The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) says the officer who have been deployed to undertake the voters registration exercise are still familiarizing themselves with the equipment.

But ECZ says despite the slow start to the exercise, the Commission is confident that it will reach its target of registering 9 million voters.

And ECZ has banned volunteers from helping its officers on the ground, promising to deploy more staff instead.

Meanwhile, ECZ has warned unscrupulous people against intentionally taking advantage of the process to register more than once, saying it has systems in place to identify such anomalies.

Reacting to concerns from stakeholders that the process was extremely slow and discouraging in an interview, ECZ chief electoral officer Patrick Nshindano said the polling staff were trained and the situation was expected to improve.

“We are very pleased with the turnout from the public and we commend them for that we don’t take them for granted, we understand that people are busy, they have other things to do which are productive for their livelihoods and we are doing our level best to ensure that they spend as little time as possible. The overwhelming turnout has created a good problem for us. This is a call that we were making that people should turn out in large numbers so that we can be able to meet the target and they have done just that. Now it is up to the Commission to ensure that we capture everybody as they turn up,” Nshindano said.

“When you are starting a process, it is expected that you might face one or two challenges but also, when you look at the registration exercise, this is one that has been deployed across the country at the same time and we have different capacity of staff and some of them are familiarizing themselves with the equipment. They were trained but at the pace at which one registers when you start is different from the scenario. Most of these are getting more and more acquainted and the speed is picking up. Our target is that those that have done the pre-online registration should spend less than five minutes. For those that are doing it from the start, they should spend not more than seven minutes. And when you look at the registration exercise on the average, they were spending 10 to 15 minutes and that now is coming down. This will improve as they go on.”

He said the Commission would beef up staff.

“We have noted that as a result of the overwhelming numbers, our staff have become overwhelmed because most of the centres will either have one or two registration officers. So we are beefing up additional staff and this commenced as early as Monday when we just started the exercise. Where it’s possible, we are also putting additional kits. We are also putting additional staff to undertake other assignments such as lamination of the voter’s cards so that the registration officer is able to concentrate on registering the citizens so that will improve,” he said.

Nshindano said ECZ had intensified publicity in order to get people acquainted to the deployment schedule.

“There are concerns of members of the public not knowing the deployment schedule. In that regard, we have intensified our publicity and we are doing pull outs on different tabloids. We also have a short code under Zamtel where one can able to locate their centre where they can register from. We are also doing assignments on radio. The mobile registration is centered around clusters, population so we look at an area for example, a ward and within that ward, we will deploy kits to service the polling stations in that ward. What this implies is that the wards are moving within that jurisdiction to cater for that particular population in that jurisdiction. At no point of time will any ward be unserviced during this period of registering what is moving is just the kits in the different centres to ensure that nobody is not catered for,” Nshindano said.

“But in addition to that, the movements of kits are done in such a way that if one is unable to register during the seven day period, they can still access the kits at the nearest polling station next to them. So they will have the service for 30 days what is moving is the kits within that particular region and this is because of the number of kits that are available. All the citizens will have the service through the 30 day period. It doesn’t mean that once the seven day period of the deployment elapses, that’s it for that particular polling station, in terms of those that are supposed to register, no. And the kits will remain in that particular jurisdiction for the period of the 30 days registration exercise. The number of kits differ depending on the population. We have 3,000 kits.”

But Nshindano insisted that the commission was confident that they would reach the 9 million target.

“One can register from any point. You don’t have to go from where you are voting from, you can register from Chipata to vote from Lusaka and that is to afford flexibility to the citizens and this should be active throughout the registration. Based on the two day, we are confident that we will be able to meet the targets that we have set for ourselves,” said Nshindano.

And in a statement, Thursday, Bwalya urged members of the public to refrain from working as volunteers in registration centers.

“It has come to the attention of the Commission that some members of the public are offering to work as volunteers in the Registration centres. The Commission would like to appeal to all stakeholders and members of the public to refrain from interfering in electoral operations. The Commission has already engaged additional staff to assist in the operations at registration centres that require supplementary numbers of staff. Therefore, all 3 Registration Officers and Police Officers manning the Registration centres are being directed not to allow any person who is not employed by the Commission to be involved in any work of registering people at the Registration centres,” read the statement.

She said expectant mothers, persons with disabilities and the elderly should be given priority during electoral services.

“It is the practice of the Commission that persons with disabilities, the elderly and expectant mothers are given priority during elections and in all the electoral services. Therefore, the Commission is appealing to all field officers to ensure that persons with disabilities, expectant mothers and the elderly are assisted and taken in front of the queues,” she stated.

Bwalya warned unscrupulous people that were intentionally taking advantage of the situation to register more than once.

“The Commission wishes to warn unscrupulous people that are intentionally taking advantage of the situation to register more than once. The Commission has put in place a mechanism to detect double or multiple registrations and anybody who is found out will be liable for prosecution. As such members of the public are urged to refrain from such acts,” stated Bwalya.

Meanwhile, the Commission appealed to the general public to observe the Ministry of Health Guidelines on Covid-19 as they visited registration centres.