TEFO PHEAGE AND SONNY SERITE
- Government backtracks on EVM
- Seeks to negotiate Supplementary Roll
- Court case delays Acquisition of Machines
- Pending Legislation Impacts Litigation
- Legislation not brought to parliament
- AG fails to engage BCP despite undertakings
The Attorney General has failed to fulfil its undertaking to Court on the Electoral Amendment Act, leaving the Government scrambling to secure a political solution before the case resumes on August 1st Before High Court Judge Moroka.
Government has been left with no alternative but to abandon the introduction of the electoral voting machine- Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for the 2019 national elections.
In a telephone conversation with this publication, the Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Nonofho Molefhi declined to comment on this information reaching The Botswana Gazette.
Molefhi however acknowledged that while the introduction of EVMs is a political issue, their administration has removed itself from the conflict and left it to the high court and the IEC to resolve.
When reached for comment, the IEC EVM consultant Gabriel Seeletso declined to comment and referred all questions to the Office of the President and the Secretary of the IEC.
The IEC secretary Keireng Auntie Zuze reiterated Seeletso’s statement that the office of the President should be the one to grant interviews on the matter.
“You better speak to the office of the president. What i can only say is that we know that there has been discussions around the issue and that we have been reminding the executive that time is not on our side.Other questions you can speak to the Attorney General,” she said.
In spite of the Government position by Molefhi, opposition party leaders Ndaba Gaolathe and Dumelang Saleshando have confirmed to this publication that Government has promised to commence discussions with them, and all other political parties, to abandon the EVMs altogether in exchange for retaining the single voter registration period.
Molefhi confirmed having a discussion on the subject with opposition leaders but declined to share the exact details of the discussion.
According to a source, the controversy surrounding the introduction of the unpopular EVMs has led government to reconsider their use in 2019. It has been revealed that Government has decided to abandon both the Electoral Amendment Act of 2016 and its further amendment of December 2018. In an unusual development the source reveals, that instead of claiming ownership of the move to abandon the EVMs, government is seeking to distance itself from the position. The Electoral Amendment Act of 2016 was passed in parliament as an urgent motion by Eric Molale on behalf of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
In order to “save face” the BDP led government, the source explains, has begun to make public overtures indicating that it will not be possible to implement the amendments to the Electoral Act in time for 2019, due to pending litigation and the preparedness of the IEC. The source reveals that this justification is only part of a much larger engagement by government to backtrack on the controversial legislation.
Vice President Tsogwane at a media briefing on July 12th confirmed that the implementation of EVM’s may not be possible for the 2019 elections. Tsogwane attributed the failure by the IEC to be ready for the 2019 general elections due to circumstances beyond their control. The Vice President advised that the IEC had not yet commenced the procurement processes for the machines and that their use would depend on how prepared the Independent Electorate Commission (IEC) would be to implement, maintain, educate and deal with concerns raised over the machines in the run up to 2019. The introduction of the EVMs would “…also depend on the outcome of the ongoing court cases and whether there will be sufficient time to procure the machines for the next years general elections.”
Despite Tsogwane’s statements to the effect that the IEC will not have sufficient time to procure and mobilise for the 2019 general elections, the IEC has had over a year to finalise the procurement of the EVMs. The IEC had under contentious circumstances, in December 2016, sought and obtained permission from the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) to engage in a direct purchase of the controversial machines from their manufacturer, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). Addressing the public at the aborted “EVM Hackathon” in May 2017, IEC EVM consultant Gabriel Seeletso advised the public that the IEC was to acquire 7 000 EVMs and an equal number of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines at an estimated cost of P90 million.
Information reaching The Botswana Gazette from a source within the government negotiating team, and confirmed by opposition leaders, reveals that following the re-establishment of the All Party Conference by the Masisi administration, the Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration has accepted that EVMs will be a focal point of discussion between Government and opposition political parties, even though within the higher echelons of government the decision has already been made to concede the litigation before the High Court in Francistown.
Information reaching The Botswana Gazette indicates that Molefhi has made settlement overtures to the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) over the pending litigation with the view of reaching a compromise on the implementation of the Electoral Act (amendment). According to information gathered by the Botswana Gazette government is seeking to use the controversial EVM as a bargaining chip to salvage the legislation, piecemeal, by seeking to retain the amendment for a single voter registration period in exchange for abandoning the undesirable EVMs, “the BDP government has advised opposition that it is concerned over the possibility of voter trafficking in 2019, through the use of the supplementary roll. They say that once voters are registered under the normal voting dates they can then move to register afresh during the supplementary period to areas where their parties stand a greater chance of winning; where the margins are narrow as revealed by voter registration during the initial period,” explained the source. The BCP maintain that due to the current litigation they are unwilling to vary their position on both the EVM and the voter registration roll unless agreement is reached and made an Order of Court.
In 2017 the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) commenced legal proceedings to challenge the Electoral (Amendment) Act No. 7 of 2016, which introduced the EVM as the sole method of casting a vote over that of the traditional Ballot Paper. The case, which is before High Court Judge L. Moroka in Francistown is scheduled to hear argument on the constitutionality of the amendment whether various sections, including the single voter registration period and the introduction of EVM violate the Constitution of Botswana. The BCP argues that the section which abolished the continuous and supplementary registration of voters is unconstitutional and violates the Constitution of Botswana.
At the last court appearance, the Attorney General sought to postpone the matter due to a Bill that was filed with parliament in December 2017. The new Bill, reported on at the time by The Botswana Gazette, introduces the VPAT voter verification system. The AG undertook to court that the Bill would be considered and passed in Parliament before the end of the July 2018 session. The Bill was not placed before parliament for consideration despite the undertaking to Court by the Attorney General. Justice Moroka scheduled to hear the case on August 1, 2018.
Confirming information in possession of the Botswana Gazette, Saleshando informed this publication that at the end of June Molefhi contacted him with the view of settling the court litigation. The minister advised the BCP leader that the Attorney General was to have already contacted the BCP’s legal team and establish communication with a view to achieving a court sanctioned settlement. To date the Attorney General and its representatives have not communicated with the BCP, advised Saleshando.
In 1989 former president the Late Quett Masire abandoned the requirement for Omang to be used for national elections following discussions at the All Party Conference. It remains to be seen whether Masisi will forsake his predecessor’s most controversial legislation and embrace the concerns of the BCP by restoring public trust in the electoral process.