The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission boss, Priscilla Chigumba has missed an opportunity to build trust, a lawyer and critic has said.
His critique comes at a time when the ZEC prepared itself for a presser on Monday. The ZEC boss insists she has not done anything wrong and the ZEC today announced that nothing will stop the elections. SEE LIVE VIDEO:
Writing last week, Alex Magaisa said: Justice Chigumba seems to have found the transition from the bench to the hot-seat at the election management body rather difficult. She forgets that right now, her judicial robes and wig are in the wardrobe, and she is in a very different role as the referee of an elections body. During the interview, she made reference to her oath of judicial office and to judicial officers and lawyer-politicians whom she referred to, in a warning tone, as officers of the court. It’s not fair on them to have to answer to her as a judge when the rest of the candidates who are not lawyers carry no such obligations.
His article began with a citation of Chigumba’s latest radio interview:
“The silly season is out in full force,” said the ZEC Chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba as she made an appearance on Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa’s radio show on Monday.
Magaisa went on to say Chigumba did not give clear answers. He wrote :
“When asked about it by Ruvheneko, Justice Chigumba did not have a clear answer save for referring to advice from designers and the issue of cost. Asked to name the cost of the presidnetial ballot paper, the head of ZEC had no clue. You would expect an administrator who uses cost as a reason for a decision to have figures on her finger-tips. But Justice Chigumba didn’t even have an estimate.
“More critically, she completely avoided the Form V.10 issue. Either she did not know about it or if she did, she simply had no answer. Perhaps Ruvheneko should have placed a copy of the Electoral Regulations before the ZEC Chairperson and asked her to explain why they had overlooked Form V. 10 in designing the ballot paper. Justice Chigumba cannot hide behind advice from designers because Parliament has already provided the design that the ballot paper must take.
“The net result is that ZEC’s approach to the ballot paper design is a significant departure from its usual pedantic approach to legal compliance, which smacks of double-standards. The law is clear on how the ballot paper must be designed and ZEC has chosen not to follow it. As things stand, there is arguably ample ground to challenge the legality of ZEC’s ballot paper.
“Why did ZEC not use Form V.10 to the letter? This is where critics think ZEC designed the ballot paper in order to place the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa at the top of the second column rather than have him buried in the middle of a 23-candidate list of presidential candidates on account of an unfavourable alphabetical order.
“The controversy over postal voting was an opportunity to demonstrate humility, remorse and to make corrections. ZEC has made contradictory statements from day one. As reported by The Herald, ZEC said one thing, while the ZRP said another. ZEC was forced into a huge climb-down a few hours later, realising they were wrong about postal voting which had already started. Despite efforts to remove and change the story, the damage had already been done. Instead of admitting to errors, the ZEC Chairperson went on the defensive and put blame on the media.
“This is taking people for granted. The public is not stupid. They see when someone is trying to pull wool over their eyes. They deserve far more respect than ZEC is giving them.
“Besides, the explanations did not add up. At one point Justice Chigumba said the printing of ballot papers was not yet complete, since council ballots were still to be printed. This did not sit well with the fact that postal voting had already started in Bulawayo and had since spread to other areas. How did they do postal voting while some ballot papers are still being printed?
“Quizzed on the issue by a caller, Justice Chigumba tried to wriggle out of the sticky moment by saying they were printing the ballot papers by province and they had finished the Bulawayo ballots. But this does not answer how postal voting was taking place elsewhere when the ballots were still being printed.
“Besides, an interpretation of section 75(1)(d) of the Electoral Law shows that Monday 16 July 2018 was the last possible date for ZEC to receive the postal ballots. Yet as at that date, hours after the scheduled time of receiving postal ballots, the ZEC Chairperson was telling the world that ballot papers were still being printed. How then had postal voting taken place when ballots were still being printed? Is there a separate stash of ballot papers elsewhere? Or has ZEC disenfranchised thousands of postal voters by its inefficiency? That’s because those postal votes which have not complied with section 75(1)(d) would be invalid.
Investigating suspicious activity
Justice Chigumba insisted that ZEC could not act on any issue unless a formal complaint was raised. But that’s an abdication of duty by an elections supervisor. ZEC can commence its own investigations without prompting if there is suspicion of irregularities, which there was in the Bulawayo case where the alarm had been raised. ZEC should know that the reason why police officers cannot identify themselves is that they fear for their jobs. A responsible election management body could have taken action mero motu (on its own and without request) to protect the integrity of the election.
It is legally inaccurate to say ZEC has no mandate to investigate as averred by Justice Chigumba during the interview. Of course, as the elections supervisor, ZEC can investigate election irregularities. As argued before in these pages, section 342 of the Constitution confers wide powers upon constitutional bodies, including ZEC, to do whatever is necessary to fulfil their mandate. ZEC has the mandate to run free, fair and credible elections and if it must investigate irregularities to ensure fulfilment of that mandate, it would be well within its powers to do so.
In any event, having denied the power to investigate on postal voting, in the same interview Justice Chigumba went on to claim ZEC and the Ministry of ICT were jointly investigating the mass messages sent to voters by ZANU PF and a website which appears to use ZEC data but is hosted in the UK. These apparent inconsistencies do not help ZEC’s image. ”
Source: Alex Magaisa