Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) chief electoral officer Patrick Nshindano says allegations that Al Ghurair, the Dubai-based company recommended to print 2021 ballot papers, aids rigging are unfounded.

In an interview, Nshindano said in 2016 the commission took political party representatives to Dubai for a due diligence visit and non of them pin pointed anything which warranted rigging.

“The allegations of the company aiding rigging are born of people’s perceptions and attempt to build a narrative of rigging and not founded on facts. In 2016, political parties were actually taken to Dubai at the commission’s cost for due diligence visit and none could pin point anything warranting rigging or indeed compromised credibility of the company. Beyond this, when ballots are printed, all concerned stakeholders are invited to receive the ballots and verify before each poll. So one wonders at what stage the company helps rig elections,” Nshindano said.

“The narrative of rigging in Zambia and on the continent is unfortunately one that has become normal aimed at undermining the credibility of the electoral process and it’s important that stakeholders, rather than making allegations, identify gaps that need to be enhanced either through law, policy, or indeed practice. This will help to meet everyone’s aspirations of how they would like to see the elections conducted and enhance our electoral process and democracy.”

Nshindano said other companies which participated in the bid were allowed to appeal if they felt the tender process was compromised.

“Firstly, the commission has put out a public notice for intent to award Al Ghurair of Dubai as the printer for ballot papers at which point we expect other companies that participated in the bid to come forward and appeal if they feel the tender process was either compromised or they were more deserving than the company proposed for award. The printing of ballot papers is the sole mandate of the ECZ and is guided by the public procurement act. In this regard, an invitation for bids was issued for the supply of ballot papers last year in September and ran for two months and officially closed on November 15, 2019 to be exact. 11 bids were received which included both international and local firms. After evaluations, only three companies made it to the technical evaluation stage and only one company made it to the commercial stage which is Al of Dubai,” Nshindano said.

“The fact is that the process is an internationally competitive open bidding process and there is no hand picking of where or who should print the ballots. What determines where we print is how competitive the bidders are and whether they meet all the specifications required to deliver credible elections. So if the local firms don’t meet the requirements, unfortunately, they cannot be given the tender just because they are local. To note that at this stage, the procurement is not yet final and Al Ghurair of Dubai is under public notice of intent by the ECZ to award them the tender, if after the public tender notice no issues or appeals are brought to us for consideration and they meet all other requirements then we shall proceed to award them the contract.”

Asked if there was a possibility that ballot papers would be printed locally, Nshindano said it was not possible.

“Unless those local firms that put in a bid can show cause that they are more deserving and able to meet the required specifications and appeal successfully with this public tender notice, there will be no printing of ballots locally at least not for 2021 elections,” said Nshindano.