Election Watch 10-2018 - Disquiet over Printing of Ballot Papers Secrecy

ELECTION WATCH 10/2018

[13th May 2018]

The Printing of Ballot Papers for the General Election

The Printing of Ballot Papers

What the Electoral Act says about Printing of Ballot Papers

“52A   Publication of details re ballot papers

The Commission shall without delay provide the following information to all political parties and candidates contesting an election, and to all observers—

(a)   where and by whom the ballot papers for the election have been or are being printed;   and

(b)   the total number of ballot papers that have been printed for the election;   and

(c)   the number of ballot papers that have been distributed to each polling station. “

An Opposition Amendment proposed by the Opposition and adopted by the Minister

For the insertion in section 52A of the following subsection (1), the existing section 52A becoming subsection (2):   

“(1) The Commission shall ensure that the number of ballot papers printed for any election does not exceed by more than ten per centum the number of registered voters eligible to vote in the election.”.

But another Opposition Amendment was rejected by the Minister and not passed

For the insertion of a new section 52B after section 52A:

52B Printing of Ballot Paper

(1)   The Commission shall call for a competitive tender to print ballot papers and all related electoral material including the procurement of indelible ink, the supply of ballot boxes and all relevant material.

(2)   For the purposes there must be an agreement between all the relevant parties and stakeholders in the adjudication of the tender.“   

It is the rejection of this failed amendment which has caused vigorous protests by the opposition parties.

ZEC Explanation for not going to Tender

With elections due by 21st August,   Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC ] said it felt there was not enough time to follow the standard process as laid down by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act and the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe [PRAZ].     The chairperson of ZEC, Justice Chigumba, also stressed the security nature of procuring and storing ballot papers and indelible ink as one of the reasons for not going to tender.

[The standard process would have been that the tender would have been announced in the Government Gazette, with bidders invited to apply, after which a selection process would ensue and then a winner named.]   

PRAZ, it is understood, gave the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission the green light to source ballot papers and other voting materials by the “direct procurement method”, i.e., to procure its requirements from a particular supplier without having received bids from other bidders.   

The chairperson of ZEC, Justice Chigumba, has said that a printer had been identified but their identity could  be disclosed as the commission is still undergoing the necessary procurement formalities.   At the time of writing today Sunday 13th May, ZEC had still not disclosed who the printer is.

Legality of Direct Procurement

ZEC has cited section 33(2)(b) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act which allows direct procurement for technical reasons the contract can be performed by a particular supplier and the is no reasonable alternative.    If this they use this method the Public Procurement Act section 30 says where this method is used the procuring entity [ZEC] must include in the record of the procurement a written justification of the decision including the ground for the decision.  Further section 69(3) of the Act says that the procuring entity [ZEC] must on request must permit any person to inspect the procurement record and make copies of any documents in the record.  It must be added that this ties in with ZEC’s general constitutional duty to be transparent.

Outcry by Political Parties

This secrecy over which supplier is printing ballot papers has fed into the Opposition’s the lack of trust in ZEC.

As stated in the first paragraph, section 52A of the Electoral Act states that the Commission shall without delay provide the following information to all political parties and candidates contesting an election, and to all observers (a) where and by whom the ballot papers for the election have been or are being printed; and (b) the total number of ballot papers that have been printed for the election; and (c) the number of ballot papers that have been distributed to each polling station.  And in addition one the Electoral Amendment Bill becomes law ensure that “the number of ballot papers printed for any election does not exceed by more than ten per centum the number of registered voters eligible to vote in the election.” 

This means that eventually ZEC will have to divulge these details.

But there is no legitimate reason why ZEC should not reveal now the name of the printers selected.  There is also nothing in the law that prevents ZEC from allowing a few independent observers to monitor the printing.  This would go a long way to establishing trust with political parties and the general public.

Braille Ballot Papers?

ZEC have ruled out providing Braille ballot papers for this election.  They have said they would have to know how many people read Braille at the time of their registering in the BVR process.  At the moment ZEC does not know how many Braille papers   would have to be printed and to which polling stations to deliver them.  The ZEC chairperson has said they would look into provision of Braille ballot papers for the next election.   

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2018