ZIMBABWE ELECTORAL COMMISSION TO APPOINT INTERNATIONAL AUDIT FIRM TO MONITOR ELECTORAL PROCESS

Justice Chigumba meeting with the European Union Observer Mission to Zimbabwe earlier this week


Under immense pressure from the government of Zimbabwe and the opposition parties, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission will now take the step of appointing an international audit firm to monitor the printing, transportation and storage of ballot papers and boxes throughout the Zimbabwe electoral process currently under way.

An epic battle has been under way behind the scenes between President Mnangagwa's government and the Electoral body around the issue of transparency.

The ZEC Chair, Justice Chigumba, who has been described as "intransigent" by government sources, has been adamant that she and her Commission must not be seen to taking instructions from any body or organisation in Zimbabwe. Her main argument has been around the precedent set by being seen to be commanded by parties or even government in Zimbabwe.

Two weeks ago, a suggestion was then put to Justice Chigumba to appoint an international audit firm to audit the entire process. At first, the ZEC Chair was against this, stating that this would send the signal that her Commission can not be trusted to execute a mandate given to it by the Constitution of Zimbabwe. "In which case we might as well resign, all of us Commissioners, and have Zimbabwe's election run by an audit firm."

It took several days before the ZEC Chair was convinced that this was purely in the national interest of ensuring the election is acceptable to all parties.

But, as the ZEC Chair saw it, there would still be a problem:

"As long as the audit firm is appointed by ZEC or by government, there will be accusations that the auditing firm is not credible because it is taking instructions from ZEC. We could even appoint Jesus himself to monitor the process, but as long as that appointment is made by ZEC or government or even the courts of Zimbabwe, there will be accusations that there is bias."

Justice Chigumba is adamant that everyone knows her Commission is independent and is following the letter of the law. She insists that those pushing to have changes to the way the election is being conducted are not interested in transparency. "They are not after transparency. What they want is the playing to be tilted in their favour. They don't trust us and we don't trust any of you," she told the Justice Minister early last week.

So, the appointment of an audit firm by anyone or any body in Zimbabwe was ruled out on that basis.

It took a further 24 hours for the ZEC Chair to then table to Justice Ministry the idea of asking SADC, the Southern African Development Community to appoint the audit firm.

Justice Chigumba's insistence on what government calls an "academic interpretation" of the Electoral Law has been a source of frustration for government, who have decided not tackle her and her Commission in public, again in the interests of not being seen to be interfering with the independent Electoral body.

When a request for the BVR Voters' Roll to be audited by a firm of Chartered  Accountants was raised previously, she turned this down publicly, stating:

"The auditing of the voters’ roll was provided for in the law and as Zec, we shall produce a provisional voters’ roll, which shall be subjected to the electorate for inspection and correction.This is an audit that is provided for by the law. So, anyone, who wants to have the voters’ roll audited, even in America or anywhere, they are free to come and collect the roll and do the audit on their own and bring matters that they would have noted for correction."
The effect was the same, the Roll would be audited by whoever got it and decided to use their own resources to audit it. The European Union Mission to Zimbabwe has already taken this route and engaged partners to audit the Voters' Roll.

But Chigumba's academic approach to the issue means that, Zimbabweans failed to understand the nuances of her position (we are not as educated as we would want the world to believe), so the position that ZEC has "refused" to have the Roll independently audited is what is wrongly stuck in people's minds. This despite the fact that the EU is independently auditing the Voters' Roll as we speak, using a firm they themselves appointed.

The ZEC Chair has now declared to government that, once she gets SADC to appoint an international audit firm to monitor and audit the processes of printing, distribution and storage of the ballot papers and ballot boxes, that will be the end of the story.

"We will not entertain anything else from anyone else after that, not government and not the opposition parties. The only guidance we will take from that point will be from these auditors themselves. We believe we would have enough to satisfy the issue of credibility."

Over and monitoring the process, the audit firm to be chosen by SADC is also going to be given terms of their terms of reference as the SADC and African Union conventions on elections. Their mandate will stretch to checking all the processes around Zimbabwe's 20818 elections against the SADC and AU conventions around elections.

Crucially, Justice Chigumba believes that this will protect the independence of ZEC from internal, Zimbabwean meddling.

The European Union, the British and other international missions in Zimbabwe are understood to have been informed of this development and in full agreement that this is all that will be needed to discredit any claims after the elections that they would not have been fair or credible.

This latest move will, no doubt, have the effect of shutting up all parties Zimbabwe and anyone crying foul after this will definitely be seen by the electorate and international observers as simply a childish troublemaker.

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