Twists, turns in MEC mess

 

There is more mist to the biometric registration kit found in Mozambique with the National Registration Bureau (NRB) claiming ownership and that the gadget is for production of national identity (ID) cards.

The NRB explanation contradicts an earlier position presented by Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) through commissioner Jean Mathanga at a news conference in Lilongwe on Friday that the kit—discovered in a cargo train that plies between Moatize Coal Mine in Tete to Nacala Port both in Mozambique over a 912-kilometre distance through Malawi—was for voter registration in the ongoing exercise ahead of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.

A biometric voter registration kit is seen during registration

In an interview yesterday, NRB public relations officer Norman Fulatira said the equipment belonged to the bureau, but said MEC was better-placed to explain how it went missing and later found as the electoral body is responsible for handling logistics of the machines.

He said: “It is our machine which went missing, so I can confirm that it is an NRB machine.

“MEC are the custodians of every equipment that is being used [in the registration] and they are the ones who are handling the logistics. They can ably explain how this whole thing happened. As we speak, they haven’t given us back that equipment. We still haven’t taken it from them.”

Following revelations that a voter registration equipment had gone missing and the panic that ensued amid fears of a vote rigging scheme, Mathanga—who chairs the electoral body’s Elections Services Committee—identified the biometric registration kit (BRK) in question as number 1962.

She said it was assigned to a team that used it at Ndonda Primary School in Kasungu during phase one. She said the kit was also used at Nthawira Primary School in Ntchisi in phase two and Chauwa Primary School in Lilongwe for phase three.

Said Mathanga: “MEC picked up the kit and confirmed that it was ours. The matter was later reported to the police. The commission is assuring all people that the data that was registered in the centres mentioned above is safe.

“The procedure is that at the end of each phase, the kits are taken to the nerve centre where all the registration data is uploaded into our mobile district servers.”

Yesterday, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika also confirmed theft of a laptop computer and a power bank used in the voter registration exercise in Mzuzu.

He also corroborated the NRB position that the set found in Mozambuque belonged to the registration bureau.

Said Alfandika: “These machines are important, but they are not our machines. We borrowed them from NRB and we have to send them back to NRB after the exercise.

“On this particular Mwanza case, it is an issue that should not have been blown out of proportion because the machine that got lost was for national ID registration. It wasn’t for voter registration.”

He said MEC only needed to report the loss to NRB and police.

Alufandika said issues surrounding the missing equipment and status of voter registration would be discussed at a National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting scheduled for Lilongwe tomorrow.

He said NRB will brief the meeting that is also open to the media.

On the missing laptop in Mzuzu, a police report on the theft, based on information submitted to Mzuzu Police Station by MEC electoral services officer (logistics) Tyson Magalasi, shows that the equipment was part of the larger consignment transferred from Chitipa to Mzuzu on October 23 2018.

The police report shows that the theft occurred between October 23 and October 24 at Katoto Secondary School hall in Mzuzu, which MEC is using as its warehouse.

In the interview, Alfandika said there was no need for people to panic or get concerned because all the data was secured before it got stolen.

He said: “The laptop is missing and there is nothing in that laptop because it was after retrieval and was about to be deployed. It has missed in between retrieval and deployment. That laptop cannot work on its own. It cannot register anybody on its own.”

Last week, MEC also ruled out the possibility of data in the biometric registration kit found in Mozambique being used to rig the 2019

elections, saying the information in the machine was for civic education and not voter registration.

Alfandika’s downplaying of the issue comes amid calls from Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) for MEC chairperson Jane Ansah to resign for alleged negligence.

HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo said: “We cannot trust them at all. It is about trust. We cannot even trust them that they are saying the truth when they are saying it had no information.”

The rigging concerns come against a background of remarks by Vice-President Saulos Chilima during the launch of the United Transformation Movement (UTM) in Lilongwe in July that there was a ‘spy machine’ to be used for vote rigging.

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