ELECTORAL Commission of Zambia (ECZ) Chief Electoral Officer Patrick Nshindano says the elections body has not yet given a contract to Dubai-based Al Ghurair Printing Company for the 2021 ballot papers because two competing firms appealed.

And Nshindano says the level of intolerance among politicians is worsening electoral violence.

Speaking during a News Diggers-organised discussion forum held held in collaboration with Prime Television, Eden University, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and Joy FM, Friday, Nshindano said ECZ would soon announce which company would be awarded the printing tender.

He said this when he was asked if ECZ consulted political stakeholders when it selected Al Ghurair.

“We cannot consult political stakeholders, we can’t even consult ourselves because that’s a public procurement and it’s guided by the public procurement Act and it’s very categorical. All you need to do is pick up that piece of legislation to tell you the process. So it’s not a consultative process. We basically put up a tender, invite bids from the public and because of the value of the bid, it has to be an open competitive process and both local and international will put in their bids. After that, what is important is to make sure that the public is aware of all the processes that are there even the intent to award. And we haven’t awarded by the way. It was an intent to award Al Ghurair of Dubai because it was the most competitive. We also had appeals because of the public procurement process, two companies appealed. But that process I think it has been concluded now and we will be announcing very shortly the company that has been given on the part of Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA),” Nshindano said.

And Nshindano said there was too much intolerance among politicians.

“The high level of intolerance in this country, again, is very very unbearable and we need become honest with ourselves on the part of elections management body and the participating parties as well. How do we facilitate ourselves to be able to engage and be able to dialogue and ensure that there is consensus in what we are doing because most this conflict is fueled around the high level of intolerance. We have seen it where there have been agreements, plans are drawn up but party A will go this direction, party B will go in this direction and in the end what we have is conflict. So it is just important that we get to that point where we introspect and realise where is it that we need to go? But there are also a number of steps that need to be recognised; what is it that needs to change in terms of strengthening the laws, in terms of democratic dispensation that we are expressing; stakeholders in terms of their capacity to understand the different pieces of legislation. From our part, what we are doing is ensuring that whatever processes are there, we want to provide as much information as possible so that we have an enlightened citizenry,” he said.

On manipulation of results on the part of the Commission, Nshindano said the allegation was nothing more than just a narrative in most African countries.

“I will tell you one thing, not because I am here but this also gives me an advantageous point of view. The first thing I asked when I was offered a position at the Commission and this is me sitting with the Commissioner, I said ‘I hear that there is rigging at this Commission’ and everybody burst into laughter. But this is the narrative that is there and it’s not a Zambian narrative alone. Most African countries build that narrative. But what is important is for the citizens to understand is what is behind those electoral processes. So there is a lot of mistrust on the part of the public, the mistrust which has been built by the political environment and this tends to undermine the credibility. Part of the solution to that is continuous engagement of the political stakeholders to be able to appreciate what is there at the Commission so that we can rebuild the confidence and ensure that we secure the vote and a duly elected President is given to them,” Nshindano said.

And when asked if there was anything ECZ could do to stop donations in places where elections were taking place, Nshindano said the Commission was engaging stakeholders to see how the matter could be resolved.

“The electoral code of conduct is very clear, anything that will amount to bribery is something that is not allowed. So depending on how that donation is coming through. I know sometimes elections do clash with the programme of DMMU and it’s a very delicate situation to deal with. There have been cases where people have had floods, they are displaced and don’t have food and then there is an election also in that area and DMMU needs to move in, do you stop that humanitarian activity because of an election? Our call has always been to political stakeholders, can you engage and find a way through which DMMU can operate without undermining the electoral process but also not disadvantage the people who are in need,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nshindano insisted that political parties who wished to send monitors to witness the printing of ballot papers in Dubai next year needed to take care of their own logistics.

“Sponsoring of political parties is not a responsibility of the Electoral Commission of Zambia because this is not legislated. Other jurisdictions that fund political parties are backed by legislation. But the Commission did take up the responsibility because this is an initiative that was started by cooperating partners but along the way, they stopped sponsoring political parties. ECZ took it up on themselves to see if it was sustainable. But now it’s not sustainable and it’s not alien, everybody knows the state of the economy and this is not just to do with the political parties, every part of the Commission’s operating is actually hurting. But we have gone back to the donors and the few that we’ve approached so far have completely said ‘no, we cannot do that’. They said political parties should be able to raise funds to sponsor observers to go and witness printing of the ballots. But the most important thing is that the Commission is not stopping anyone from going to observe, the same way that political parties sponsor observers when we have a local by-election, the Commission doesn’t sponsor anyone,” said Nshindano.