Gears Initiative Zambia executive director McDonald Chipenzi says failure by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to sponsor stakeholders to go and witness the printing of the 2021 ballot papers in Dubai will heighten suspicions regarding the electoral process in Zambia.

In a statement, Thursday, Chipenzi stated that the reason advanced by ECZ not to sponsor stakeholders to go and witness the printing of the 2021 ballot papers in Dubai was not convincing because government had always budgeted for it.

He also reminded the Commission that no single stakeholder had the financial muscle to raise the funds to sponsor their members to go all the way to Dubai to monitor the process.

“The implementation of this proposal is potentially likely to heighten suspicions, not only in the printing process, but the entire electoral process in Zambia ahead of, during and after 2021 general election. In other words, the ECZ has technically banned stakeholders from monitoring the ballot paper printing process because no single stakeholder, albeit political parties, CSOs, media, other than government and ECZ itself, will have the financial muscle and ability to manage to raise funds to provide for their selected monitors to go and come back from Dubai, raise upkeep allowances for them for the duration of printing, none,” Chipenzi stated.

He added that as much as ECZ was applying austerity measures, not sponsoring stakeholders to monitor the process was a disaster in-waiting.

“Gears Initiative Zambia has learn’t with concern the recent revelation by the ECZ that it would no longer foot the financial burdens of transporting to and from countries where ballot paper printing will be done and other financial needs of stakeholders deployed to monitor the ballot paper printing processes. As much as ECZ is trying to apply austerity measures in the utilization of public funds, not sponsoring stakeholders to monitor the printing process will be an electoral disaster in waiting,” Chipenzi cautioned.

“The sponsorship of stakeholders to countries where ballot paper printing is happening has been an old practice in the electoral process and its ending must be consensual than abrupt and unilateral as it has potential to create misunderstandings. The reason advanced by ECZ as justification for the proposed cut on sponsorship of stakeholders to where ballot paper printing will be done of being an ‘unwarranted’-for cost to ECZ is not convincing enough as this is budgeted for money by government. This decision by the ECZ, which is not progressive in the process, must be reviewed forthwith. Further, if the justification is the cost associated with such undertaking, why then, has the ECZ been opting to print ballot papers from expensive places in the world like Dubai?”

Chipenzi, who acknowledged that flying stakeholders to Dubai was a costly undertaking, urged the ECZ to consider procuring electoral services locally.

“With this development, therefore, ECZ must consider contracting and procuring such electoral services from within the country where it will be easier and cheaper for stakeholders to deploy their monitors at a minimal cost than Dubai. In any case, Dubai is more expensive and sponsoring stakeholders to go to nearby countries in Africa, such as South Africa for ballot paper printing services, will be better than flying to Dubai, which is thousands of kilometres from Zambia and world-known expensive destination?” he wondered.

“We want to appeal to the ECZ to critically reflect on this position before implementing it to ascertain its implication and impact on the electoral process. Gears Initiative also suggests that the ECZ should consider convening a stakeholders meeting on this matter for further scrutiny of the proposed position.”

Meanwhile, Chipenzi commended the police service for deploying enough officers to man the by-elections in Chilubi.

“On the deployment of 300 police officers in Chilubi ahead of the by-election, GEARS Initiative finds the number reasonable as the constituency is vast with 22 wards, 62 polling stations, 78 polling streams and an electoral population of 46,677. This will translate to one police officer to manage 156 (in the) electorate; 13 officers per ward; 3 per polling stream and 4 per polling station, which is a recommended number of officers for policing an electoral process,” stated Chipenzi.