Barely eight months before Malawi holds its and Legislative elections, the Malawi Electoral Commission and its chairwoman Anastasia Msosa is being riddled in many controversies ranging from wrongful-self enrichment, electoral pitfalls and rigging tactics.
The Commission has been faulted by stakeholders for poor organisation during the on-going registration exercise which has been marred with lot of challenges and irregularities raising fears of rigging scheme.
MEC has since suspended nine registration centres across the country to rationalise use of equipment such as cameras, transformers and other technology that were supplied in a procurement which was fraud riddled.
"The suspension has been necessitated to rationalise the use of equipment. People in these constituencies should not panic as [Mec] will resume the registration exercise in all the affected centres as soon as the additional equipment is acquired," reads the statement issued by MEC chairwoman.
The affected constituencies—which fall in the third phase of voter registration exercise—are Mzimba Solola, Ntcheu North East, Ntcheu Bwanje North, Balaka North, Mangochi Nkungulu, Mangochi Masongola, Mangochi North East, Thyolo North and Thyolo South West.
However, the move has been described by others as a calculated tactic to disenfranchise voters where the governing party is not popular.
“This registration hiccups are raising fears that MEC is disenfranchising voters in areas where has no support. This electoral process continues to be fraudulent,” observed Pofela Nyekanyeka who runs Anti Voter Apathy (Avan).
A tender of US$7.95 million was fraudulently awarded to an Australian company Jazzmatrix through the influence of Frank Vassallo, the Chief Elections Consultant at MEC, who is himself an Australian.
Jazzmatrix is a bogus company which was specifically formed in readiness for this tender and is owned by Vassallo’s own sister and her husband.
The equipment is very cheap, of very poor quality and not intended for heavy duty use according officials working at MEC.
“Indeed from day one the equipment has been constantly breaking down because they are not robust enough to withstand the continuous use in harsh conditions. Technical experts have pointed out that the equipment was sourced from China,” a dossier chronicling malpractices at MEC read.
MCE conceded last week that it sent 164 cameras to South Africa for repairs. It also ordered 150 additional new cameras.
The dossier of MEC ills also reveal that Msosa is now the Executive Chairperson of MEC as she is making day-to-day operational decisions and signs all the cheques related to procurement and financial expenditure which is facilitating Vassalo’s procurement malpractice.
However, the role of the Chairperson is clearly spelled out both in the Constitution and the Electoral Commission Act as determining policy and budgets together with other Commissioners, which provides the framework for implementation by the Chief Elections Officer, Heads of department and the entire MEC staff.
The electoral body spokesman Fergus Lipenga gave Nyasa Times e-mail enquiry a muted response. Observers want heads to roll at the Commission and that the chairwoman should either resign or have her contract which expires this month not renewed.
“MEC chairperson should honourably resign and the entire MEC should be completely reformed or eliminated altogether in favour of a new commission that operates in a transparent manner,” said AVAN director.
Recently, supervisors and camera operators also petitioned MEC over poor working conditions and threatened to down their tools.
The Kenyan electoral commission has since been threatened with a travel ban by the US government after they refused to resign as recommended by a government commission.
“Our Malawi commissioners should learnt a big lesson from their Kenyan counterparts because donors would not be happy to see their money abused by incompetence, corruption, favouritism and other vices,” said AVAN boss.
UN Development Programme (UNDP) and other donor partners have contributed US$21 million in support of the 2009 Malawi elections process.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Appeal will from October 31 start hearing an appeal by opposition UDF and MCP parties against a High Court ruling that President Bingu Mutharika lawfully appointed the commissioners.
UDF and MCP presidential hopefuls, Dr Bakili Muluzi and John Tembo respectively are applicants in the case.
The two are challenging that High Court Judge Healey Potani made a material error in law by ruling that the President had duly consulted the applicants and all other concerned before appointing the electoral commissioners, according to court documents filed by the two.
The case would be heard by three judges which includes Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo. Other judges will be Michael Mtambo and Andrew Nyirenda.
Mutharika appointed Reverend Dick Mzumara, Oliver Mwenifumbo, Ronald Mkomba, Brown Chimphamba, Jane Nankwenya, Georgina Chikoko and Mary Manyusa-Mangwiza as commissioners last year without consulting the stakeholders.
Opposition have repeatedly branded Malawi electoral body as “Mutharika Electoral Commission”.
To save their integrity, lawyer James Naphambo and Reverend Silas Ncozana turned down the appointment into the “Mutharika Electoral Commission”.