ZIMBABWE is supposed to embark on a major process, which will likely transform the electoral playing field for the better — coming up with a new biometric voters’ roll (BVR), which, for the first time since independence in 1980, will not be controlled by register-general, Tobaiwa Mudede.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA
The voters’ roll has been at the heart of every contested poll amid allegations that it was the cockpit of all electoral fraud, since it was littered with dead people who miraculously vote during the polls.
Empowered by the 2013 Constitution, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) appeared to be on track to come up with what respected elections watchdog Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (Zesn) says is the nerve of any credible election — a clean voters’ roll.
The UNDP, from its base in Denmark, Copenhagen, had floated a tender for the supply of BVR kits, which according to most political parties, was handled in a transparent and respectable manner, with five companies out of the 12 interested being selected for meeting all requirements.
It is at this stage that the Zanu PF-led government, pulled the joker in its pack of cards and struck by announcing out of the blue that it now had the funding to buy the BVR kits, this sudden announcement shocked opposition parties and aroused serious debate that dominated Parliament in the past week.
The MDC-T, through its spokesperson, Obert Gutu, said a government facing a massive strike by doctors, has failed to pay civil servants bonuses and has a road network that has been declared a national disaster, can only dump the UNDP for sinister motives.
“The bankrupt and faction-infested Zanu PF regime knows fully-well that they can never win a free and fair election. Thus, in order for the regime to cling on to power, they have to control and manipulate the essential elements of the election process. This is the major reason why, all of a sudden, the regime claims that they can fund the purchasing of the biometric kits without any assistance from anyone,” he said.
The MDC-T says Zanu PF wants a vendor, who can manipulate registration software, to ensure that perceived opposition supporters are systematically disenfranchised.
“The UNDP process was proving to be too transparent for comfort. The Zanu PF regime was getting worried that if they fail to manipulate the biometric voter registration process, then their days in power are numbered. The long and short of it is that this is a game of power retention, at whatever cost,” he said.
The government has been coy on why, after indicating it had no capacity to fund the procurement of the BVR kits, it had jumped in at the last minute and where it got the money from?
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, instead, said Zimbabweans should be proud of that, instead of depending on handouts from foreigners.
“Instead, every Zimbabwean should be proud that their government is able to procure the kits to run our own elections instead of relying on donations … it is the duty of government to fund its elections,” he said.
However, Zesn says the move is likely to cause problems if major gaps and concerns are not addressed before the equipment is procured, pointing this could likely compromise the polls.
“Furthermore, Zesn notes that the Electoral Act is silent on the procedures of the procurement of the BVR equipment, hence, the need for provisions outlining how the procurement will be conducted. The absence of transparency on the procurement of the BVR kits, coupled with inadequate funding for Zec, will compromise the credibility and delivery of key electoral processes,” Zesn said in a statement.
Election Resource Centre (ERC) said, while funding of the elections was the primary role of the government, the latest move cast aspersions on the process.
“Funding of election-related costs is indeed the primary responsibility of governments globally. However, the ERC is perturbed by the continued absence of transparency characterising funding of elections by government. The recent commitment by government comes in the wake of Parliament of Zimbabwe passing a National Budget, which only availed less than 10% of funds required by Zec to support the intended biometric voter registration exercise. Clearly, the 2017 National Budget could not provide for funding of such a crucial process ahead of the 2018 elections.
“This situation leaves electoral stakeholders wondering, as to what could have motivated such a reconsideration by the government. The ERC is deeply-concerned that the new government commitment to fund procurement perpetuates a funding model for elections, which is fraught in secrecy, as it is done outside the approved national budgets,” ERC said.
Zec has, however, dismissed any mischief on the government’s behalf, saying even if they are getting funding from Treasury, they will remain in control of the procurement process and will strive for transparency.
Its chairperson, Justice Rita Makarau, says they will continue to use the UNDP system to select the supplier of the BVR kits.
“From the five companies that qualified, we are going to invite three of the lowest bids to Zimbabwe for evaluation and site validation tests, thereafter, one will be chosen and that tab will be picked by government,” she said.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson, Jacob Mafume, said while it is government’s responsibility to fund elections the manner in which this was happening was dubious.
“It is important for a government to prioritise elections, whether it is broke or not that the government wants to pay for elections is ordinarily a good thing, however, in this case someone else was willing to pay and then one wonders the motive behind not getting assistance from the UN of all places.
The tendering process had been done openly and it would have given some confidence to the process if the UNDP had completed its procurement process. One can then conclude that the government is more interested in a pre-determined outcome. It still has the hangover of the last elections,” he said.
Zimbabwe People First spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire said government just jumped in so that it could manipulate the system.
“We know there are companies linked to Nikuv that failed to meet requirements set out for the kits suppliers that the Zanu PF government now wants to smuggle back into fray through the State Procurement Board now that Mugabe’s government claims it wants to fund the procurement exercise. If the government feels compelled to chip in, why can’t it leave the procurement process that was in progress to go on and, instead, fund the rollout which is going to cost more than the machines?
“As an opposition political party, we are very worried that a competitor in the 2018 race wants to be involved in the procurement of the paraphernalia that is going to be used, just at the 11th hour,” he said.