JUSTICE MAXON MBENDERA, SC
CHAIRMAN OF THE MALAWI ELECTORAL COMMISSION
DURING THE 8th NATIONAL ELECTIONS CONSULTATIVE FORUM
ON 13 NOVEMBER, 2015
HOTEL VICTORIA, BLANTYRE
- Fellow Commissioners,
- Honourable Leaders of Political Parties
- Your Excellencies members of the Diplomatic Corps and Representatives of all Development Partners
- Chief Elections Officer, your deputies and all members of staff of the Secretariat
- Paramount Chiefs
- The Chairperson for the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy (CMD)
- Secretaries General, Directors of Elections and all distinguished political party leaders.
- Senior Government Officials
- Distinguished Members from the Civil Society Organisations
- Distinguished Members of the Press
- Ladies and Gentlemen
It is good to meet again after a year and four months. Last time we met here was on 4th July, 2014 for a post-mortem of the 2014 Tripartite Elections. Since that time, a lot has happened. Your Commission has been communicating through various mediums. It is not my intention to present a comprehensive report of what has happened over that period. That said, I will still endeavour to report, albeit briefly on the issues that have transpired.
Distinguished delegates, the May 2014 tripartite elections are long gone. Many of you may be aware that honoraria for the 89,656 poll workers was paid by Development Partners through UNDP. The electronic system of paying the poll workers was adopted. The Commission experienced a lot of problems through this system. However, the UNDP has since paid almost everybody who took part in the exercise. We are aware that there are still claims that have not been honoured. (PPS)
UNDP is auditing and reconciling the whole exercise. The negotiations are continuing to see how these outstanding claims can be settled.
I should also mention that we still have outstanding issues with the Police. There were some police officers who filled forms and got a 50 percent advance payment for their honorarium. However, when it came to deployment, they were unavailable as they had been assigned to other duties. These were replaced by other police officers who were available for deployment but never got the advance payment. We are working with the Inspector General to ensure that those Officers that got the money but were not deployed to the Election centres refund the money and those that worked have received. (receive their money or be paid)
The Commission regrets that the exercise has taken this long to have all staff paid for their dues for working on May 20, 2014. However, we will pursue the process to ensure that all outstanding claims are concluded.
Update on fire which gutted a warehouse in Lilongwe,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, You can recall that our Warehouse in Lilongwe was gutted by fire on 15thJuly, 2014. The Commission lost property worth millions of Kwachas in that inferno. We engaged the police to carry out investigations on the cause of the fire. The Police are still conducting investigations on the matter. The Commission will share the findings once the report is out.
Status for court cases for 2014 elections,
During the May 20, 2014 the Commission, through the Legal Unit, received 360 cases. We are were able to attend to most of them without court action. Of this total, 26 ended up in court. As we stand today some of the issues have been concluded while others are still hanging.
Out of the 26 cases, 7 Cases were dismissed with costs in favour of the Malawi Electoral Commission. The Legal Unit is currently preparing bill of costs for these cases. A total of 8 cases were withdrawn by mutual consent while one 1 case is still in court and is awaiting judgement. Ten (10) cases still in the court that are waiting for hearing and there are two 2 cases that are in the Supreme Court.
Due to various reasons, the Commission has since conducted 9 local government by-elections and 2 parliamentary by-elections.
The Commission has noted that turnout in the by-elections especially on Local Government By-elections is not satisfactory. The highest percentage voter turnout in the August 2015 by-elections was 42.72 percent registered in Luchenza Ward while the lowest was 13.42 percent in Zomba Central Ward. The average voter turnout was25.87 percent. This was slightly lower than what was registered during the by-elections of October 7, 2014. The highest turnout was 40.87 percent and the lowest being 12.12 percent. The average was 26.14 percent. This is an improvement if compared to results of previous Local Government Elections in 2000 whereby turnout was 14 percent and was even lower in subsequent Local Government By-elections then as the turnout figures could go lower than 14 percent.
At the moment we have Zomba Chisi Constituency, Mtope Ward in Mchinji West Constituency and Ngala Ward in Lilongwe Msozi North Constituency where there are vacancies. We did indicate that the by-elections to fill these vacant seats would be held in December this year but we could not go ahead because of funding. However, am glad to inform you that the Ministry of Finance has just released K200 million for the by-elections. We will soon release a calendar that will show when we will hold the by-elections.
Biometric voter registration
The Commission wanted to implement a biometric voter registration in the run up to the May 20, 2014 electionsas you are all aware. However, stakeholders expressed reservation on time and technical factors and the idea was shelved.
With challenges experienced with the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) system, every stakeholder now should be supporting the Commission in its quest to migrate to the Biometric Voter registration System (BVR).
The Commission is pushing for this idea. After the elections on May 20, 2014, UNDP hired a consultant, Africore, to conduct a feasibility study on implementation of the BVR system. The consultant recommended that the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) work in collaboration with the National Registration Bureau (NRB) in coming up with a reliable National Population Register from which the MEC would then extract its voters’ register.
To this end MEC, NRB and UNDP held the first High Level meeting on 18th February 2015 to see the feasibility of such a venture. The meeting resolved that a Joint Technical Committee be established to thrash out the issues and report back to the High Level meeting. I am pleased to welcome officials from National registration Bureau in this meeting. They will present an update to NECOF.
Capacity building in line with the electoral cycle approach
The Commission has adopted a cycle approach to elections management in preparations for 2019. To that effect there are several trainings which the Commission has implemented to build the capacity of stakeholders. These include:
- BRIDGE training on Electoral Technology, Financial and Strategic Planning funded by African Union held in Liwonde from 29th June to 3rd July, 2015. It targeted MEC Commissioners and staff.
- BRIDGE training on Electoral Systems that targeted MEC, political parties and members of the Task Force on Electoral Reforms. It was funded by European Union and held in Blantyre from 9th to 12th June, 2015.
- BRIDGE training on Gender and Elections funded by European Union which was held in Blantyre and attracted the representation of political parties, Civil Society Organisations and Government Departments. It was held in Blantyre from 1st to 4th September, 2015.
- BRIDGE training on Electoral Dispute Resolution funded by the African Union which was held in Blantyre from 7th to11th September, 2015. It targeted Secretaries General, MEC Commissioners and staff.
- BRIDGE training on Elections and Boundary Delimitation which targeted MEC Commissioners, staff andSecretaries General and Director of Elections of political parties. This was funded by European Union andheld in Blantyre from 5th to 9th October, 2015.
All these topics were chosen to address a particular deficiency experienced during the May 2014 elections.
Electoral reform activities
To ensure that electoral reforms are implemented in a coordinated manner, the Commission, NICE and MESN who had earlier on been involved in the reform agenda individually, brought together interested and relevant stakeholders to form a task force on electoral reforms. The coming together has given the taskforce the opportunity to benefit from the expertise and advice of the multi-sectoral stakeholders in the election business. The task force has been engaging several stakeholders on the issues that were generated requiring reforms. We shall have a full session on the reforms.
The leaked draft Investigative audit report.
There is a draft report of an Investigative Audit by the Internal Audit Committee of the Ministry of Finance that unfortunately leaked to the media and generated negative publicity for the Commission. Some media reports based on this draft have alleged that is a K1.6 billion cashgate at the Commission. As a matter of practice, in all audits, the auditor will form an impression of what he has found. He then sends his queries to Management to test his findings by seeking explanations and supporting documents. If no explanations are given or no documents are provided he is entitled to conclude that the anomalies are real. He then proceeds to finalise his report.
If explanations are provided, he must include them in his report if he is not convinced of their veracity. If the explanations and supporting documents clear the query, then the issue which featured in the draft must be dropped from the report.
However, the current draft in circulation does not include responses from the Malawi Electoral Commission Management. The auditors held an exit meeting with MEC on July 15, 2015. MEC Management wrote its responses on August 4, 2015 and submitted for incorporation into final report. However, there was a mix up at the Ministry of Finance that delayed the responses to reach the auditors on time.
In the aftermath of the media reports on this issue, the Commission has written the Secretary to the Treasury to expedite the whole process and have the final report released.
Although there is high temptation to reveal the responses now in view of the damage, the leaked preliminary report might cause, the Commission will restrain itself as doing so will be unprocedural. We would rather be exonerated by the final report than going to the media to justify our innocence with the information we have. We hope you will understand because to us a draft audit is work in progress that can change at any time. Therefore it is no fit for public consumption.
I am pleased to inform you, distinguished delegates that the Commission has developed a Communication Strategy. Our heartfelt thanks to the EU DGP who engaged Mr. Mark Jeffrey, an international consultant and Mr. Stanley Nyirenda, a local consultant, to help develop the strategy.
The development of the Communications strategy epitomises the mission and commitment of the Commission to effectively communicate and share information with its stakeholders.
The process leading to the development of the strategy involved consultations with various stakeholders that included media, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), disability and women organisations and staff from the Commission. This exercise took place between 12 November, 2014 and 27 February, 2015. In addition to the consultations, the consultants also did an extensive desk study on available literature, communication for the Commission in pursuance with its mission, vision and the current strategic plan. The strategy is also intertwining with the Civic and Voter Education strategy which was developed in 2013. I cannot say hitherto the Commission was not communicating, we were and we are still doing a good job. We have two consecutive awards to attest to this. But we needed a guiding document that will provide the benchmarks against which we can measure our efforts and that can also help improve our weak spots.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this has been a long report
I thank you all for the attention
May God bless you all and bless our country