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Zec chair guns for ‘rogue’ commissioners

Local News
ZEC chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba

SEVEN Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) commissioners, who reportedly refused to append their signatures to the electoral body’s preliminary delimitation report presented to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Parliament recently, have purportedly been “banished” by the electoral body chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba.

The “rebellious” seven — Rosewita Murutare, Kudzai Shava, Jane Mbetu-Nzvenga, Shepherd Manhivi, Abigail Mohadi, Jasper Mangwana and Catherine Mpofu — wrote to Mnangagwa and Parliament accusing Chigumba and her deputy, Rodney Simukai Kiwa of unilaterally imposing the draft delimitation report on the electoral body, resulting in them disowning the whole process.

Their letter, attached to a Constitutional Court challenge by Tonderai Chidawa in which Parliament is a respondent, partly reads: “Recognising the need to guarantee the integrity of the delimitation process through non-deviation from considerations that are laid out under section 161(6) of the Constitution; further recognising that the 2023 harmonised elections should be conducted in the next few months, and the need for the Constitution to create a voters roll that resonates with the new boundaries, this is impossible with the remaining time; concerned that the current draft delimitation proposal does not meet the minimum standards expected regarding transparent procedures that strengthen stakeholders’ confidence and dispel potential gerrymandering allegations; and further concerned that the current draft delimitation proposal is not people-centred and not in an understandable format. We hereby resolve to: Put aside the current draft delimitation proposal except as a reference point for a proper delimitation process to be conducted and wholly guided by the Commissioners after the 2023 harmonised elections.”

The Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee on the Analysis of the Zec 2022 Preliminary Report on Delimitation Exercise identified several inconsistencies and irregularities that the commission should address before presenting the final delimitation report.

Sources say the seven commissioners had hoped that Mnangagwa and Parliament would reject the report in its entirety without making any recommendations which would have a serious negative indictment on Chigumba and her deputy.

However, this did not happen after both the President and Parliament instead made some recommendations: A green light for her to rework the controversial draft delimitation report which has also been roundly criticised by both ordinary Zimbabweans and constitutional experts.

Chigumba, who has been nicknamed the Iron Lady by staffers at the electoral body, is said to be unperturbed by the failed palace coup by the seven commissioners and has reportedly turned the swords against them.

“Chigumba is well versed in the process since she is a judge. She was not disturbed by their move to discredit her. Commissioners such as Manhivi, who is a registered legal practitioner with a law degree, and holds other two additional degrees in administration and international relations; and Mpofu, who is a language, communications specialist and peace practitioner and have experience working with the public, media and civil society from the legislative arm of the State, should be taking a leading role in the report, but have not been consulted,” a source said.

Other commissioners, Mangwana, who is an IT specialist, Mbetu-Nzvenga a psychologist, Marutare a social scientist and Shava a disability specialist, would naturally have a peripheral role in the delimitation report.

“It’s not happening, they are just redundant now,” the source added.

Mangwana said his hands were tied to comment on the issue.

“Please talk to Zec chief executive officer Utloile Silaigwana,” he said.

Silaigwana asked NewsDay to send questions in writing, but he had not responded to them by the time of going to print.

Chigumba is now said to be relying more on the Zec secretariat to finish the recommendations within the timeframe provided by the Constitution.

Recently, Chigumba revealed that she summoned Zec provincial and district officers to work 12-hour shifts in a bid to satisfy Mnangagwa and Parliament’s recommendations.

“I have just received this report from His Excellency, the President, in terms of the Constitution which entitles him to raise some concerns with the preliminary delimitation report and to forward his concerns to Zec. His concerns have been duly received and at the moment, we have convened all the district election officers and provincial election officers in Harare. Over the weekend, they were working on the report from the ad-hoc committee from Parliament,” Chigumba said last week Monday after receiving recommendations from Mnangagwa.

“I am sure tonight they will be working in 12-hour shifts on the report from His Excellency, the President. We are working urgently because time is of the essence. We were supposed to work on the final delimitation report to be gazetted by the President before a certain date for us to use these boundaries for the 2023 harmonised elections. What we expect is that sometime next week, we will have a draft ready which will be the privilege of the President to review before we print a final report which he will then gazette at his convenience,” she added.

Constitutional law expert and Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) chairperson Lovemore Madhuku last week addressed a Press conference as the Polad Governance and Legislative Agenda committee chairperson, where he said the squabbles characterising the internal governance of Zec were of concern.

“Zec is a corporate body consisting of nine commissioners. Under no circumstances may Zec operate or purport to work without the collective position of all commissioners. The delimitation process cannot be the work of one or two commissioners. There must be evidence that all commissioners are involved at every stage of the delimitation report,” Madhuku said. 

Legal and constitutional think-tank Veritas says even if section 161(9) of the Constitution stipulates that once the preliminary report has been referred back to Zec for further consideration of any matter, this does not mean that the electoral body should disregard the Constitution.

“Zec’s decisions are final and conclusive in matters where Zec can exercise a discretion — for instance to draw a boundary in order to take account of particular physical features or to reflect community of interest between voters — but in matters of constitutionality, Zec has no discretion: The final delimitation report must comply with the Constitution. Hence if Parliament correctly points out that Zec has used an unconstitutional formula to calculate differences in voter numbers between constituencies and wards, Zec must correct its mistake. It has no discretion in the matter,” Veritas said.

It also said once Zec has made the necessary corrections to its report, it should submit a final report to Mnangagwa as soon as possible (section 161(10) of the Constitution), and the President should publish the final report in the Gazette within 14 days (section 161(11)).

“We observed in previous bulletins that Zec’s disregard of the correct formula for calculating differences in voter numbers means that many constituencies and wards in the preliminary report are above and below the 20% limits,” Veritas said.

“Correcting these errors will entail substantially revising the report. And Zec will also have to look at the other points raised by Parliament’s ad hoc committee:  the failure to consult chiefs, for example, and lack of clarity in the maps. All this will take time, and the time available is short.  We hope Zec will be able to meet the deadline, because the credibility of this year’s general election depends on it.”

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