Demands for a forensic audit to assess components of a biometric registration kit are building up with the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) agreeing to champion the exercise.
Electoral stakeholders want independent investigators to carry out the operation after some components of the biometric registration kits went missing in Mwanza and Mzuzu.
on Friday, the quasi-religious body consented to the undertaking following a request from opposition political parties during a closed-door interface meeting held in Blantyre.
This also follows a highly-charged National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Lilongwe on Wednesday last week, where stakeholders asked the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to engage private auditors.
PAC chairperson Felix Chingota confirmed on Friday accepting the responsibility but was short of indicating when the religious grouping will get down to work.
“Looking at the arguments which political parties put forward, we have accepted to take up this task head-on and champion the initiative and ensure it is successfully conducted after exhausting all consultations,” said Chingota.
However, the chairperson said it would not essentially be his institution’s personnel doing it as not all have the technical know-how to conduct such an audit.
“We will just be the lead group in the whole issue and engage those with expertise. Since this is a national issue, we would want even our government to come in with financial support so that the audit takes place,” he said.
Chingota said the audit was necessary for the commission to continue doing its work independently and also help to restore public trust in it ahead of next year’s Tripartite Elections slated for May 21.
“Sustained trust and integrity in the electoral process will be fundamental factors for credible and peaceful elections,” he said.
Former vice-president Cassim Chilumpha, a representative of the political parties, asked MEC to facilitate an independent forensic audit into all electoral equipment “in care and custody of MEC” for purposes of elections to ensure that the results are credible and non-partisan.
He said the missing-but-found registration kit and MEC’s “own contradictory statements” on the issue have ensured that instead of improving, the commission’s public image continues to get eroded.
“We believe that this is not in the national interest and that every effort needs to be made to reverse the situation,” he said.
Earlier this week, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) told our sister newspaper, The Nation, that MEC should not handle the probe as it cannot investigate itself.
Chilumpha said the purpose of the audit was to allay concerns the loss of the equipment has aroused in the minds of many Malawians.
Besides the audit, he said the parties also requested PAC to convene an all-inclusive stakeholders’ meeting to discuss and consider measures to ensure the elections’ preparatory process is peaceful and equitable to all parties.
PAC has also agreed to hold the conference where a report on the audit findings would be shared with the public.
Chilumpha, who is leader of the Assembly for Democracy and Development (ADD), disassociated the 11 political parties bloc present at the meeting from calls for the resignation of MEC chairperson and commissioners, saying they were not party to the demand.
The parties include UTM, ADD, People’s Party (PP), People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), Malawi Forum for Unity Development (Mafunde), Alliance For Development (Aford), Republican Party (RP), New Labour Party (NLP) and People’s Transformation Party (Petra).
But in a statement issued on Wednesday, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika dismissed calls for the commission’s top brass to step aside, saying the matter was thoroughly discussed and resolved during the Necof meeting in Lilongwe.
During the Necof meeting, MEC officials were taken to task to explain circumstances that led to the missing of the gadget that was later found in Mozambique, on a coal train belonging to Vale Logistics.
However, MEC chairperson Jane Ansah said the missing equipment, which belonged to the National Registration Bureau (NRB) had no effect on the registration process and that there was no data loss.