4 July 2014

Tanzanians Concerned Over New Biometric Voter Registration Exercise

Dar es Salaam — Many Tanzanians are wary of the government spending 298 billion shillings ($180 million) to re-register voters ahead of next year's general election using biometric voter registration (BVR) equipment, calling the process a waste of money and time.

Nonetheless, National Electoral Commission (NEC) Chairman Damian Lubuva said on June 20th that the government had acquired the necessary kits to carry out the biometric registration exercise, which will start in September.

"We have already procured the gadgets for this technology and now we are going to train the officers who will use them," Lubuva said.

As part of the exercise, all newly eligible voters will be registered and those with the old voter card will be re-registered, he said, and voters' fingerprints and palm prints will be taken to authenticate identities of eligible voters in next year's election.

The biometric registration will replace manual registrations, which was marred with challenges including double registration and missing names, Lubuva told the press.

But lawmaker John Mnyika, a member of Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) opposition party, says the project is being implemented hastily and that more transparency is needed to ensure public funds are not being squandered.

"In 2010 they introduced a new system called Electronic Results Management System, which cost a lot of money but at the end of the day it was not used," Mnyika told Sabahi. "They put the software and computers for tallying the results, but it proved too slow to the extent that we resorted to the old system of using calculators and normal computers."

"There are more questions than answers in this project," he said.

To ensure taxpayers' money is not being wasted, the NEC should make public all reports conducted in connection to the project and disclose whether private companies will be conducting and managing the project and how they were awarded such contracts, Mnyika said.

The law requires the government to engage consultants before embarking into any big project such as this one, he said. "The lead consultant report [for the BVR project] should be made public so that we understand what they advised to the commission," he added.

Frustration over multiple IDs:

Resident Gregory Eliufoo, a 42-year-old engineer in Dar es Salaam, said the government should streamline its processes and avoid duplicate efforts related to collecting citizens' identifying information.

"Currently the government is issuing the national identity cards. If [some biometric data] is missing in national IDs it should be added so that the same card can be used for voting as well," Eliufoo told Sabahi. "It will be costly and a duplication of duties to collect similar data twice from the same person."

The money would be better used if invested to provide essential services like water, education and health facilities, he said.

Deus Kibamba, executive director of the Tanzania Citizens' Information Bureau, a non-profit organisation that promotes citizens' participation in governance, agreed with Eliufoo saying the government needs to reconsider the new voter registration initiative.

"Our students sit on the floor in classrooms, so many villages are without clean water, hospitals have no medicines, roads are dilapidated, our national airline is caput, and the railway line is obsolete. We need money to sort out all these problems," Kibamba told Sabahi. "I think the data collected during the national ID registration process [last year] is authentic enough to be used for identifying eligible voters."

Anita Karikawe, a 17-year-old student at St. Matthew's Secondary School who will be a first-time voter in 2015, says she is excited by the prospect of voting but also concerned that the process will be disruptive and that citizens will be unnecessarily inconvenienced to exercise their right to vote.

"We have been registered for national IDs, mobile phones, driver's licences, social security fund cards, health insurance cards and now voters IDs all carrying similar information, this is cumbersome," she told Sabahi.

"It is better they harmonise the information to reduce the number of IDs someone [must carry] and reduce related costs to the government," she said. "The technology is there to help, so we should embrace it."

Hassan Kaiza, 55, a resident in Ilala District of Dar es Salaam, said the time lost in the process of re-registering nearly 21 million eligible voters could instead be used towards more productive endeavours.

"The process will not take just an hour. When I was registering to get the national ID in January, which I am expecting soon, it took me three days," he told Sabahi. "The first day, I managed to fill in the forms only, the second day the queue was too long so I left without doing anything and the third day at it is when my biometric data was taken."

"The process is too time consuming," he said, adding that the government should use the data already collected from citizens for the national IDs.

But Jovinary Wilbert, 45, says he welcomes the new voter cards if they will address the discrepancies in the manual registration process and ensure citizens can exercise their right to vote come election day.

"[In the 2010 election,] I had my voter card that was issued to me in 2005, but when I went to vote, I was told my name was not on the voting list," he told Sabahi. "I think the biometric voter registration system is something to be welcomed."

Fears over voting glitches:

Paul Kilinzi, 83, a former national executive committee member of the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi, said that while he welcomes the new technology, Tanzania should look to countries that have recently adopted biometric voter registration systems and electronic voting to learn from the hiccups they experienced.

"We have seen this system failing in Kenya and Malawi where they resorted to manual counting of votes," Kilinzi told Sabahi. "Therefore, we have to have plan B just in case we opt to use this system."

When asked if in addition to the biometric authentication process the government will use electronic voting machines in the 2015 election, NEC chairman Damian Lubuva told Sabahi that while a final decision was not made yet it was "unlikely".

For his part, NEC Director of Elections Julius Malaba said Tanzanians should not worry about using the new technology but feel reassured.

Although biometric kits caused some challenges in neighbouring countries, he said, they also reduced the number of complaints of double registration which is common in most African countries.

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