McDONALD Chipenzi has asked who defines the ECZ’s eight-member observatory and advisory team as eminent persons and whether or not they are conversant with the electoral process.
He is wondering whether those in the observatory and advisory team are able to perform as commissioners for the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
During a media briefing at the ECZ offices in Lusaka on Friday, Patrick Nshindano, the Commission’s chief elections officer, announced the names of the ‘eminent’ Zambians, who are believed/expected to be politically impartial.
Those in the observatory and advisory committee are General Benjamin Mibenge (retired), Professor Enala Tembo-Mwase from the University of Zambia (UNZA), Professor Owen Sichone from the Copperbelt University (CBU), Professor Edwin Zulu from Justo Mwale University and Reverend Emmanuel K Mwale from the United Church of Zambia (UCZ).
Others are Mirriam Munyinda, Hellen Samatebele from the civil society and Willie Sweta.
Nshindano said the ECZ hopes that the team would render services to enhance the credibility of the country’s electoral process.
“We do strongly believe in their capabilities and objectivity and this has been done in line with the law and the Commission is in order putting up such a structure,” said Nshindano. “This happens in many other management bodies around the world and on the [African] continent, including different bodies such as the UN, Commonwealth. They do set up such bodies which are observatory as well as advisory to the existing structures.”
But in a statement, Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative Zambia executive director Chipenzi said his organisation was very saddened by the ECZ’s decision: “to unilaterally appoint an electoral observatory and advisory group of eminent persons.”
He stated that he was aware that the group’s mandate was to advise the ECZ on electoral matters like electoral violence.
Chipenzi, however, argued that the appointment of those ‘eminent’ persons was contrary to the provisions of the ECZ Act No. 25, as amended by Act No. 5 of 2019 section 4(3) (b).
He said the citation guided the Commission that: “it may, in furtherance of its functions, undertake consultations, public hearings and inquiries for purposes of performing its functions under the Constitution and this Act.”
“This appointment of the electoral observatory and advisory group of eminent persons by the Commission is one that needed serious consultations among stakeholders to get buy-in and approval so that the so-called eminent persons make majority electoral stakeholders comfortable,” Chipenzi stated. “Are these eminent persons eminent because of their educational background, their role in electoral process or their age, gender or work histories in government, NGOs or private sector? What makes them eminent?”
He added that the appointment of: “the so-called eminent persons” was a very bad, strange and an unwelcome development and idea in an electoral process, and in contrast with the above cited provisions and that it may be an alien practice in the SADC region.
Chipenzi stated that while the GEARS Initiative was aware of the provisions of Section 7 of the ECZ Act No. 25 of 2016, as amended by Act No 5 of 2019, that empowers the Commission to appoint committees for the purpose of performing its functions under this Act, “the appointment of this group of eminent persons is highly questionable.”
Section 7 says the ECZ may establish such committees as it considers necessary and delegate to any of those committees such of its functions, as it considers fit.
Chipenzi, an electoral expert, further asked if it meant that Zambia would now have two sets of observatory and advisory bodies; one full-time led by ECZ chairperson justice Esau Chulu appointed by and reporting to President Edgar Lungu and another part-time observatory and advisory body of ‘eminent’ persons led by: “someone else to be known soon appointed by and reporting to justice Chulu-led Commission?”
He noted that both the ECZ’s advisory bodies would be entitled to government allowances that would be accrued whenever those persons sat, as per provisions of section 8 of the ECZ Act No 25 of 2016, as amended by Act 5 of 2019.
“It’s like we will have two observatory and advisory bodies at ECZ, which is unnecessary and duplication of advisory services as the Commission already has advisory committees established under section 7 of ECZ…” he stated, adding that such would be too costly to the ECZ, that claims to have no money to sponsor stakeholders to observe printing of ballot papers in Dubai. “The current advisory committees at the Commission include the National Voter Education Commission (NVEC), National Conflict Management Committee (NCMC) and Political Parties Liaison Committee.”
Chipenzi asks whether all those advisory committees have failed to offer advisory services on electoral violence, voter education and political parties’ cooperation to the ECZ for it to decide to appoint another advisory and observatory group of ‘eminent’ persons.
“It is our considered view, as GEARS, that the establishment of the new observatory and advisory group of eminent persons by ECZ is unnecessary, lacks stakeholders’ consultations and buy-in and criteria on what constitutes an eminent person and therefore, must be rejected,” he stated. “If the current body of commissioners, we understand is of eminent persons, has failed to guide on electoral matters, end electoral violence and feel they have lost public trust to be listened to, it is honourable for them to resign and allow the said eminent persons who command public trust to take up their place.”
Chipenzi’s statement continued: “who are those eminent persons, anyway? Who define them as eminent persons and are they conversant with the electoral process and able to perform as ECZ commissioners?”
He insisted that the decision to co-opt in ‘eminent’ persons was unproductive and a drain on the national treasury, unless….
“The Commission is clearly sending an admission of failure message to the nation and appointing authority that the current commissioners have failed to provide these observatory and advisory services to the ECZ management and cannot be listened to by stakeholders,” Chipenzi stated.
“Why should the commissioners give away their statutory advisory responsibilities to another body of eminent persons, even when the electoral process Act No. 35 of 2016 guides that: ‘the Commission may delegate any of its powers to a member, employee or officer of the Commission, excluding the power to prescribe anything under the Act or make an appointment…?’”
He stressed that if the current ECZ commissioners had failed or were unable to perform the function of observatory and advisory to the Commission’s management, “they might as well resign and pave way for those eminent persons to take their positions.”
“Don’t the ECZ commissioners realise that they are not in management but an observatory and advisory body in their current form and are expected to provide advisory services or oversight on Patrick Nshindano and his colleagues in management,” asked Chipenzi.