Justice Makarau

Justice Makarau

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter—
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) requires more than $50 million to acquire data capturing equipment to compile a fresh voters’ roll, a situation that has left the commission in a dilemma on whether to embark on the expensive process or to improve the already existing register. ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makarau (pictured left) said in an interview yesterday that apart from the $50 million for the data capturing equipment, more money would be required for the purchase of other equipment used to process the data which might also cost as much.

She said the electoral body also required more cash to pay allowances for those who will be doing data capturing and processing and for other logistical costs.

In terms of the new Constitution, ZEC took over voter registration and keeping and maintenance of the voters’ roll from the Registrar-General’s Office.

The commission is expected to come up with its own independent voters’ roll for future elections, starting with the harmonised elections due in 2018.

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“We are hesitant to start the process afresh because of the costs associated with it,” said Justice Makarau. “The equipment used to capture data electronically costs about $5 000 per kit and we require 10 000 of these to ensure each polling station has at least one machine.

“We also require more money to buy other equipment used for data processing. Allowances for the officers involved in the process and other logistical costs will also add on to the total cost, hence our hesitation to embark on the process.”

Addressing military students at the Zimbabwe Defence College before the interview yesterday, Justice Makarau said there was need for a policy decision on the best way to go in terms of the compilation of the voters’ roll ahead of the 2018 polls.

“We have just taken over the election mandate,” she said. “It is the new mandate that comes with quite a number of challenges. We still have to make policy decisions as Zimbabweans and as ZEC on which type of voter registration to be used in 2018. Do we have to start voter registration afresh?

“Do we have to go out to the villages and ask everyone to come and register afresh? Do we have to build on the voter registration that is already in existence? What is the cost associated with it? Will we get any different result from what we already have? How secure will the voters’ roll be?”

Justice Makarau said the commission was prioritising the realignment of the Electoral Act with the new Constitution to ensure consistency and to avoid unnecessary court challenges that were being filed by political parties and individuals.

“There are some inconsistencies between the Electoral Act and the Constitution,” she said. “We are calling for realignment of the law to the Constitution, firstly, to put it beyond doubt that ZEC is mandated by the Constitution to do voter registration and keeping the voters’ roll.

“The Act purports to give the Registrar-General’s Office such powers and that is causing some confusion within the public. We do not want the clause to remain in the statute books because it is giving room to unnecessary litigation.

“At the moment we are in two courts with people challenging our powers to conduct voter registration. One group wants us to proceed, while the other says ZEC cannot do it.”

For the by-elections set for June 10, Justice Makarau said the commission was updating the existing voters’ roll and ZEC officials were already on the ground for voter registration.

“We are not using the old voters’ roll,” she said. “We are using the 2013 voters’ roll as a baseline and then we are asking people to inspect it and validate it for use in the June by-elections.

“Our officers have already started the process and they are out in various constituencies doing the work.”

Justice Makarau indicated that prisoners and those hospitalised during the election period had a right to cast their ballot and measures must be put in place to afford them their constitutional right.

“The Act does not give administrative framework for giving effect to the right to vote by persons who will not be in their wards on polling day, but prisoners must also vote in terms of the new Constitution as well as hospitalised patients,” she said.

“There are many people who have been denied access to the vote by circumstances beyond their control. For example, journalists may be deployed somewhere far away from their wards during the election period.”