Electoral stakeholders have asked the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to engage independent investigators to assess components of a biometric voter registration kit that went missing in Mwanza and Mzuzu.
During a highly-charged National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting in Lilongwe yesterday, MEC officials were taken to task to explain circumstance that led to the missing of the gadget found on a train in Mozambique and a laptop computer as well as other accessories reported missing in Mzuzu.
Explanations by MEC chairperson Jane Ansah that the missing of equipment has no effect on the registration process and that there is no data lost apparently fell on deaf ears.
Instead, some of the delegates demanded the resignation of Ansah, a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal judge, and an independent investigation to assess if the data was not tampered with.
Ansah told the meeting that the equipment was property of the National Registration Bureau (NRB), an assertion the bureau’s chief director Harry Kanjewe confirmed.
The position presented by the MEC chairperson and NRB chief was earlier confirmed by NRB spokesperson Norman Fulatira in an interview with The Nation during the week.
Fulatira said the gadget—found in a cargo train that plies between Moatize Coal Mine in Tete and Nacala Port in Mozambique through Malawi—was for production of national identity (ID) cards, the domain of NRB.
His explanation contradicted what MEC commissioner Jean Mathanga said at a news conference in Lilongwe on Friday that the kit was for voter registration in the ongoing exercise ahead of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Fulatira said the equipment belonged to the bureau, but MEC was better placed to explain how it went missing and was later found as the electoral body is responsible for handling logistics of the machines.
Reacting to the revelations during the Necof meeting yesterday, opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) director of youth Richard Chimwendo Banda asked MEC to name individuals involved in the missing of the equipment.
He also proposed hiring of independent investigators to audit the gadgets, a proposal Ansah shot down as not necessary because data in the two kits was safe.
Said Ansah: “I do not think there is any reason why we should demand for an independent forensic audit. Our main concern on the matter is data. And we have reported that data in the two kits is not tampered with.”
Her response stirred more reactions with other stakeholders, including People’s Party (PP) representative Ibrahim Matola accusing MEC of taking the issue lightly.
He too demanded that Ansah should resign for not reporting the incidents to stakeholders, including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which is offering technical support to the electoral process.
Matola said: “You should have involved us when this just happened. As stakeholders, we want you to resign immediately.”
Efforts by MEC to have information and communications technology (ICT) experts from NRB and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) convince the stakeholders that the missing equipment did not mean the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections would be rigged did not bear fruit.
Some delegates dismissed Macra’s presence, saying the missing kits had nothing to do with telecommunications or broadcasting which Macra regulates.
But MEC argued that Macra officials were brought on board to allay fears that there was a ‘spy machine’ allegedly to be used in rigging elections.
In a separate interview, Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steve Duwa also stressed the need to have independent investigators on the matter.
Earlier this week, Information and Communications Technology Association of Malawi (Ictam) tipped off MEC to facilitate an independent audit of the recovered equipment to ascertain if it was not tampered with.
In an interview yesterday, Ictam president Wisely Phiri said it was not complicated to undertake an audit trail of data on the machine that was compromised.
He said: “The question that comes is how the data was captured on the equipment. One way is to have a central server that sychronises the data once it is captured. In that regard, it is not difficult to track the data.
“But if it was a stand-alone machine which keeps the data until it is transferred to a remote server, it can also be tracked down even if some pieces of equipment are missing.
“It all depends on the willingness of the custodians of the equipment to allow the process to take place.”
MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika is also on record as having confirmed theft of a laptop computer and a power bank used in the voter registration exercise in Mzuzu, but dismissed fears that data was tampered with.
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.