ZIMBABWE Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson, Priscilla Chigumba yesterday insisted that the electoral management body was well prepared for the upcoming elections, although it was operating on a shoestring budget of $95 million out of the requested $148 million.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
Chigumba made the remarks, when she appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media and Information Communication Technology.
She was accompanied by commissioners, Joyce Kazembe and Qhubani Moyo to speak on issues of access to public media during elections.
She told MPs that the law allowed monitoring of the media by Zec to take place between proclamation and declaration of results.
Chigumba said the legislation, however, did not give Zec powers to monitor the media prior to elections, adding that the law demanded that all candidates must have access to broadcast and print media.
“The challenges in regulating the media is with new media which includes internet, mobile phones, blogs, video sharing sites and others, and this is media, which should be distinguished from traditional media like radio, television, newspapers and magazines,” she said.
“It is difficult to regulate and censor authors of new media, who do not adhere to journalism standards.”
Acting chairperson of the media committee, Kindness Paradza suggested that Zec scrap accreditation fees for journalists.
Chigumba said there was room for the commission to look into the issue, adding the law allowed Zec to charge fees for accreditation of observers, and even journalists.
Moyo said the accreditation of journalists was to allow them to get into polling stations and centres of registration. He said this did not mean other journalists cannot cover other issues of elections.
Chigumba told the committee that Zec forwarded further amendments to the Electoral Amendment Bill, which is before Parliament.
The amendments include allowing people to be assisted to vote by individuals of their choice, that polling stations should not register more than 1 000 people per station to enable Zec staff to complete their work efficiently, and to set a cut-off date for a candidate to pull out of elections.
On whether the military were still involved in elections, Chigumba responded: “With regards to militarisation of Zec, I made a qualified position that we do not have any serving members of the military, CIO or prisons officials. Members of the security in our books are less than 15%.”
On whether she was double dipping as a member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Zec chairperson, she said: “The JSC is my employer and I took oath. No, I have not resigned from JSC for the simple reason that the Constitution says that I will serve Zec for six years, and then go back to the High Court bench to serve as a judge. At the moment, I am not sitting on the High Court bench.”
Mabvuku-Tafara MP, James Maridadi (MDC-T) asked Chigumba to explain whether ZBC reporters that will contest elections would be disqualified since it would compromise on fair coverage of elections?
Moyo responded: “It is difficult to make a decision on those journalists interested in contesting elections until they are registered as candidates. People can speculate, and we cannot use that as a basis of disqualification. I think there is a lot that needs to be done to ensure the public broadcaster is ready for the election process. They need to be inclusive and give all players a level playing field of freeness and fairness.”