured but require urgent treatment; Priority 3 — those with minor injuries that may not need medical immediate attention, aka the walking wounded.

The dead, though fallen gallantly, would be retrieved later and then there is the able-bodied still continuing in the fight.

Ahead of the November polls, there are a number of action items that have been making news that may directly or indirectly affect the credibility and acceptance of the November polls: there have been issues raised about the validity current electoral register; we have a new voters registration exercise to onboard new voters; we have actions to take from the 2012 polls; as always our elections are proudly sponsored in part by some international aid which makes me wonder do we necessarily need those funds if we can cut something?; and many more little foxes that try to take a bite at our track record of credible elections. Oh I almost forgot, let us add rebranding the EC (logo, stationery, assets, materials, website etc.) to the list.

Now, how does a triage come up with rebranding the EC as a key priority ahead of a single most important event on their calendar? What then warrants a new identity? In 1997, Zaire changed their flag and name to DR Congo after the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko; Rwanda changed its flag in 2001 to avoid connotations to the 1994 genocide. Now what would have demanded this change of EC identity? Hmmm.

I researched around this topic and found the EC’s strategic plan 2016–2020. According to pp. 31–32 which covers the key risks to the EC’s credibility and ability to deliver independent, world class trusted elections. A top key risk area defined with high probability and high impact is the Negatively Entrenched belief about the performance of the EC. Though I may suggest the EC was well in the thick of the 2012 post-elections court case, it may be almost inevitable that they would be respondents to a legal suit on elections — since it is not a perfect act, where it is safe to assume logistics, resources and execution as the chief troika of headaches. Does this mean we should expect a logo change after the November polls if the 2012 election challenges were to repeat or when we face new ones? Come again.

As a learning people, I would suppose that recommendations from the 2012 elections would be taken into consideration with many like this one by Mustapha Abdullah, Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre which suggests punitive actions and reforms to be taken in line with election administration from the last polls. I suppose some reforms have been considered and are in place, next step, is to communicate them.

Communicate what you intend to do differently to the people and what you will not compromise on.

Communicate it early, clearly and widely — that is how you build public interest and credibility. We see every election to be a potentially challenging one and the chance to avoid the mistakes of the previous elections whilst taking feedback to improve — we call it being agile, a common concept in software and engineering.

Being agile would mean strive for 2016 to be our best elections yet by communicating improvements to the electoral process and getting citizens involved in the goals of the process through specific campaigns to address such issues to be dealt with like multiple registration, spoilt ballots, polling station process irregularities etc. — we then take learnings from 2016 to improve the next electoral outing, that way, we are continuously incrementing on the scale of near-perfect elections where a challenge that has been resolved in a previous election is no longer a thing to disrupt a future election.

Whilst I think communicating each electoral season’s goals is important, rebranding might be an extreme makeover. Communicating goals and activities are key to building trust. Is it not irony that measures such as this logo change is meant to build public confidence but then the hide-and-seek communication about change are doing well enough to cast doubts on the seriousness and focus of the EC? Communicating goals must be the bulk of voter education programs, which is another mandate of the EC. I would share a concept I just thought up in a future post, I call it the five finger points, still working on a logo for it :)

Our elections continue to be supported by international aid and with the British government suggesting this might be their last commitment, and the commission hoping to get timely funds from the government whose coat of arms it no longer bears, I must re-echo Kwaku Baako’s advise to the EC to be prudent in the spending of public funds. I would long to see an election that is wholly funded by the state.

Is there is a sense of complacency?

Could we say our referee is complacent? riding on the success of six general elections, perhaps we know very well how to deal an election? The EC Strategic Plan 2016–2020 lists some well admirable goals and I am keen to see them take form — and follow through with updates to the public. Those are tenets of accountability which indeed is a sign of good governance and stewardship.

Just as we have the ballot and other process to adjudicate government’s accountability, we the people, have the document. We would hold you accountable to your commitments — why? I am a stakeholder as a citizen of Ghana and I pay the taxes that funds the state and its bodies to operate.

Talking about taxes…

Can there be a method to this madness?

Whilst I began on this post, I was just made aware of the new income tax brackets and I quickly looked up the Ghana Revenue Authority website. For a moment, I was taken aback by a new website and in typical this-day-state-institution-trend, a new logo to match — aha! you didn’t see this one did you? The GRA only came into existence in 2009 and they are already started on second season of Game of Logos.

(L) GRA logo c. 2009 (R) Logo on GRA website c. April 2016

There is clearly a change-name-or-logo-or-both frenzy going on at state institutions here in Ghana, sadly change-in-attitude did not make the list. Sometime ago it was the NHIS/NHIS-NHIA, FDB/FDA, fast forward a bit and we are here — the EC and the GRA, I wonder who might be next? the GES? Ah what are they doing with the coat of arms in the classroom? — ok, let’s change it!

And by the way, I’m waiting for the GRA to come tell us what the logo means — I see a cowry, an eagle? and oh, more taxes!

I then ask, can there be a method to this madness? Since these bodies are created by an Act of Parliament, should they not consult the same body when they decide to change their public identity and common seal especially when it takes away any connection it has with our national coat of arms which, we still believe is free from any bias?

Our systems as they are ensure there is no clash of identities, in this scenario: H.E. John D. Mahama, the president, bears the presidential seal which features our coat of arms, but on November 7, on the ballot paper would be the NDC emblem next to his name and next to that box for me to choose whether to give him the mandate he asks.

Let us for one second agree with the point of “no coat of arms”, as the EC put it “We are NOT a government institution and we are demonstrating our independence by NOT using the coat or Arms that is representative of our Government.” — what stops the next EC boss from changing the logo? How do we deal with multiple identities of state mandated institutions? Is a logo change the most effective way of sending a message about new vision — Perhaps, I should give GCB a call this week? What is the relevance of the coat of arms with institutions created by an act of parliament? do these institutions have this planned and budgeted and approved by parliament as part of a strategic plan? are we the people aware of these costs? I read one report that quoted the EC Chair as saying that she had no idea how much the rebranding will or has cost! Just wow!

Don’t quote me wrong…

Just if you did not catch the main arguments in this article, I am not against a new logo for public institutions, far from it, I am for a method to which public institutions go about representing themselves in the interest of the good people of Ghana. There is the ministries which get named at the will of the Executive, we’ve seen quite a number come and stay and of course go with a new government in office — ministry of tourism and modernisation of the capital city, diasporian relations, ministry of education, youth and sports, then split them, then join them and left joins and unions and it all gets funny.

Let us look at this from a perspective as some persons or institution having dealings with the country if today you are the Institution of A&B and have a circle for your logo and in two years, you have a square for your logo and named the the Authority of A&B+C or split into some two other entities, how can we continue in interest of my business and the state? who takes responsibility for the agreements signed or shall there be judgement debts? there also is the legal implications of such changes, the costs, and oh, there is also the question of how people and institutions are protected from others who would wish to use the ever-changing identity of the institutions to prey on unsuspecting victims?

The US state of Tennessee last May, rallied its various institutions around one common identifying logo, a USD 46,000 logo — story for another day. The problem they were trying to solve is perhaps similar to one we are getting head first into — with our state institutions having identities and names spinning in all directions.

To avoid a future situation where institutions can rebrand and rename and confuse the people they serve, I call on parliament irrespective of your affiliation to speak up and to curb this by formalising the names and seals of all state institutions including ministries. It also puts to bed the unnecessary campaign argument of more vs lesser ministries and ministers. It would order that there are fixed identities for ministries and state institutions and they can be only changed through an act of the people’s representation. It would imply that the Executive can only propose specialised ministries if and only if there exists no, institution to fulfil that mandate or after consideration must be split to do so effectively. A good example are the departments (ministries) of the US government the most recent was formed in 2002 — the department of Homeland Security, in response to the 9–11 attacks — prior to that the last department created was that of the Veterans Affairs in March 1989.

As is clearly seen, a demand when not met by existing structures give room for new institutions to be created with clearly defined roles and not given to ambiguities like we have ever seen, the Ministry of Roads and Highways, Ministry of Ports, Harbours & Railways and the Ministry of Transport, how do we even explain this?

There should be opportunities to discuss this across the national divide and for people to submit entries for consideration. Through such open opportunities do we recognise, celebrate and immortalise the contributions of our artists and gifted — such as Nii Amon Kotei, the designer of our national coat of arms; Theodosia Okoh, who gave us our national flag; Philip Gbeho and Michael Kwame Gbordzoe for the music and lyrics to the National Anthem. It is indeed a beautiful and creative way to have the people contribute to nation building.

To the most scrutinised institution of 2016, the EC, I believe you can deliver the mandate of free, fair and credible elections once more — and in our most keenly contested elections yet, and I look to the commission to show the citizenry its will to do so. My hope is that that our institutions, our leaders and our people put Ghana and her future, first — in their dealings and ambitions, and after all is said and done, this land is what we call home.

Here’s a fun game to reward your long read of this article. 
Which if these is the new EC logo? You can leave your answer as a comment below.

Which is the new EC logo? From my learnings in heraldry — an art form that dictates how flags, coat of arms and even logos are designed — the proposed new logo, also violates the Rule of Tincture