The various stakeholders in the elections who want an independent and private body to investigate the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) equipment which went missing but got found are justified for their demand.
There are two sets of BVR kits which went missing and got found. According to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) one kit got lost as it was being transported from Lilongwe to Mwanza. This means this was the equipment used during the second phase of the registration which took place in Lilongwe. The other kit went missing in Mzuzu—suggesting it was meant to be used in Mzuzu or in transit to or from Mzuzu.
The gadget that went missing in Mwanza was found in Mozambique on a Vale Logistics Limited (VLL) train transporting coal from Moatize via Mwanza in Malawi to Mozambique. The kit includes a laptop computer. MEC Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah told a National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Lilongwe on Wednesday that the missing of the equipment has no effect on the registration process and no data has been lost. MEC has given contradictory messages on the kit. After commissioner Jean Mathanga told a news conference earlier that the kit was for voter registration in the ongoing exercise ahead of the 2019 tripartite elections, Ansah on Wednesday said the equipment was the property of the National Registration Bureau (NRB).
The issue here is not really who owns the equipment but what it was being used for and in whose custody it got lost. MEC has all along insisted that it would use the national identity cards for registration of voters in the 2019 elections. Accordingly, MEC and NRB officials are using the same gadgets when registering people to vote. I am one of those who registered for a national ID (chiphaso cha uNzika) at the same centre I also registered as a voter because I could not register as a voter before registering for chiphaso cha uNzika. So whether the equipment belonged to NRB or MEC is neither here nor there.
The issue that we should spend time on here is what next after the equipment went missing and got found. I need to state that the loss of such sensitive equipment endangered the data therein and the revelation that the gadget was recovered greatly eroded people’s trust in MEC.
MEC’s defensive stance regarding the need for an independent forensic audit is totally uncalled for and can rightly heighten suspicion among other electoral stakeholders that there is something fishy about the whole fiasco.
Ansah’s main argument is that the data in the equipment is not tampered with. MEC should not be afraid of an independent investigator if they are aware that there is nothing sinister that has happened. Secondly data in the equipment might be intact. But does copying the data from the computer, for example, constitute tampering with it (data)? Stakeholders are or could be worried about what was done with the data that might have been copied.
Any luggage or cargo can get stolen or lost in transit. But how the issue is handled thereafter is what matters. What has made this issue so suspicious is the manner MEC has handled it. It is as if they are hiding something. When the equipment was lost and got found MEC kept the issue under wraps. Why? Was this not something stakeholders needed to know about? There was no transparency. Why do they invite monitors during registration? Is it not to avoid such problems?
Now hear this. Barely a day after the VLL handed the BVR equipment to Police, the Malawi Immigration Department terminated the Temporary Work Permit (Tep) for the Brazilian expatriate who was working for VLL with nearly eight months before the expiry of his legal document. The expatriate—a security manager who was responsible for the security of the locomotive ferrying coal to Moatize where the BVR was found—is the one who ordered the device to be handed to Malawi Police after VLL kept it in its warehouse for two weeks. Surprisingly, the Immigration Department has not given the expatriate any reason for revoking his Tep. The expatriate did the right thing to hand over the issue to Malawi Police. If people conclude that government is hitting back for being embarrassed after their sinister scheme was exposed, would they be wrong?
Verdict—MEC’s credibility is at stake. More seriously are the 2019 polls. To absolve itself of any sinister plan MEC should allow an independent forensic audit to investigate the issue.