The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has come under heavy criticism from its own employees, accusing management of purging dissenting voices and preparing the ground for elections rigging. An investigation by The Patriot on Sunday has uncovered information showing that no less than seven Principal Election Officers (PEOs) have been removed from the employment of the IEC and transferred to different government ministries, which have nothing to do with the management of elections. The transferred PEOs have been re-designated Assistant Manager-Corporate Services on the D2 scale at ministries like Agriculture, Transport and Communication, Labour and Home Affairs, Education and Local Government.
Some of the PEOs, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were shocked about the way the transfers were carried out and the new positions to which they have been appointed as they do not possess any expertise or experience for those roles. The transfers are even more suspicious because the PEOs were recently trained for an exorbitant amount on management of democratic elections, together with executive management. The Management of Democratic Elections in Africa (MDEA), a course sponsored by USAID and delivered by the University of South Africa, is used for capacity building to facilitate successful conduct of elections in the region. "Perhaps this was a way of removing us from the management of elections after we, together with our colleagues, registered grievances over conditions of service and questioned some decisions by IEC management," said a source.
In November 2015, PEOs from 25 regions across the country convened a meeting in Palapye to discuss their grievances about conditions of service at IEC. The meeting culminated with a request for a meeting with Secretary Gabriel Seeletso and management. In a letter to Seeletso, PEOs complained about lack of transparency in the transfer policy where some officers are favoured over others, lack of progression beyond D2 scale where the PEOs are currently marooned, and lack of transparency in benchmarking missions where some employees are favoured over others. They also questioned some decisions by management among them denying an officer based in Gantsi from using air transport when travelling to headquarters in Gaborone. The PEOs further rejected the proposed new structure to be adopted by the IEC because it does not define their progression path beyond the D2 scale, which they currently hold.
Soon after the grievances letter written in December 2015, the seven PEOs were singled out and transferred to different ministries, long before the meeting with management on January 26, 2016. The controversial transfers have sparked fears of a witch-hunt and intimidation against dissenting voices. Grievances raised by the PEOs have been confirmed by the just released findings of a study conducted on Electoral Management Bodies in the region and Botswana's IEC in particular, and delivered at the 18th Annual General Conference of the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries (ECF-SADC) held in Gaborone on Tuesday. The aggrieved PEOs told The Patriot on Sunday that the IEC lacks independence as it depends on subventions for its budget, which never meet its requirement to run operations. "The IEC is seriously under resourced and understaffed and is therefore heavily dependent on DPSM; hence the use of public servants employed elsewhere to carry out its mandate. Therefore, it is surprising that we would be transferred to ministries that do not have the same challenges as the IEC," said another source.
They said although the IEC processes are free, it lacks independence because its Secretary is appointed by the President who is the leader of a political party. The problem is compounded by an IEC Commission, which operates in a vacuum and decides when and where to meet without clear legislative instrument defining their conduct. This, they said, makes the IEC a government electoral management body as opposed to an independent organisation. To demonstrate the lack of independence, they said, the President enjoys the prerogative to set dates for elections, which gives his party access to such information ahead of others. They also cite the recent example where the ruling BDP through its majority in Parliament forced the cancellation of the provision for supplementary registration after expressing fears of voter trafficking by the opposition. The same Parliament has also increased fees for candidates contesting the parliamentary and local authorities’ elections from P500 to P5000 and P100 to P1000 respectively. In a separate interview BNF Publicity Secretary Justin Hunyepa gave the example of the Kelemogile ward by-election in Ramotswa which was held over the President's Day holidays when all political parties had scheduled their Congresses. "This was clearly calculated to disadvantage the opposition as we had congresses in Francistown at the time. The BDP held their congress earlier while the BCP was forced to reschedule theirs at the last minute to avoid the clash," he said.
Curiously, the transfer letters were effected from the highest office in the public service, and signed by the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), contrary to the normal practice where the IEC independently recruits and redeploys its own staff. The transferred PEOs were not given reasons for their removal from IEC, or at least an opportunity to accept or object to the transfer. The High Court recently ruled against an attempt by DPSM to effect a similar transfer of Tlokweng College of Education senior lecturer, Johannes Tshukudu, to the Ministry of Transport and Communication. Tshukudu also doubles as the president of Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). Court ruled that such transfer was unlawful and malicious because Tshukudu was not given a fair hearing prior and did not possess any skills for the new post.
The transfers have sparked controversy after it emerged that the affected PEOs were stationed at offices which cover constituencies won by opposition parties at the 2014 polls. Except for Mahalapye East the other offices oversee regions covering either constituencies won by opposition or at least one constituency currently held by opposition. The regional offices where PEOS have been removed are in Gaborone Village which covers all Gaborone constituencies, Gumare which covers Ngami and Okavango, Ramotswa which covers Tlokweng and Ramotswa, Lobatse which covers Goodhope/Mabule and Lobatse, Gantsi which covers Gantsi North held by Noah Salakae of the UDC and Francistown which includes Francistown South held by UDC's Wynter Mmolotsi.
2014 general election results
Number of seats won BDP 37, UDC 17, BCP 3
Number of council seats won BDP 311, UDC 116, BCP 56, IND 4
Percentage of seats won, BDP (63.86%), UDC (23.82%), BCP (11.50%), IND (0.82%)Percentage of Popular vote BDP 46.45%, UDC 30.01%, BCP 20.43%, IND 3.11%
The electronic voting machine (EVM)
The PEOs have also expressed shock at the speed with which the IEC is moving to implement the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVM) ahead of the 2019, after the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MPs rushed its Bill through Parliament at the eleventh hour, without consulting other stakeholders. They said the IEC has more pressing issues, which have been pending without resolution. Theirs add to a growing cacophony of voices opposing the EVM in its current form. A raging debate has ensued with the IEC struggling to justify the need for the EVM on one hand while opposition parties Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and the amalgamated Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) are demanding amendment of the Electoral Act to provide for safeguards against manipulation of the system. Should the BDP government ignore their demands, opposition parties are threatening court action to force the amendments. "The haste with which this machine is being forced into the system without safeguards is clear demonstration that the BDP preparing to rig the 2019 elections to remain in power," said one of the PEOs.
BNF Secretary General Moeti Mohwasa said they reject the use of EVM in any election unless its use is accompanied by safeguards and an audit trail. BNF delegates to the IEC workshop on EVM in July made up of incoming Secretary for International Relations Nelson Ramaotwana, University of Botswana academic Professor Monageng Mogalakwe and Gloria Batlang submitted their recommendations to the Central Committee last Saturday. They propose the inclusion of a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) into the EVM. “Counting of votes be conducted at each polling station and results be transmitted to the counting centres after the candidates or their counting agents have appended their signatures confirming the authenticity of the results. If the VVPAT produces the opposite results from what the voter has chosen, such machine should be set aside as corrupt and be replaced with the corrupt-free EVM,” reads part of the recommendations signed by Ramaotwana.
Ramaotwana accuses the IEC of fraudulent behaviour because at the workshop to introduce the EVM they never mentioned a single disadvantage of the machine yet there are many. "In Botswana, MPs did not have the Bill nor consulted voters about it before it was tabled on urgency in Parliament by none other than Eric Molale, a friend of Isaac Kgosi, both of them own spy equipment for the BDF," reads Ramaotwana's report. If the BDP refuses to embrace the proposed amendments the opposition bloc will stage frequent mass action to force the ruling party to adopt them, the BNF Central Committee resolved. Mohwasa said opposition parties will hold a march on September 17 to protest against the use of EVM, the crisis in Ministry of Education and Skills Development and the abuse of the government broadcaster – Botswana television – by the ruling BDP.
What the experts say
Meanwhile opposition parties have been vindicated by findings of a study conducted by University of Botswana (UB) academics on the IEC. They study by Prof. Emmanuel Botlhale and Dr Onalenna Selolwane confirmed that despite its ability to conduct free, fair and credible elections the IEC's foremost challenge is lack of independence and legislative authority to carry out its mandate. This, they said, is compounded by the absence of the IEC act, despite that it has been considered by the Commission since inception of the IEC 18 years ago. Other findings of the study confirm grievances raised earlier by the PEOs as outlined above. The researchers recommend that IEC be transformed into a body corporate (parastatal), its independence defined in an IEC Act (which currently does not exist), and an explicit definition of reporting lines (i.e. it reports to Parliament). They also recommend that the mandate of the IEC be expanded to include total control of its staff including the appointment of the Secretary, voter and civic education, control over campaign funds. The researchers, however, note that such may be a futile exercise unless thorough constitutional reforms are undertaken to re-align the executive-legislature relationship to ensure Parliament supremacy to enable oversight bodies to effectively report to Parliament.
Khama, SADC elections forum
When opening the 18th Annual General Conference of the ECF-SADC on Tuesday, President Ian Khama said Botswana values the conduct and outcome of democratically run elections. He said elections have to be conducted in a manner that adheres to the legal framework and also have to, of necessity be accompanied by unquestionable integrity of those who manage and conduct them. Khama said for EMBs to have unquestionable integrity they have to acquit themselves by passing the litmus test that can only be carried out through a properly constituted performance audit. "It is worth noting that your Forum adopted transparency, independence of decision making, professionalism, accountability, rule of law, openness and accessibility as its values. These are the foundation on which to build your integrity. Audits must therefore, serve to confirm its presence or otherwise and advise on how best to grow, nurture and sustain such integrity," said Khama.
Khama called on SADC countries to commit to accommodate performance audits as a prerequisite to an election being judged as correct, free and fair and that for a Commission to be declared to have integrity, it must have been subjected to an audit. "The audits must invariably be conducted by persons of integrity and relevant experience," he said. The outgoing Chairman of SADC said it is important for any successful election to be accompanied by serious political adherence for the sake of social, political and economic progress, peace and stability. He criticised election related conflicts in many parts of Africa including in SADC as self-inflicted, because of attempts to manipulate constitutions to extend otherwise expired terms of office or alterations to electoral calendars and at worst influence election outcomes and also not conforming to own guidelines for the conduct of elections. Although Khama said the theme is in consonance with the wishes of countries in the region developments in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mauritius, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) point to the contrary.