'Govt must urgently fund voter registration'

HARARE - Government must urgently fund the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to enable it to conduct polling station-based biometric voter registration (BVR), the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (Zesn) said.

The independent observer group expressed worry that the forthcoming 2018 election could be seriously compromised by voter registration problems arising from a funding shortfall that could disenfranchise eligible Zimbabwean voters.

Zesn — the largest independent polls monitoring body in the country — said it had learnt with concern that government has not yet availed its share of financial support, apart from the $9,8 million allocated to the commission by Treasury at the end of 2016 against a total budget requirement of $50 million for the BVR process alone.

Government had pledged $17 million while other development partners through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) pledged the balance.

The biometric polling station-based voter registration process is supposed to be financed jointly by the government of Zimbabwe and the UNDP.

There are fears that an acrimonious election could degenerate into violence, as what happened in the aftermath of the 2008 election when about 200 MDC supporters were killed in the wake of a first-round defeat of President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.

In the 2017 National Budget, government allocated a paltry $8,3 million to Zec, which was far short of the $29 million that the commission had requested to enable it to acquire vehicles for the voter registration exercise.

“Zec has always faced perennial financial constraints and this is extremely worrying,” said Zesn director, Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, in a statement. 

“We have noted from our recent observation of by-elections that a number of electoral processes are being undertaken with inadequate funding and voter education programmes are one of those processes that have been seriously affected.”

Section 239 (c), (d) and (e) of the Constitution mandates Zec to register voters, compile the voters’ rolls as well as ensure proper custody and maintenance of the voters’ rolls.

With the polling station-based voters’ roll, one can only vote at one specific polling station where his or her name appears in the voters’ roll unless where exceptions apply.

Given these powers and mandate enshrined in the Constitution, the Zesn director urged the government to ensure that Zec is sufficiently and timeously resourced with technical, financial and human resources.

The poll watchdog urged government to seriously commit to this process which commenced last year with the mapping exercise.

Zec and UNDP have flighted a tender inviting potential local and international companies to supply the biometric voter registration (BVR) kits — an indication that there is no going back with BVR.

The public advertisement indicates that the tender will close on January 17, 2017.

“As Zimbabwe prepares for the harmonised elections scheduled for 2018, a comprehensive voters’ roll will contribute immensely to the credibility of these elections hence the need for the government and Zec to take this process seriously.

“Furthermore, Zec should open up all electoral processes to observers and other key electoral stakeholders for scrutiny.

“In the case of the BVR process, observers should be invited to monitor the tendering, procurement, deployment, data recovery procedures, de-duplication among other key BVR processes.

“This will enhance the confidence of stakeholders in the processes and improve Zec’s accountability and transparency,” Chipfunde-Vava said. 

The BVR process will be one of the key electoral process which will culminate in the creation of a fresh voters’ roll for Zimbabwe if done properly and in line with regionally and internationally-recognised principles such as inclusivity, accuracy, comprehensiveness and completeness.

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