Elections

Fresh queries over Shs68 billion voting devices

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Returning Officer

Electoral Comission’s Wakiso District Returning Officer, Hajjat Sarah Bukirwa, displays the Biometric Voters Verification machine during the training. Photo by Joseph Kiggundu 

By FREDERIC MUSISI & TABU BUTAGIRA

Posted  Monday, February 8   2016 at  02:00

In Summary

Confusion. A lack of adequate civic and voter education has left potential voters guessing whether they require a voter’s card, a national Identity Card, voter location slip or a combination of all documents to be able to vote

Kampala.

Imagine you are a concert or football match ticket holder. At the gate, your ticket is scanned on a machine reader to confirm its authenticity for you to access the venue.

The Biometric Voter Verification System (BVVS) machines that the Electoral Commission (EC) contracted a foreign firm to supply at $19m (Shs66b) will do just that: scan a person’s finger print to determine their eligibility to cast the ballot.

But just like a spectator cannot control or influence a stage performance or foul play on the football pitch, a biometric machine itself cannot prevent rigging, ballot stuffing or result manipulation during transmission in the decisive political game on February 18.

The electoral body acknowledges that its polling officials will have hard copies of the National Voters’ Registers at hand as a final reference to determine who votes or doesn’t, whether or not the battery-powered gadgets malfunction or fail to work normally.
There is another elephant in the room, though. A lack of adequate civic and voter education has left potential voters guessing whether they require a voter’s card, a national Identity Card, voter location slip or a combination of all documents to be able to vote.

Bone of contention
In places such as Luweero District, some registered voters with national IDs reportedly do not have voter location slips while other individuals without IDs or voter’s cards have voter location slips.

Dr Badru Kiggundu, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, last December said a national ID is not a prerequisite for somebody to vote, weeks after his commission declined to nominate former presidential candidate and Gulu District chairman Norbert Mao, who did not register for national ID, to run as Member of Parliament for Gulu Municipality.

These anomalies had Opposition leaders and some diplomats question the credibility of the electoral process, and with it, the EC’s logic to spend Shs66b on the BVVS devices in spite of early warnings by the Solicitor General (SG) about the supplier, Smartmatic, being blacklisted by countries which hired its services in the past.

The electoral body, in response to our inquiries, said it did due diligence as was demanded by the SG but when asked to provide details, EC spokesperson Jotham Taremwa said “everything is under control.”

On November 6, last year, Mr John Bosco Suuza, on behalf of the SG, warned EC against proceeding to sign a contract with Smartmatic without completing due diligence.

“… we note that whereas the due diligence team set out to, among other things, establish ‘allegations of failure to deliver in Venezuela, America and Philippines’, it has not been shown that the team actually conferred with authorities in any of the three countries to establish the performance [and other] records of the provider,” he wrote.

The SG was responding to EC secretary Sam Rwakoojo’s June 19, and October 19 2015 letters, seeking a no-objection for the Smartmatic contract.

Donors pulled out of the biometric technology procurement after disagreement with the EC over sourcing of the suppliers.
Our investigations show Mexico, Philippines and the United States contracted the company to provide similar technology, but it had a less-than-satisfactory output.

We could not reach a Smartmatic official in Uganda to clarify on the concerns. The firm’s managing director, Mr Frans Gunnink, last month at the launch of the technology, said they have never failed to deliver in any country where they were contracted.

Smartmatic snapped up the Ugandan deal at $19m (Shs66b), beating firms from Israel, Belgium, United Arab Emirates and South Africa.
One of the companies, Diamond Gate General Trading Ltd, petitioned the EC for administrative review but it was told on June 8, 2015 that the evaluation had followed the law.

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