The Ministry of Finance is expected to release $9 million to fund the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission's (ZEC) voter registration awareness campaign.
The money is expected to be in ZEC coffers by the end of this week to allow the electoral body to begin its publicity and awareness campaign and simultaneously embark on its mobile registration exercise.
The exercise, which was due to begin last week, was postponed due to lack of funds. It is not clear where the Ministry of Finance has suddenly found the $9 million required. The acting Minister of Finance, Theresa Makone, told journalists after the meeting that the money is available and would meet officials from the ministry to authorise its release.
The immediate release of this fund will see officers from the registrar-general's office deployed to all the country's 1,958 electoral wards to carry out the exercise.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Thursday convened a meeting with commissioners and the secretariat staff from ZEC, where he was briefed by Makone that funds for the exercise will be released in the next few days.
The meeting was also attended by Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa and his deputy, Obert Gutu and registrar-general, Tobaiwa Mudede. From the $9 million to be disbursed to ZEC, $1 million will be used to buy indelible ink for the referendum, while the rest will be for the awareness campaign and the registration itself.
Mudede, long accused by the MDC-T of orchestrating Robert Mugabe's fraudulent electoral victories over Tsvangirai, told the Premier that as soon as the cash is released, his office will mobilise enough resources for the mobile voter registration exercise.
Our correspondent Simon Muchemwa told us ZEC's deputy chairperson, Joyce Kazembe, said the exercise, which had initially been expected to last three months, has now been reduced to two.
'She emphasized the whole exercise will last 60 days, which is two months,' Muchemwa said. During the first meeting between Tsvangirai and ZEC at the end of last year, it emerged that the government revised the budget submitted by ZEC for both the referendum and the elections.
ZEC had budgeted US$220 million for the two events, but the amount has been reviewed down to US$192 million. The reduction in the budget was a result of the scrapping of the delimitation exercise that was going to consume some of the financial resources.
The electoral body will now get US$85 million for the referendum and US$107 million for elections. According to a highly placed source, the referendum might be held at the end of February, if negotiations to complete the drafting of a new constitution are finished before the end of January. But Zimbabweans have already waited 3 years so there are no guarantees of anything.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has raised concern over the role Kazembe is playing at ZEC, in the absence its chairman Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe.
In its latest report released on Thursday, HRW said the ZEC chairperson is continuously based in Namibia, where he is a Supreme Court judge, so the electoral body was effectively being run by Kazembe, a strong Mugabe ally.
Kazembe has been part of the discredited electoral commissions that presided over previous elections, which were marred by violence and voter intimidation.
'While ZEC has new commissioners, the secretariat staff is largely the same pro ZANU PF team that worked for previous commissions. Several senior ZEC staff are either serving or retired members of the security forces drawn from the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), the army, and the police.
'ZANU-PF continues to resist calls by civil society and the MDC factions for an independent audit of ZEC staff followed by a fresh recruitment of professional, independent, and non-partisan personnel,' the HRW report said.