Nera to toyi-toyi over BVR security

HARARE - A fresh row has erupted over the contentious matter of biometric voter registration (BVR) kits — with opposition parties now planning protests to force the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to guarantee the security of data gathered during voter registration exercises.

This comes as Zec has just completed the testing of BVR kits, which the wary opposition still says contain some “grey areas”.

In particular, opposition parties coalescing under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), accuse Zec of withholding the names of the companies that will supply servers to store the information collected from voters during registration.

“It appears from the validation exercise and the tender documents that the prospective vendors were not asked to supply the servers to store the information obtained during the voter registration process.

“Zec has informed us that there will be servers at district and national level. However, it has not yet advised the political parties and other stakeholders as to who will supply the servers.

“For obvious reasons, political parties would favour a situation where these servers are procured via the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme),” Nera secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora told the Daily News yesterday.

“There is a real possibility that the memory sticks could be switched between the field and the server. There is also a big possibility of the memory sticks being tempered with.

“There is therefore a need for elaborate security measures to ensure the security of the data. Other methods of the transmission of the data must be explored,” he added.

“Once the information is in the district and national servers, it is also not clear whether political parties will be allowed to audit same to ensure that the information is not added to or subtracted from.

“It is critical to know and agree as to where the servers will be located. In particular there is great need to avoid certain areas such as military cantonment areas,” Mwonzora said further.

Zimbabwe’s quest to acquire BVR kits earlier this year caused a huge political storm, with opposition parties viewing the government’s involvement in the purchase of the equipment as problematic.

This was after the government suddenly decided to sideline the UNDP from procuring the BVR kits, with unanswered questions being raised about how and where President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke administration was able to secure funding for this, to the staggering tune of $17 million.

The opposition alleged that the government had hijacked the process to rig next year’s eagerly-anticipated national elections.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Nera have been pushing for much-needed electoral reforms ahead of the make-or-break polls — demanding that Zec chairperson Rita Makarau ceases to hold two crucial but seemingly conflicting roles.

Makarau chairs Zec on a part-time basis while she holds a full-time position of secretary to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) — the appointing body for judiciary officials which also assigns and sets their conditions of service.

Opposition parties also want Zec’s secretariat to be reconstituted, claiming that it is packed with Zanu PF apparatchiks.

In March, Nera’s attempt to hold protests to press Zec for reforms was thwarted when jittery authorities deployed heavily-armed police on all of Harare’s major roads.

As a result, the opposition parties were forced to turn their demo into a rally only.

Mwonzora said yesterday that they would employ the same strategy of protests to try and force Zec to reveal the suppliers of the servers.

“It can be clearly asserted that through a dedicated struggle, which included mass action as well as legal action, opposition parties have won the BVR Kits procurement war.

“However, there remains a lot of work to be done, and thus the struggle continues.

“There is the real possibility that members of the security service, youth officers and traditional leaders will play key roles in the voter registration exercise, including acting as voter registration officers. This needs to be fought tooth and nail,” Mwonzora said.

In the meantime, Tsvangirai and leaders of smaller opposition parties, who include former Vice President Joice Mujuru, have been working on a grand coalition which analysts say presents them with the best opportunity of finally ending Mugabe and Zanu PF’s long but tumultuous rule.

In significant developments last month, Tsvangirai signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Mujuru and his former secretary general Welshman Ncube, ahead of the finalisation of the planned electoral alliance.

Analysts have also repeatedly said Mujuru, whose liberation struggle nom de guerre was Teurai Ropa (Spill Blood), and whose husband Solomon was the country’s first black post-independence army commander, could provide the much-needed bridge that opposition parties have been missing to ensure the smooth transfer of power if they win elections again.

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