The Botswana Prisons Service has not taken kindly accusations made by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) falling short of blaming them (Prisons) for closing their gates to bar eligible prisoners from exercising their voting rights.
The matter is now turning ugly as President Mokgweetsi Masisi has been dragged into the matter to come and intervene and provide direction between the warring parties. The dispute is about how prisons intend to free the prisoners who are eligible to vote to exercise their democratic right to vote in this year’s much-anticipated elections. The electoral Act permits prisoners serving less than six months to vote.
In their letter dated 19th March 2019, the IEC said they will be more than willing to welcome prisoners to register or vote in the upcoming elections but said the powers lie with the Prisons Department to open their gates to free those who are eligible to vote.
“Any prisoner who wishes to register or vote and they meet the required qualifications, will be most welcome. The critical thing to note is that, how the prisoners will be released to go to the polling station is outside the jurisdiction of the IEC but that of the Prisons Rehabilitation department,” reads part of the IEC letter to Botswana Institute of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders (BIRRO).
BIRRO had sought the Electoral Commission’s position on why eligible prisoners have never voted in Botswana and why the IEC has not moved to facilitate their participation in the elections.
Last-week, in a letter dated 12 April 2019, Prisons assistant Commissioner, Alocisious Sesikwe took the game to IEC challenging them to come to them if they have an issue.
“We still await IEC to engage us on logistical arrangements and implementation of their Act,” wrote Sesikwe.
The IEC has however responded that, “The critical thing to note is that, how the prisoners will be released to go to the polling station is outside the jurisdiction of the IEC but that of the Prisons Rehabilitation department,” a matter that Prisons has not yet opened up on.
The protesting institution-BIRRO has now taken the matter to the Office of the President seeking President Mokgweetsi Masisi to intervene and deliver justice on the prisoners’ plight. In a letter leaked to this publication the institution calls Masisi to rein in the two institutions to end the bickering.
“This letter serves as an appeal to your esteemed office to intervene in the matter which we are pursuing as Botswana Institute of Rehabilitation and Reintegration Of Offenders to have eligible prisoners to vote this year,” reads the letter to Masisi.
The letter further says , “We have noted your track record and achievements so far and trust that you can deliver justice to this matter that has been pushed under the carpet for so many years without any reasonable explanation.”
In the letter, BIRRO further says the Electoral Act permits prisoners sentenced below six months to vote but Prisons and IEC are playing blame games with the matter and do not not show any seriousness and willingness to resolve the matter.
The institution has attached the two institutions’ “vague responses to this correspondence” for Masisi’s appreciation of what they are complaining of.
The IEC has responded that, “The role of IEC is to establish polling stations in accordance with section 5 of the electoral Act. The identification of polling stations is guided by the population distribution and patterns of human settlement. Any area with human settlement qualifies to be considered for establishment of polling station. Institutions like prisons are part of the localities which influence location of poling stations and all prison establishments are within communities which have been catered for and thus polling stations are accessible to everyone who qualify to register and vote within these localities.”