Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) chief electoral officer Patrick Nshindano says the commission will not sponsor any stakeholders to verify 2021 ballot papers in Dubai because the cost is “unwarranted”.

And Nshindano says the number of constituencies will increase, whether the Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019 goes through or not.

Speaking when he appeared on a Diamond TV programme dubbed Costa, Monday, Nshindano said political parties and other stakeholders who would want to verify the ballot papers were free to do so at their own cost.

“In 2016, we had ferried political parties to go and verify the ballot paper printing. This time around, this will not happen. That is the cost we are going to avoid. If political parties want to come through and verify, they will be more than free to join at their own costs. But as the commission, we will not be able to incur those costs obviously because it is a cost unwarranted for and the country, as you know it is quite tight in terms of fiscal space that we have so we need to be prudent in terms of how we manage resources,” Nshindano said.

“Any stakeholder that would want to come will be able to do that. Just to pick a leaf from that, in 2016, political parties did come through and went to Dubai and they know the credibility of this company so even when they are talking about these rigging allegations and the cohesion that is there between ECZ and them, I think it about creating this narrative trying to undermine the credibility of the electoral process. Even when those ballot papers come to Zambia, stakeholders are involved so one wonders when that rigging does comes in.”

Nshindano said Government Printer’s bid was higher than that of Al Ghurair.

“Unfortunately, most of them (local companies) fell off at the technical evaluation stage those that proceeded to the technical stage were only three and from the technical stage, we had one proceed to the commercial which was Al Ghurair. I think a lot needs to be done and a lot of our companies I would encourage them to do a lot of investment because ballot paper printing is not printing any booklet because of its insensitivity and a lot of considerations that have to be taken. Government printers was more expensive than Al Ghurair because the cost of Government Printers was K78 million whereas Al Ghurair was US$3 million and when you convert that to Kwacha, it is K44 million. There are quite a number of specifications and this will be availed to the public once the Public Procurement tender notification period is exhausted,” Nshindano said.

“Firstly, at the preliminary stage we are looking at compliance very simple things; are they duly registered? Do they submit their returns and so on? So those basic things that require to be officially in existence then you get to the technical aspect where you are looking at your requirements in this case what should a ballot paper have? Things like foils, the security numbers and so on. So there is a collective, very detailed specifications that has to be taken into account and if a company does not meet the specifications, they are not considered. Unfortunately, they might have the capacity to be able to print the amount of ballots that we require but if they don’t meet those specifications, then they are knocked out…can you imagine if you print ballot papers and the following day you find them in a notorious place like Matero where they duplicate things? Imagine what kind of disaster we would have as a country. This is a competitive process it’s not one that you finger point and say ‘next year we have this particular company to be able to print the ballot papers’.”

And asked if the number of constituencies in Zambia would be increased regardless of whether or not Bill 10 passes, Nshindano replied in the affirmative.

“Yes, that’s what the constitution says,” he said.

Nshindano said increasing the number of constituencies was necessary.

“I must dispel a notion it is not 235 constituencies. We just finished the sitting in terms of looking at the submissions. The 235 number was picked from 2011 that was a recommendation when we did the delimitation. But obviously, we are going to see an increase in the number of constituencies. The question is that where do we stand as the commission? First and foremost, this is a constitutional requirement. According to the Constitution, we are required to delimit every after 10 years, it is a constitutional requirement unless you change the Constitution. And unfortunately for us, to be able to delimit, that has to undergo Constitution review process because the number of constituencies is enshrined in the Constitution. Apparently, we have a number that is 156 so if we are going to amend the number of representatives in the House, it means it has to undergo a constitution review process so that process is up to the legislators. That is why we are saying as a mandate of the Electoral Commission of Zambia is to be able to delimit and come up with the necessary boundaries as submitted by citizens and recommendations and after that, we submit to the Ministry of Justice who will be able to submit to Parliament. That number is going to increase when you look at delimitation exercise and what it is trying to achieve, the key element is to bring electoral services closer to the people. The commission is required to delimitate if we don’t, we will be breaching the Constitution and I think it’s necessary. The dynamics from 10 years ago is not the same from where we are now,” he said.

Asked when asked when ECZ would announce the final number of proposed additions to constituencies, Nshindano hoped it would be done by the end of the month.

“Ideally, the target is end of January. Of course all factors being equal, we are working tirelessly so that we can meet the deadline,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nshindano said all voter registration cards were invalid and everyone would be required to re-register.

“There will be electronic voting in 2021 elections. We are also looking at incarcerated person as a result of the court issue, we were actually sued and we lost that case. So we have to ensure that we facilitate for those that are in prison to be able to vote. Everybody will be required to re-register. If you are registered now, your current voter’s card might be rendered invalid and there a lot of reasons; the current register that we have is quite old,” Nshindano said.

He also hoped constitution reforms would be concluded this year.

“We are being prayerful that the constitution reforms will be concluded this year and it will put us in an awkward position where you have legal reforms being concluded in the year that you are conducting elections,” said Nshindano.