Biometrics is a technology used to capture unique physical features such as finger prints and/or facial scans for the purposes of identification. Biological and behavioural characteristics are stored in a database and used for identification of voters on polling day. Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) can be used to collect this unique data to identify voters and the software used can help eliminate duplicates or multiple registrations due to malpractice,fraud and human error. This article gives a historical background of Biometric Voter Registration in Zimbabwe.

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UNDP flights tender for procurement of biometric voter registration kits

On December 14, 2016 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) flighted a tender for the procurement of biometric voter registration kits including software for electoral process in Zimbabwe. The deadline for the tender was January 17, 2017.[1]

Government takes over acquisition of Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits from UNDP

In February 2017, the Zanu-PF Government took over the acquisition of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits, replacing the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which had stepped in because of Zimbabwe’s strained resources. A tender had been issued for the provision of the kits in December 2016, with the UNDP as the financier of the US$50 million project handling the tender process on its own e-platform and verifying the tender documents submitted by potential suppliers.

12 companies submitted tenders and five were shortlisted. Of the five, three were expected to present their systems for final selection. Asked to explain why government had decided to take over the issue at a time when UNDP was almost finalizing the tenders, ZEC Chairperson Rita Makarau said she was not in a position to answer the question as it was government decision.[2]

ZEC Tests Biometric Voter Registration Kits

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) tested biometric voter registration kits from 20-28 April 2017. ZEC included stakeholders such as political parties, observers, media and civic society organisations.

The kits were taken through water and shock resistance tests at the commission’s head office. The kits from Laxton Group of Companies and Dermalog Identification Systems were dropped from 1,5 metres before being put under a torrent of water for 10 seconds to test their resistance. After the drop and drenching, the two kits were then opened and operators were asked to begin using them to see if they had withstood the tests. Kits supplied by Dermalog Identification Systems suffered a slight glitch but went back online after some time, while the Laxton Group of Companies kits were unaffected.

Zec also took the kits through time testing both on the number of voters registered per hour and per day, with the two companies running for the tender finishing just 30 minutes apart, where Laxton Group of Companies kits were faster. In a brief statement after the tests, Zec chairperson, Rita Makarau said the commission would now receive recommendations from their evaluators and technical team, while observers were also expected to hand in their contributions by the end of day on 26 April.

Makarau said Zec would make the final decision on which kit to purchase in terms of the provisions of the State Procurement Act. She also noted that Zec had not changed from the tender specifications and selection, which was jointly flighted by the elections body and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).[3]



Lawyer seeks to stop biometric voter registration

Lawyer, Alfred Mavedzenge filed an application seeking to stop biometric voter registration (BVR) by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec). The hearing has for the matter was set for July 5, after Chief Justice Luke Malaba granted him direct access to approach the Constitutional Court. Mavedzenge challenged the constitutionality of the Electoral Act, arguing it gives the government the power to veto regulations promulgated by Zec. His lawsuit sought an order to declare Section 192 (6) of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13) constitutionally invalid because it gives Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa power to approve regulations or statutory instruments developed by Zec.[4]

ZEC Awards BVR Tender

ZEC awarded the tender to supply Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits ahead of the 2018 harmonised elections to a Chinese company, Laxton Group Limited. The initial tender was for 1 600 kits but the electoral commission required 3 000 kits composed of 2 900 general kits and 100 districts kits. [5]

BVR tender scandal

According to weekly publication, The Standard, Chinese company Laxton Group which won the tender to supply Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits, actually came second in the bidding process. Dermalog Identification Systems of Germany was first with a score of 83,6%, but the State Procurement Board (SPB) gave the contract to the Laxton Group (82,85%), which came second.ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau directed all questions to the SPB when contacted for comment.[6]

Laxton Group leaks document exposing ZEC's shortcomings

Top secret documents compiled by Laxton Group Limited’s chief legal officer, Paul Bellin, and shared among the company’s board of directors and security chiefs in Zimbabwe, exposed highly irregular issues in the manner in which Zec will handle voters’ data.

Chief among the fears expressed by Bellin were data security, accountability, technical compatibility and time risks, which Laxton Group said could soil their reputation. The leaked report read:

This is a highly alarming risk. Zec does not appear to have this infrastructure in place and when Laxton raised this issue, it fell on deaf ears.It was also made clear that Zec intends using an alternative company to provide the central system, which was even more alarming.

The objective of the report was to provide a risk analysis of the BVR tender for evaluation by Laxton’s board of directors prior to entering into a contract with Zec. Laxton, in its risk report, said it was alarmed that Zec sought to roll out the BVR system without providing for a central system to manage, back up and collate the data or disaster recovery. Bellin said buying the BVR kits without the central system was like buying a car without an engine, because it was the driver and crux in managing the collected data. In this aspect the report read:

Typically, a central system is put in place before BVR kits are rolled out … the BVR kits without the central system are useless, they work together as a team. The BVR kits collect the data in the field, which they transmit to the central system. The central system is the brain that consolidates and processes the millions of records registered on the kits and removes all the duplicates to allow for a clean accurate voters’ roll to be produced. It’s confusing as to why this central system is not being contracted to the same company providing the kits. It’s like buying a car without an engine. They are very much symbiotic systems.

Laxton said in the event Zec proceeded to contract another company to provide the central system, it would not be held accountable for the system’s failures.

Laxton officials refused to comment on the leaked document, referring all questions to Zec owing to contractual agreements of confidentiality signed between the two. The tender specifications on the BVR equipment advertised by the United Nations Development Programme did not include supply or setting-up of the central system.[7]

ZEC receives first batch of BVR kits

ZEC received the first batch of 400 BVR kits from Laxton Group. Part of the 400 kits were be used to train master trainers for one week in September 2017.[8]

ZEC trains BVR personnel

From September 4 to 8 2017, ZEC held a BVR Master trainers and Technicians’ training workshop in Harare. At the workshop ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau said that they will conduct next year’s elections in accordance with the country’s electoral laws as it has always done to avoid the Kenyan scenario where presidential election results were nullified last week.[9]

Before the BVR Master trainers and Technicians’ training workshop, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) held a training workshop in Harare with private voluntary organisations (PVOs) and trusts to educate them on the new biometric voting and registration (BVR) system. The one-day workshop was attended by officials from various organisations. Speaking at the Pre-BVR voter education workshop, ZEC chief elections officer Mrs Constance Chigwamba said the workshop was designed to capacitate voter educators before they go into the field.[10]

Mugabe proclaims biometric voter registration dates

On September 8, 2017, Robert Mugabe proclaimed dates for biometric voter registration (BVR). In a Government Gazette published, Mugabe proclaimed that voter registration will start on September 14, 2017 and end on January 15, 2018 according to section 36A( 1)(a) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13].

On September 14, 2017 Mugabe officially launched the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise at State House and became the first person to be registered under the new system that will be used in the creation of a new voters’ roll for the 2018 harmonised elections.First Lady Grace Mugabe, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his wife Auxillia and Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko and his wife Laurinda were also registered at the ceremony.[11]

MDC-T files High Court application to stop biometric voter registration

MDC-T filed an urgent High Court application following President Robert Mugabe proclamation of dates for conducting biometric voter registration by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) ahead of the crucial 2018 general elections. MDC-T secretary general, Douglas Mwonzora argued that ZEC was not yet ready to register voters since it was still training people who will register voters. He also pointed out that ZEC had not yet received all the machines for conducting biometric voter registration and severs for storing the collected data. Other respondents to the MDC-T court application were ZEC and Justice Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa.[12]

However, the hearing was deferred after Mugabe’s lawyers claimed that they were not advised of the challenge and needed time to respond.[13]

ZEC begins nationwide biometric voter registration

ZEC began biometric voter registration (BVR) on September 18 with 24 people registering in Harare and Bulawayo and those who did not have the required proof of residence being turned away. Zanu-PF secretary for information and publicity Simon Khaya Moyo registered in Harare but he will vote in Mangwe district, Matabeleland South, at Sanzukwi Primary School.[14]

ZEC Biometric Voter Registration machines malfunction

Former Minister of Education David Coltart revealed that the machine had been failing to record his fingerprints for at least an hour.

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References

  1. Procurement of Biometric Voter Registration kits, including software for electoral process in Zimbabwe, UNDP, published: December 14, 2016, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  2. Daniel Chigundu, Zimbabwe blocks UNDP from acquiring biometric voter registration kits | #Ivote4PeaceZW, OpenParly, published: February 15, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  3. Blessed Mhlanga, BVR testing ends, NewsDay, published: April 27, 2917, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  4. Tendai Kamhungira, BVR case: Hearing date set, Daily News, published: June 15, 2017, retrieved: September 20, 2017
  5. Brian Chitemba and Lincoln Towindo, BVR tender awarded, Sunday Mail, published: June 4, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  6. Obey Manayiti, ZEC BVR tender raises stink, Standard, published: August 13, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  7. Blessed Mhalanga, Zec, Nikuv BVR ‘rigging’ plot exposed, NewsDay, published: June 22, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  8. ZEC receives 400 BVR kits, Herald, published: August 9, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  9. Fidelis Munyoro, ZEC allays fears of Kenya-gate in Zim •BVR training workshop underway •Makarau stresses adherence to the law, Herald, published: September 5, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  10. Freeman Razemba, ZEC trains PVOs on BVR, Herald, published: September 4, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  11. President sets BVR exercise in motion, Herald, published: September 15, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  12. Gibbs Dube, MDC-T Takes Mugabe to Court Seeking Order to Block Voter Registration, VOA, published: September 12, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  13. [1], NewZimabwe.com, published: September 18, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017
  14. Nationwide biometric voter registration begins, Chronicle, published: September 19, 2017, retrieved: September 19, 2017