The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has endorsed China's Laxton Group as the best company to supply biometric voter registration (BVR) kits which will be used to register voters ahead of next year's harmonised elections.
Laxton Group won a tender in June this year to supply a total of 3 000 BVR kits, some of which have already been delivered to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
ZEC awarded the tender to Laxton Group after it submitted a lower proposal of US$3,9 million to beat chief rival, Demalog Identification Systems of Germany, which charged US$5,5 million.
UNDP country representative Mr Bishow Parajuli said they had settled on the Chinese firm before the Government of Zimbabwe took over funding of the procurement of the BVR kits.
Mr Parajuli said this in an interview last week in Harare on the sidelines of a $1million grant by Japan to capacitate ZEC in preparation for the 2018 general elections.
He said there was nothing irregular with the Government of Zimbabwe providing funding for the acquisition of BVR kits. His statement undercuts unfounded fears of opposition political parties, civil society and the private media who cast aspersions on ZEC for choosing Laxton Group, claiming this favoured Zanu-PF because of close political ties between China and Zimbabwe.
They also criticised the decision by the Government to fund the procurement of the voter registration kits, claiming the State had usurped that responsibility from the UNDP as previously agreed between political parties and the world body.
"That was the best company that they (ZEC) settled for. We were equally happy with it. It was the cheapest and it is the same company we had recommended," said Mr Parajuli.
He said there was nothing wrong with the Government providing funding for the acquisition of the BVR Kits. "It is the responsibility of Governments the world over to fund electoral activities. Development partners might just come in to assist. We are pleased with the company providing the BVR kits. It was selected from a fair and transparent process," said Mr Parajuli.
ZEC has since taken delivery of 400 BVR kits, kick-starting the first major phase of the 2018 harmonised elections. Another batch of 2 600 kits is expected by October.
Voter registration starts on Thursday this week. Mr Parajuli said there was no more need to discuss the issue since ZEC was already at an advanced stage of ensuring that all BVR kits were in the country. "I do not see why that issue should be reopened. There is no need. It is now a closed chapter. We have moved very far from it," he said.
ZEC deputy chairperson Mr Emmanuel Magade said they were already in the process of mobilising resources through central Government ahead of next year's polls.
"We are in the process of mobilising the necessary resources to hold elections. That said, Government at the end of the day will avail to us the necessary resources to hold a free, fair and credible election. It is their constitutional obligation. I have every reason to believe that they will not be found wanting," said Mr Magade.
Laxton Group has been active in Africa after it supplied 8 000 BVR kits and instant plastic card issuance kits to Tanzania in 2015.
It has also worked in Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique where it reportedly supplied BVR kits, generators, batteries and other accessories for voter registration and elections.