HARGEISA, 4 August 2009 (Somalilandpress) — Following a series of recent accusations reported in the Somaliland media, Interpeace is compelled to clarify a number of points.
On 23 July 2009, a newspaper reported comments by an official of the Ministry of Planning, accusing Interpeace of working illegally in Somaliland because it is not registered under the Ministry. Under Somaliland law, Interpeace is not required to register as it is present only as a PROJECT with contracted consultants and does not have or intend to have a permanent presence on the ground. Interpeace does not have its own premises and its consultancy work is carried out from the National Electoral Commission (NEC) offices; its status is that of a consultant (not of an international organization established in Somaliland). Furthermore, Interpeace is present at the invitation of the Somaliland National Electoral Commission (NEC) and supported the successful parliamentary elections in 2005 and the construction of the Parliamentary Building under similar terms. Interpeace has asked for an official citation from the Ministry of Planning to clarify these points.
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There have been other media reports (for example on 20 and 21 July 2009) of accusations against Interpeace with respect to the Voter Registration System and the Voter List. While every effort is being made to address the massive abuse of the system during the registration period – and to finalise the Voter List for 27 July 2009, Interpeace notes for the record that any delays in technical preparations for the presidential election on 27 September 2009 do NOT relate to the production of the Voter List.
Background on the voter registration system
1. The National Electoral Commission (NEC), President Riyale and the political parties insisted on a sophisticated biometric (fingerprint identification) system, against the explicit advice of Interpeace and the donors; both recommended using a simpler manual system in order to avoid potential delays from an electronic one that Somalilanders would not be familiar with and that would require recruiting extra personnel and obtaining materials from abroad.
2. Donors provided about $10 million for the development and implementation of this ambitious system, of which over $ 5 million was directly contracted to Somaliland vendors and the employment of thousands of Somalilanders to implement the programme.
3. The Voter Registration system was seriously abused during its implementation, with widespread corruption and systematic fraud, resulting in the failure to record the fingerprints of more than half of all registrants. In other cases, over 150 registrations were made with a single fingerprint at the same registration centre, or through photographs instead of in person.
4. NEC refused to accept additional oversight support in the field or to implement proposed measures to curtail abuse of the registration system. These abuses are illegal and those responsible should be held to account but not a single case has been brought to court despite ample evidence.
5. In order to rescue the voter registration exercise, a second back-up facial recognition system (FRS) was introduced for which the system was not originally designed. This is an unprecedented and technically complex exercise, which was undertaken in order to rescue this unique opportunity for Somalilanders for both voter registration and a national identity card – as well as to protect the huge investment and effort incurred. All political parties agreed that the system must be saved and the complex FRS system was developed to do that.
6. The technical challenges in addressing the abuse of the voter registration system were aggravated after the 29 October 2008 attack in Hargeisa, which led to the withdrawal of the Indian IT company that was developing and supporting the implementation of the system.
7. New technical experts took their place and enormous efforts have been made to identify and eliminate the most flagrant violations, and to produce a Final Voter List that is credible and technically sound.
8. There is no National Registrar in post because the NEC and the parties have failed to reach agreement on this for the past 16 months. The acting National Registrar has been fully trained by Interpeace and intimately involved in the development of the Final Voter List. But, as the acting official, he cannot build a team of qualified Somaliland technicians to run the Server and the Final Voter List process, which were the original intent and the commitment of NEC. Interpeace has serious concerns about management of the Server after the Voter List is produced in the absence of a National Registrar and trained staff to manage it.
Independent evaluation of the voter registration system and production of the Voter List
The independent experts who evaluated the voter registration system and production of the Voter List briefed the technical representatives of the political parties on Tuesday 22 July. Some key points as follows:
1. The voter registration system is transparent and the database is sound
2. There is almost no exclusion (disenfranchisement) of genuine registrants, which is impressive, significant and important.
3. The Automated Fingerprint Identification (AFIS) and Facial Recognition (FRS) systems are both sound but not operating together as well as expected.
4. This is because the introduction of the secondary system (Facial Recognition) introduces huge complications into the programming, which was done to rescue the voter registration after the abuse of the Fingerprint Identification System.
5. No system can catch all fraudulent registrations [just as no justice system can catch all criminals and perpetrators]; but the system is allowing through too many double/ multiple registrants, resulting in an unrealistic total of 1.2 million registrations.
6. This can be dealt with by adjusting one of the parameters. On 23 July, NEC approved the adjustment of the parameter to produce a more accurate and robust Voter List that eliminates more of the double/ multiple registrants. The Company that devises the program has already presented the corrections and the server is running the new program.
While the Somaliland media is commended for its intention to inform the public of current dynamics, it is unfortunate when Somaliland’s official business is addressed primarily through the newspapers rather than managed by the wisdom of its institutions and leaders, as entrusted to them by the law of the land and on behalf of the people.
Interpeace reiterates to the Somaliland people that any delay in holding the presidential election is not due to the production of the Voter List. The real problem is the fulfilment of the necessary preconditions to hold the election, summarised in the donors’ communication of 27 May 2009. If the Somalilanders are going to exercise their right to vote on September 27, it is essential to start the preparation NOW but this is not possible until the foundations for a credible election are put in place by the Somaliland stakeholders.