The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) last week rolled out the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise that will see the body coming up with a new voters' roll by the end of the year.
Zec was heavily criticised by opposition parties and civic groups for allegedly failing to plan properly for the exercise, which marks the beginning of preparations for the 2018 elections.
There were concerns about shortages of stationery, long distances to registration centres and general slowness of the process.
However, ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makarau (RM) yesterday told our senior reporter Veneranda Langa (VL) that she was happy with the process, saying save for Bulawayo, the turnout at the 63 voter registration centres were impressive.
Makarau said she was confident Zec will easily reach the target to register 5,7 million voters by the time the process ends in January next year.
Below are excepts from the interview.
BY VL: Justice Makarau, there has been a lot of criticism over the manner in which Zec is handling the BVR voter registration process. How has the registration process taken off so far?
RM: We are very happy with the progress of the BVR voter registration exercise because we have made notable progress in certain registration centres, especially in Harare where we have picked up with speed.
At first, we were registering 60 people per day, but now we are registering over 140, which is a record number. We are taking only three to four minutes to register one person.
VL: But, media reports say you are taking between 15 and 20 minutes to register one person. It was also raised in Parliament this week that BVR voter registration is going at a snail pace, please explain.
RM: At first the process was slow but now it only takes three minutes compared to the 15 to 20 minutes.
The highest record of 140 registrations was attained in Harare at the Remembrance Drive registration centre.
VL: So, are you confident that with this pace you are going to be able to register 5,7 million voters before the close of registration?
RM: I am very confident that it is possible to register 5,7 million voters by December 28 2017.
VL: To date how many people have you registered countrywide?
RM: I do not have the exact number, but we will soon be issuing out a statement that will detail the number of people that have been registered, and it will also give the numbers province by province.
VL: But generally, how are the provinces doing in terms of the numbers of people registering as voters?
RM: So far, the province that has been doing badly in terms of people registering to vote is Bulawayo. It is lagging behind.
One of the reasons is that it has only one registration centre.
But we are planning to increase the number of registration centres there as soon as the 600 kits are delivered.
VL: What is your reaction to complaints that you have deployed only 63 kits out of the 400 kits that you have so far received?
RM: We deployed 63 kits out of the 400 we received because the rest of the kits are currently being used to train 8 400 people that will be doing the registrations.
More kits will be coming and they will be deployed to more BVR centres.
VL: Because of the few BVR kits that have been deployed, there are now allegations that it is a ploy to disenfranchise voters, especially in areas perceived to be opposition strongholds, please explain.
RM: That perception is very wrong. in fact, this BVR exercise is meant to enfranchise (empower) voters.
We will ensure that everyone that wants to vote is registered.
VL: There are also allegations that you launched the BVR exercise without giving the people adequate voter education and that you are implementing voter registration without clear timelines, please comment on that.
RM: We do have very clear timelines because the launch of the BVR exercise was September 14, which marked the beginning of the process, and it will go on up to January.
We are waiting for delivery of more kits and once the remaining kits are in the country, we will launch an outreach campaign for registration and voter education.
We have very clear timelines. Legally, the proclamation says January 15 2018 must be the latest day to accept voter registration forms, but administratively we must be able to complete by December 28 2017.
VL: Other issues raised by civic society groups are that Zec does not have a clear media strategy to publicise the BVR process and as a result, many people do not have information on voter registration and centres. What is your media strategy?
RM: As Zec, we think people already know about the BVR exercise because it was highly publicised in all media.
However, that does not mean to say that we should not up our efforts to publicise it. We will certainly look at several other methods to let people know about the exercise.
VL: There are complaints that some registrants are failing to access documents like identity cards on time. Others complain of being charged by commissioners of oath to get certification of proof of residence. As a result, women complain of being disenfranchised. What is your advice?
RM: We will try and provide commissioners of oath at registration centres.
However, it does not mean that civic society and political parties cannot chip in.
They can also provide those services to people. I encourage people to ensure that they have the required documents on time so that they do not have to fill in affidavits.
VL: Generally, what would you say have been the biggest challenges during the BVR voter registration process?
RM: The main problem has been that people may not have information that they do not only have to get affidavits at points of registration.
They can get them from their pastors, lawyers, police stations, and they must ensure they do it well in advance.
VL: Otherwise are you confident that all is set for the 2018 elections?
RM: So far, I am brimming with confidence that everything is going on well for the 2018 elections.