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Papua New Guinea advised against using biometrics in next year’s election

Papua New Guinea advised against using biometrics in next year’s election

Terence Wood, a Research Fellow at the Development Policy Center — an Australia-based aid and development policy think tank — has called on the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to hold off introducing biometric technology for the country’s 2022 elections.

He has also suggested that the government make no changes as yet to the vote counting system which has been in place.

Wood makes this and a number of other suggestions in a blog article published by Devpolicy in which he examines the challenges that could affect the smooth and hitch-free conduct of elections in the southwestern Pacific nation. The polls are planned to begin in late June 2022.

Some of the challenges Wood mentions include the COVID pandemic, with new variants accelerating infections in the country, the cash-strapped condition of the government as a result of the pandemic, as well as delays in commencement of the process to update voter rolls.

The Election Commission of Papua New Guinea (PNGEC) has been keen on introducing biometric technology in the upcoming election, saying a biometric system will enable the electoral body build a voter roll that contains photos of voters and which can also capture photos for instant production of voter ID cards.

Last month, the Commission said it had acquired 120 biometric machines to begin small scale voter verification in 89 electorates, beginning with the capital city Port Moresby, after which the exercise will be extended to the entire country.

But Wood calls the proposed changes to the electoral system “unneeded or unhelpful changes,” and believes the biometric project should be shelved because although biometric technology has the potential to deliver credible elections, they are no panacea and can also go “badly wrong” at times.

“ID cards are simpler than some biometric tools, but still sound ambitious given the PNG’s ongoing travails trying to implement a non-electoral national ID card system. What’s more, there just isn’t time to implement a major new electoral technology nationwide. Trials in a small number of electorates might be feasible, but even these will be a distraction in the midst of a difficult election,” Wood opines.

What he thinks the government should do now is consider election spending a priority by making sufficient funds available to the Electoral Commission.

While criticizing the government for underfunding previous elections, he holds that the government, though broke, can source seek for help from Australia which he says is helping the PNG government to stay afloat financially.

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