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Makarau speaks out

Zimbabwe Electoral Commiss-ion (Zec) chairperson Justice Rita Makarau (RM) has chall-enged critics who have accused Zec of being run by state security operatives and incompetent officials to prove it.

Makarau said this yesterday in a wide-ranging interview with Zimbabwe Independent senior political reporter Wongai Zhangazha (WZ). Zec has come under the spotlight as Zimbabwe approaches make-or-break general elections. Find below excerpts from the interview:

WZ: What has Zec done to raise awareness among ordinary people on voter education on registration and elections?
RM: I would want to believe that we have done quite a bit. Although we would have wanted to be more on the ground but due to limited funding and a short time-frame within which to do our voter education we couldn’t. But we believe to date that what we have done has resulted in people showing a whole lot of interest in voter registration which has reflected in the queues that were formed at our voter registration centres. People are already showing an interest to participate in the forthcoming elections whenever that date will be. We would want to believe that the interest is part of the work that Zec has done.

WZ: How much would you have wanted as Zec to do your work?
RM: We submitted a total budget between us and the Registrar-General’s office of US$21 million, out of which we got US$4 million for the Registrar-General’s Office and US$500 000 for Zec and that was very inadequate. So we got US$4,5 million out of US$21 million that we wanted.

WZ: What did you manage to cover from the little that you received?
RM: We managed to cover quite a number of wards. The wards that we covered were not the entire number of wards in the country. It resulted in us registering at least 200 000 people throughout the country.

WZ: You said you had limited time to conduct voter registration. What is the normal period for voter education?
RM: I am informed by the Registrar-General’s Office that before an election he normally does a three-month voter registration exercise.
The exercise that just ended was done over 21 days. So 21 days compared to three months you can see the difference.

Normal depends on quite a number of factors. If the Register-General’s office was constantly updating its records as it normally does then maybe we would have required a shorter period but we were informed last year there was no outreach programme to register voters so it means that they have gone for a whole year without capturing those eligible voters. So we would have needed a whole lot more than the 21 days.

WZ: There are debates, especially among political parties and civil society, on the composition of Zec, with one party saying the electoral body is being run by security operatives. What’s your comment?
RM: This is not the first time that I have heard these allegations. I have been with Zec since March just before the referendum and so far I haven’t had any evidence or seen any bias for myself. I have met a very professional team which I was quite impressed with and I am still impressed with. But if there are any examples of double allegiance by our staff to some organisations I would really like to have that information, because we would want to maintain the integrity of Zec and we would want people to trust it. So if there is any evidence I would really like to have that, then we can use it to clean up Zec.

WZ: During the Sadc facilitated negotiations between political parties, Zanu PF and MDC failed to reach an agreement on the need to recruit a new secretariat. Do you think there should be a new Zec secretariat before elections and why?
RM: No, I don’t think so. You don’t change your horses just before a big event like the elections that are forthcoming. If we were to have a new secretariat they would need training, they would need experience and I don’t think we need a new secretariat now. I believe the secretariat I found in place will be able to deliver even during the elections. We are trying our level best to deliver. But in the event that there is evidence that there is any area of incompetence, I would like such evidence to be given to the Zec as a commission for it to consider.

WZ: How is Zec funded?
RM: Zec is funded mainly by the government, although there are provisions in the Act that we can also seek donations from others, for example UNDP but with the approval of government.

WZ: How much has it been given for general elections preparations?
RM: Zero. Nothing at all at the moment.
WZ: We understand that Zec met with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa last week over funding issues. What was the nature of the discussions?

RM: Yes Zec had a meeting with Minister Chinamasa and we appraised him of our need for funding. He said they had taken the matter to cabinet, and it was a matter to be discussed by cabinet how the US$164 million we need for elections will be raised.

WZ: Over three million people voted for the new constitution. There have been some critics, especially from NGO, saying the number might have been inflated. What is your comment on that?
RM: We invite them to be specific. Figures from provincial officers have been verified and found to be authentic. If they have evidence of their claims they should come forward.

WZ: When you were appointed some people doubted your impartiality because you are a former appointed non-constituency Zanu PF Member of Parliament. Does that compromise your impartiality?
RM: I will let the people judge that at the end of the elections exercise. I cannot judge my own case.

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