‘IEC fails to hold gov’t accountable over prisoner voting rights’.
The IEC has found it necessary to respond to the above mentioned article as it intentionally distorts contents of the meeting and the actual issues discussed. It is unfortunate that the author opted to misinform readers and distort the facts of the meeting.
The institution in reference, Botswana Institution of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders (BIRRO) made a courtesy call to the Secretary to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to introduce their organisation. No minutes were taken in the meeting. This is a normal practice encouraged by the IEC to build stakeholder base as it prepares for the upcoming General Elections. The IEC values the relationship between itself and all stakeholders as they contribute to the sustenance of participatory democracy. Since the organisation deals with issues on prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration, they found it fit to introduce their organisation to the IEC for future interaction and collaboration on issues of elections. They also guaranteed support to the IEC on educating eligible prisoners on the electoral process. The meeting was neither confrontational nor fault finding and discussions were amicable in all respects. It was purely an information sharing interaction.
It is the view of the IEC that for the author to insinuate the situation of the meeting as comprising heated discussions with the two institutions at loggerheads is totally misleading. In actual fact the organisation was impressed by the level of reception accorded to them by the Secretary and her team. The organisation found it a rare occurrence in their interaction with most organisations where there would be honesty and openness on discussing issues of concern.
Since representatives were not familiar with a lot of electoral issues affecting their members, they asked about the challenges that the IEC could be facing regarding prisoners and the electoral process. The Secretary to the IEC categorically and honestly explained what the legal frame work says about participation of prisoners. She went on to point to the challenges regarding the effective implementation of some clauses of relevant sections of the legal framework which covered the following:
The legal framework states that every voter registration applicant must do so within a polling district where they have principal residence. In the case of such prisoners serving their prison sentence in the facility within the polling district of their principal residence they would be able to vote provided the Act of the authority under which they serve allows them to do so.
IEC establishes polling stations outside Prisons but within reasonable distances to make such polling stations accessible by all eligible voters.
The interest and rights of the eligible prisoners straddles between two separate institutions with distinct roles with a mandate regulated by independent statutes. In this instance no institution can play a ‘big brother’ mentality. For the record, it should be known that the authorities responsible for prisoners were engaged in the past for them to appreciate the electoral laws with regard to voting by those who serve prison sentences. This was mainly aimed at facilitating the reconciliation of legal instruments to accommodate the participation of eligible prisoners in the electoral process. This remains a sensitive matter and therefore requires in-depth engagement by those affected in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders.
One may have the right to register and vote but exercising that right remains conditional. It depends where you are at the time of an active phase of the electoral process. This challenge is not unique to eligible prisoners, there are other citizens who would be on duty, trips and in hospitals during voter registration or voting. The electoral system has set some participatory parameters which could only be changed through an amendment of the legal frame work.
It is not correct to argue that ‘IEC is failing to compel Government to enable prisoners to vote…’ The IEC is charged with responsibility of implementing the electoral laws, and can only recommend amendment of the legal framework in collaboration with electoral stakeholders. In a democracy there are advocacy groups and they are also responsible for facilitating amendments to laws where they feel those they represent are disadvantaged.
Countries have varying provisions on services to cater for prisoners and these provisions are guided by their respective legal framework suited to their electoral systems. Similarly Botswana has its own legal framework suited to its electoral system which specifically outlines the provisions for different categories of prisoners. The international rules and standards though they are binding, operate alongside constitutions and could not supersede the Constitutions.
Osupile Kemonnye Maroba
Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)
Chief Public Relations Officer