The auditor’s report on the processing and transmission of results for the May 21 2019 polls shows that Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) had more results-related challenges than they admitted, which needed to be addressed before announcing winners.
The report by BDO Jordan, a firm commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), outlines 15 items that show that the whole process—from voting to final tallying of results—had challenges that needed addressing before results were announced.
For example, the report says there were 273 forms affected by the controversial correction material, Tippex, 65 forms were manually amended, 45 had missing signatures, while 66 forms did not have political parties’ signatures.
According to the report, some Form 66 sheets were unclear; other forms used were not original and even more were excessively Tippexed by presiding officers (POs).
There was suspected manipulation of results forms, and the MEC information, communication and technology (ICT) people, in some instances, scanned the wrong copies of Form 66 and captured wrong data, according to the report.
The audit report is currently the subject of the ongoing constitutional elections case in Lilongwe after MEC complied with a court order to submit it to court, MEC’s director of media and public relations confirmed in a written response on Wednesday.
Counting, tallying and announcement
The report points out several problems even before the results got to the National Tally Centre in Blantyre.
It says there were problems with generators, servers were unreachable because of network problems; cables were unavailable while some printers failed to work and MEC laptops were not even retaining power.
The auditors also complain of network breakdowns during data transmission, the MEC ICT staff forgot to assign the auditors the privileges of a ‘verifier’ and that there were inconsistencies on using either emails or national identities (IDs) to log in to kits.
The BDO Jordan report states that MEC accepted unverified results at the National Tally Centre in Blantyre, a revelation that dents MEC chairperson Jane Ansah’s assertions that they had followed every necessary step before announcing results.
During announcement of results on May 27, Ansah stressed that the commission had done a thorough job in preparing results; ensuring that the results were credible and that all grievances and complaints were duly addressed.
“The commission had put in place several stages of crosschecking the results and had answers and justifications to almost each and every query out there.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the commission has thoroughly reviewed all the complaints that were lodged for the Presidential Election and we declare the Presidential Elections to be free and fair and these results are the true reflection of the will of the people of Malawi.”
But the report states: “In terms of controlling and reconciling the transmitted results, MEC was unable to specify what was verified by the auditors and what was not. The transmitted results appeared on the screen before the verification of the auditors. MEC considered that final results before auditors’ approval.
“Many of the tally sheets were rejected by the auditors because of the missing signatures of the corresponding political parties. Later, MEC provided us with an official letter to approve all papers if they contained the presiding officer’s signature only.”
The auditors state that many of the tally sheets were rejected because of manual amendments, but MEC provided BDO with an official letter to approve any manual amendments on the tally sheets and forms that were used at the constituency tally centres.
While the maximum number of voters per stream was limited to 800, the auditors noted some instances where votes cast exceeded the maximum number of the registered voters per stream.
“A number of polling stations stream results were not tallying to the totals of the stations,” it adds.
Under Section 97 of the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act, before determination of the results, MEC is supposed to address all complaints.
It reads: “At the beginning of determining the national result of a general election, the commission shall take a decision on any matter which has been a subject of a complaint and shall examine the votes which have been classified as null and void and, may affirm or correct the determination thereof at the polling stations and at the offices of district cCommissioners, but without prejudice to the right of appeal conferred under section 114.”
On the contentious use of Tippex, the BDO Jordan report indicates that a significant number of Form 66, about 273, were over scribbled, as a result, most of these forms became a mess and needed to be replaced by duplicate forms.
The conduct and competency of POs has also come into question. This was also a contentious issue in May, when the POs failed to use the technology, even to balance results.
For instance, POs in Mzimba and Mzuzu City struggled with the electronic voting system, leading to delays in transmitting election results, according to officials at the time.
Mzuzu City Constituency RO Rebecca Chirwa said the training for the officers was only for two days, “which was inadequate”. The BDO Jordan report confirms these challenges, stating, in some cases, that POs poured insults on junior auditors who also complained that they kept them for too long without getting reconciled results.