THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has been accused of doing Zanu PF’s bidding ahead of next year’s general elections. There have also been concerns that the Zec secretariat is packed with state agents and that the commission is trying to rope in controversial Israeli company Nikuv again to manipulate the voters’ roll. Zimbabwe Independent senior political reporter Wongai Zhangazha (WZ) engaged Zec chairperson Rita Makarau on these issues and more. Below are excerpts of her written responses.
WZ: The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) was allocated only US$9,7 million in the 2017 national budget, yet you have budgeted US$274 million for next year’s elections. How has the low allocation affected preparations for next year’s general elections and Zec’s work in general?
RM: There is a distinction between the normal operations budget, which is the US$9,7 million that you mention. This is meant for our daily operational needs and is not meant to cover elections. Whenever we have an election, in addition to the operational budget, we get a budget specific to the election or by-election. This is why despite the low operational budget, we have managed to conduct each and every by-election whenever it fell due. The low operational budget has no impact on our preparations for the general elections which are funded for separately.
WZ: Given the funding constraints, is Zec confident of conducting a proper election?
RM: Zec will conduct the elections in accordance with the law, and is confident that the government will avail all the necessary funding for the elections.
WZ: Zec intends to conduct biometric voter registration (BVR) and compile a voters’ roll before the 2018 general elections. What progress has been made so far?
RM: The tender for the supply of Biometric Voter Registration kits was awarded to Laxton Group Limited. The Commission now awaits the delivery of the kits as per contract agreement. Delivery of the first batch of kits is expected on or before August 31 2017 and these will be used for the purposes of training the operators of the kits.
The voter registration exercise will commence once the remaining 2 600 the kits have been delivered and is expected to run for two-and-a-half months. During this period, Zec is confident that it will be able to register all eligible voters using the 3 000 kits that it has procured.
WZ: When does the commission hope to start the BVR process?
RM: The commission intends to roll out the BVR process in October 2017, subject to delivery of the kits in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
WZ: I understand that before the tender for the supply of BVR kits was awarded to the Chinese company Laxton Group Limited, Zec wanted the tender to be awarded to Dermalog Identification Systems from Germany. However, the State Procurement Board (SPB) forced Zec to award the tender to Laxton Group Limited. Why did Zec want the German company?
RM: The award of the tender to Laxton Group Limited was done by the State Procurement Board. In such a process, the views and recommendations of Zec are not binding on the State Procurement Board and therefore become unimportant and irrelevant.
WZ: Some civil society organisations have been raising concerns about the reintroduction of the requirement of proof of residence before voter registration, arguing that the requirement might result in the disenfranchisement of some voters. What is your take on that?
RM: The requirement for proof of residence is a legal obligation and is one of the legal requirements for one to qualify to be a voter. This is provided for in section 23 of the Electoral Act and if political parties strongly feel that this legal requirement should be scrapped, they need to approach parliament for the necessary amendments to be effected to the law. Zec cannot change the law and cannot operate outside the legal framework governing the registration of voters. Zec cannot ignore the clear requirements of the law and overlook the need for proof of residence as this will render the registration a nullity.
Instead, Zec has tried in the regulations to make it as easy as possible for all to prove their residence by expanding on the number and nature of documents that can be tendered as proof of residence. Zec is confident that with the expanded list, all Zimbabweans can prove their residence.
WZ: Can you explain the legal processes and timelines to be followed from the period of registration of voters to voting?
RM: After registration the commission will process the collected data into voters’ rolls by cleaning it for duplicates. The new voters’ rolls will then be laid open for inspection for people to check if their details were correctly entered. Those who may want to transfer their names during the same period will be afforded the opportunity to do so. After proclamation of the election date, nomination courts sit at least 14 days and at most 21 days after the proclamation. The voters` roll closes 12 days after the sitting of nomination courts and polling should be set at least 30 days and at most 63 days from the date of nomination courts.
WZ: Given legal processes to be followed, when is Zec likely to be ready to hold credible elections?
RM: Zec will hold elections on the date that will have been proclaimed as such. It is common cause that elections will be held in 2018. By then all legal processes will have been completed.
WZ: There have been concerns that Zec is compromised and pro-Zanu PF, particularly the secretariat which is, many say, militarised. Is that the case?
RM: No. The concerns are baseless and regrettable.
WZ: Opposition parties under the National Electoral Reform Agenda wrote to President Mugabe demanding the disbandment of the Zec secretariat, saying it is biased and packed with securocrats while also accusing Zec of failing to institutionally renew itself to an impartial and independent electoral management body. What is your view of their assessment?
RM: The assessment is again regrettable. I have at a number of for a maintained that there is no serving member of the military or any other security force on the establishment of Zec. I still maintain this.
WZ: What is Zec doing to address concerns raised by opposition political parties such as the electoral body’s failure to act or speak against vote buying, bribery, involvement of the military, intimidation and abuse of food aid in by-elections held since 2013.
RM: Zec is against the vices mentioned in your question and where reports have been made to it, it has invoked the measures provided for in Section 133F to 133K of the Electoral Act for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the ZRP to investigate the allegations and report back to Zec.