THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has often been accused of lacking transparency in managing elections, but it seems the dirt is not confined to polls but finances as well.
It has emerged Zec actually failed to avail its books to Auditor-General Mildred Chiri.
Zec is supposed to be an independent and publicly funded commission constituted in terms of chapter 12 of the constitution of Zimbabwe.
It is mandated with preparing for, conducting and supervising presidential and parliamentary elections; elections to provincial and metropolitan councils and the governing bodies of local authorities; election of members of the National Council of Chiefs; referendums; and to ensure that elections and referendums are conducted efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law.
Zec also supervises elections of the president of the Senate and the speaker of Parliament to ensure that they are conducted efficiently and in accordance with the law.
Zec has been subjected to a barrage of criticism for lacking transparency and credibility in the manner it conducts elections. The questions are now cascading to the electoral commission’s books of account with the Auditor-General accusing Zec of violating the law by failing to submit its books for audit.
In her 2020 audit report, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri said Zec, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) and the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) were found wanting by failing to submit their annual statements of account.
“Section 32 (1) of the Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22:19) requires every director of finance to prepare and submit annual financial statements for audit,” the report reads.
“Contrary to the above-mentioned provision, as previously reported, the following commissions did not submit their statements of receipts and disbursements for the year ended December 31, 2019 for audit examination: Zacc, Zec and ZMC.”
“Therefore, l could not satisfy myself whether or not public funds received by these commissions during the financial year under review were properly accounted for.”
There was no explanation from Zec on why it failed to avail its books for auditing. Zacc, for its part, said it had availed its books, but Chiri insisted that the books had not reached her office.
“I acknowledge the response from the management (that Zacc had presented its reports) however outstanding returns from the three commissions were still to be availed for audit examination at the time of concluding this audit,” the Auditor-General said.
Zec’s violation of public finance management law is only the latest in a string of questionable actions.
Ahead of the 26 March by-elections, the opposition was denied access to the voters’ roll, with the CCC’s secretary-general Chalton Hwende being accosted by police offices outside Zec offices when he had gone to inquire on the vote register.
In its report titled “Sowing seeds of illegitimacy – An analysis of the pre-electoral and electoral environment of the 26 March, 2022 by-elections in Zimbabwe” the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said Zec’s behaviour confirmed it was unable to present a credible and transparent election.
“However, the conduct of Zec ahead of this particular election laid bare its inability to act in a professional and impartial manner in managing the whole electoral process,” the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition report reads.
Activist group Team Pachedu flagged up several Zec irregularities, including changes to over 150 polling stations while 177 000 voters were moved from their polling stations without their knowledge in direct violation of the Electoral Act.
In February, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) challenged Zec to allow independent auditors to scrutinise the voters’ roll as a way of restoring public confidence but the call yielded no results.
Churches which observed the by-elections under the Ecumenical Election Observation team banner also said Zec was far from professional in its conduct of the elections.
“Zec’s handling of the voters’ roll raised a lot of concerns before and during the elections. On the 18th of February, Zec issued a Press statement that was originally meant to clarify some issues that had emerged through the various social media platforms. Through the statement, Zec’s presentation was interpreted to mean that the voters’ roll that had been in the public domain being analysed by different actors was a tampered copy and that it had been inappropriately released through verbal request.”
“This raised concerns that the voters’ roll was not protected and could be tampered with,” the report by the churches read.
“For the church, this case raised concerns regarding either the competency or credibility of Zec.”