2 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Millions Set Aside to Turn ZEC Digital

The cost of Zimbabwe's journey to real democratic change is continuing to climb, with US$20 million needed to ensure the next poll results are distributed electronically.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said this week it is in the process of linking its national command centre with all district offices nationwide, in order to transmit election results electronically. The ZEC said this will prevent the results being tampered with.

Acting ZEC chairperson Joyce Kazembe said in Kadoma that the software would be in place by January next year.

"We are currently putting in place software that will be used to transmit the election results and we hope the cable linking all the districts with the command centre (in Harare) will be in place by January," she said.

Kazembe said a budget had been presented to the United Nations Development Programme, which has been providing technical and financial assistance to the ZEC. This latest budget includes the US$20 million needed to digitally link all the offices in time for the elections expected in March next year

"A consultant has done a study and I will soon be receiving the documents. What I know right now is we have reached a stage of buying the equipment including computers and other accessories needed, of course after going through a tender process," Kazembe said.

Phillip Pasirayi, an activist with Centre for Community Development, told SW Radio Africa on Friday that "going digital is a good idea in principal." He said that in terms of the country joining the modern world, "digitalisation is a good endeavour."

But Pasirayi expressed concern that Zimbabwe's priorities are misplaced, saying: "We are not, as a country, at the stage where digitalisation is a priority." He said that issues around electoral malpractice and the general culture of violence and intolerance in Zimbabwe should be tackled first.

"The only way we can deepen our democracy is to exercise tolerance and stop criminalising people for exercising their rights to support and vote for different political parties. This and the culture of violence in our country should be tackled above digitalising the election," Pasirayi said.

The US$20 million needed for this process is part of the growing democracy budget that is being funded by the donor community, to help Zimbabwe hold free and fair elections. This has included the ongoing constitutional reform exercise to produce a new charter ahead of a fresh presidential poll.

The estimated total expenditure for the whole constitutional making process is believed to anywhere between US$45 million and US$100 million. This has included the costs of the drafting exercise and the All Stakeholders Conference that was held last month. All the funds were provided by the donor community.

The ZEC meanwhile requires a staggering US$300 million for both the referendum and election. The referendum alone will cost over US$100 million, with the remainder going to the harmonized elections due early next year.

These costs again are set to be met by donors, with Finance Minister Tendai Biti insisting the government has no money to pay this election bill. Biti revealed during a 2013 Budget consultative meeting in Bulawayo last month that he will be depending on Western countries and world bodies for funds to bankroll the referendum and the elections.

"Countries such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and China and the United Nations have an obligation to fund the elections, inasmuch as they fund our education and health sectors. We will soon approach them for assistance," he said.

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