Maputo — Mozambique's Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) on Friday denied claims by the coalition of observer groups, the "Sala da Paz" ("Peace Room") that many voter registration brigades are still not functioning.
At a Thursday press conference, "Sala da Paz" spokesperson, Fernanda Lobato, claimed there are registration posts which, right from Day One (15 April) had never opened at all. This problem was at its worst in the cyclone-ravaged districts of Buzi and Nhamatanda in Sofala, Mogovolas district in the northern province of Nampula, and Gurue, Ile and even the city of Quelimane, in the central province of Zambezia.
Speaking to AIM on Friday, STAE spokesperson Claudio Langa categorically denied this allegation, and said that all 5,096 registration brigades are operational. He had just returned from Sofala, and had visited all the districts checking for himself that the brigades are working - although this had not been the case at the start of voter registration, when much of Sofala faced enormous logistical and communication problems in the wake of cyclone Idai.
Langa said that one of the districts cited by the "Sala da Paz", Buzi, is precisely where STAE has been placing extra registration kits (known as "Mobile IDs") to cope with an expected rush of new voters in the final days of registration. In particular, the post in the Buzi locality of Guara-Guara has been strengthened in order to register people resettled after the cyclone.
Although there are only 5,096 brigades, there are 7,737 registration posts. Hence many of the brigades, especially in rural areas, are expected to be mobile, covering several posts. Lobato said this was not happening, and that the supposedly mobile brigades were not moving, but staying in the same place throughout the registration period.
Langa denied this, and told AIM that he had seen with his own eyes that the brigades were indeed mobile.
One of the claims, made not only by "Sala da Paz", but also by the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, is that registration brigades are demanding that would-be voters show a document from neighbourhood officials, proving their residence status.
Langa said such a document was only requested in cases where citizens were unable to give the brigades their address. Under Mozambican legislation, voters are supposed to register at the post nearest to their normal place of residence.
But, according to Langa, in the southern city of Matola, a surprisingly large number of people originating from the central provinces of Sofala and Zambezia, were turning up in groups at the registration posts, but were unable to tell the brigades where they lived.
Anyone registering as a voter must give an accurate address. But these people, Langa said, could not name the streets where they lived, or the numbers of the houses. When this happened, they were asked to being a document from the neighbourhood secretariat to prove that they did indeed live in that area. Only people who did not know their addresses were asked for such a document.
Langa said the same thing had happened in registration prior to the municipal elections of October 2018.
Langa condemned attempts to collect voter cards, which are issued to voters and should not be transmitted to anybody else. "Sala da Paz" had noted cases in which "voter cards are collected by people associated with the Frelimo Party for unclear purposes" - such incidents had been noted in at least Nampula, Manica and Maputo provinces.
"We have appealed to the political parties not to do this", Langa said. He warned that, if anyone was caught in the act of collecting cards, the police could be called to arrest them.
Langa admitted that the STAE website is down for lack of payment to the host institution, the Computer Centre of the Eduardo Mondlane University (CIUEM), as reported by the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique".
The annual fee for the website, which is also used by the National Elections Commission (CNE), is a mere 100 dollars, which should have been paid at the start of the year. When no money was forthcoming, the CIUEM took the website down. Anyone using a search machine such as Google to locate the CNE and STAE, is greeted with the message "Hmm. We're having problems finding that site".
STAE still has an electronic presence - all its significant information is published on its Facebook page, and it also maintains Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram accounts.
Langa told AIM that renewing the website's subscription to CIUEM had somehow been overlooked. At the start of 2019, "there were lots of contracts to renew, and the CIUEM notified us late".
He said STAE had paid the bill this week. The website is being reinstalled and should be up and running again next week.