Saturday, July 30, 2011

Govt lying over ballot papers printing - Mulongoti

Govt lying over ballot papers printing - Mulongoti
By Kombe Chimpinde
Sat 30 July 2011, 14:00 CAT

MIKE Mulongoti yesterday challenged the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) chairperson justice Ireen Mambilima and director Priscilla Isaacs to publicise the correspondence between ECZ the and government in which he stated that Government Printers has the capacity to print ballot papers locally.

In an interview yesterday, Mulongoti, who was recently fired from government as works and supply minister, said it was not correct for justice Mambilima and Isaacs to say that the Government Printers had no capacity to print the ballot papers locally.

He was commenting on justice Mambilima’s statement that while ECZ would prefer to print ballot papers locally to avoid the logistical problems that may arise from printing abroad, they were informed by the government that Government Printers has no capacity to do that.

But Mulongoti said he was surprised to hear that because what he knew as a former minister in charge was that the Government Printers had the capacity to print ballot papers locally, except that stakeholders had recommended the installation of CCTV cameras and the erection of a fence around the printing facility to improve security.

Mulongoti supported Mambilima’s statement that printing of ballot papers in South Africa was a logistical nightmare. He, however, challenged her to produce correspondence between ECZ and his former office indicating that Government Printers had no capacity to print ballot papers.

“Ideally, I understand her difficulties. I was the Minister of Works and Supply until about four, five months ago,” Mulongoti said.

“At no time did I send any correspondence to the Electoral Commission of Zambia to say that Government Printers had no capacity. Not to even to the President. So if she says they got authority from government, who sent a letter because that department fell under my office. I was minister not so long ago and I kept following that project because I had paid so much attention to it for reasons that the future of Zambia would expect us to start printing ballot papers here so that all stakeholders are satisfied.”

Mulongoti said he was surprised to learn from justice Mambilima that Government Printers had no capacity to print ballot papers locally.

“It is so shocking to me because it was not suppose to be like that.

When I was minister, I knew that was not the correct position and at the time I was in office a tender for CCTV cameras which was one of the remaining requirements had been floated,” Mulongoti said.

“The MMD government has borrowed enormous resources which they are ploughing into roads by paying people contractors upfront. That money must be used for that purpose. The agenda of elections is busier than that of the roads they are building.”

Mulongoti said nobody could guarantee the safety of ballot papers printed abroad. He said observers that were present during the printing of ballot papers did not even have full access to all the areas where the exercise is done.

“Tell Ms Isaacs that she is not being fair to the people of Zambia. The people who are contracted to print in South Africa also subcontract to some small companies in South Africa,” Mulongoti said.

“That is the truth. The people that go to observe have no access to the printers other than where they take them to go and pretend that this is where they are printing. So I want her (Isaacs) to challenge what I am saying, that printing is not done by one company.”

Mulongoti wondered why the government would still opt to have ballot papers printed in South Africa when the only missing infrastructure at the Government Printers was CCTV cameras and fencing.

“They (ECZ) are being dishonest about the whole thing. For instance, they are saying the printing of ballots papers has commenced.

When then did they capture photographs of people who are going to stand as MP or as presidential candidates?” Mulongoti said.

“So you can see the dishonest nature of the whole thing. They could have made templates now but those templates my dear are a prototype to show what the ballot papers will look like awaiting the fixation of photographs or whatever other details. And that can be done here in Zambia. The technology is there. Why is it that we have got all these posters around. What is special about a ballot paper? So nobody can guarantee security if it is done outside. No, no, no, no.”

Mulongoti said it was this uncaring behaviour by ECZ that forced Zambians to be skeptical about their ability to handle free and transparent elections.

“I am extremely uncomfortable because even the observers that go to observe get patronised by the courteous of the contracting companies. You cannot go and observe the printing of ballots and you go and get entertained by the same company that is printing the papers,” Mulongoti said referring to a case that happened in 2008.

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