Le­sotho not ready for polls - IEC boss

Points to poor vot­ers roll and ‘very tight bud­get’ Rec­om­mends hir­ing of ex­perts to ver­ify vot­ers roll

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Staff Re­porters

IN­DE­PEN­DENT Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (IEC) chair­man, Jus­tice Ma­hapela Le­hohla, has made an ex­plo­sive dis­clo­sure that his elec­toral body is not ready to de­liver a cred­i­ble and le­git­i­mate gen­eral elec­tion next month.

This, the for­mer chief jus­tice says, is be­cause of the poor state of Le­sotho’s vot­ers roll which re­quires ex­pert verification as well as lack of fund­ing re­quired to bankroll a le­git­i­mate poll.

The theft of the IEC’S com­put­ers, con­tain­ing crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, would also in­hibit the IEC’S abil­ity to de­liver a cred­i­ble elec­tion, the IEC boss says.

In fact, in a highly charged tone, Jus­tice Le­hohla says if the lack of re­sources for the IEC con­tin­ues, the snap gen­eral elec­tions due on 28 Fe­bru­ary 2015, will be “at best highly im­per­fect or at worst as good as non-ex­is­tent.”

Jus­tice Le­hohla’s shock­ing rev­e­la­tions, only a few weeks be­fore Le­sotho goes to the polls, are con­tained in a se­ries of let­ters be­tween him and Prime Min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane as well as Law and Con­sti­tu­tional Af­fairs Min­is­ter Haae Phoofolo.

The is­sues raised by Jus­tice Le­hohla in­evitably ring the alarm bells as Le­sotho can­not af­ford to con­vene an il­le­git­i­mate elec­tion whose out­come will likely breed more squab­bles among its ever feud­ing politi­cians.

Jus­tice Le­hohla, who was ap­pointed IEC chair­man in 2013, ef­fec­tively con­demns Le­sotho’s vot­ers roll which he says needs “ex­pert in­ter­ven­tion” to clean up.

He also high­lights the lack of fund­ing among the main im­ped­i­ments ham­per­ing the de­liv­ery of a cred­i­ble poll.

But Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo is clearly not im­pressed by Jus­tice Le­hohla. In his replies to the for­mer chief jus­tice, the law and con­sti­tu­tional af­fairs min­is­ter queries why the IEC chair­man is only rais­ing such ex­plo­sive is­sues now, a few weeks be­fore the elec­tions are held. Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo lam­basts Jus­tice Le­hohla for hav­ing failed to raise th­ese is­sues dur­ing the me­di­a­tion ef­forts of South African Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, so that they could have been re­solved much ear­lier.

Mr Ramaphosa’s me­di­a­tion of the Le­sotho cri­sis, spawned by Le­sotho De­fence Force com­man­der Tlali Kamoli’s coup at­tempt on Au­gust 30 2014, re­sulted in the agree­ments to re­duce the life of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment led by Dr Tha­bane and the hold­ing of elec­tions next month, about two years ahead of sched­ule.

From the tone of the let­ters, it is clear that Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo is of the view that Jus­tice Le­hohla’s is­sues — im­por­tant as they are — are now be­ing raised too late and noth­ing can real­is­ti­cally be done to re­solve them now, although such at­tempts must be made. The min­is­ter’s re­sponses seem to have in­fu­ri­ated the IEC boss who then wrote di­rectly to Prime Min­is­ter Tha­bane seek­ing his in­ter­ven­tion.

It seems though that no in­ter­ven­tion from the Tha­bane gov­ern­ment is now real­is­ti­cally fea­si­ble in the short time left and Le­sotho would now have to hold elec­tions un­der the de­fec­tive cir­cum­stances high­lighted by Jus­tice Le­hohla or at least post­pone them.

There is no sug­ges­tion though in the cor­re­spon­dence from the IEC boss to post­pone the elec­tions. But elec­toral ex­perts in­ter­viewed by the Le­sotho Times last night said a clean vot­ers roll is the very essence of any cred­i­ble and le­git­i­mate elec­tion as rightly high­lighted by Jus­tice Le­hohla.

“A clean and ver­i­fi­able elec­toral reg­is­ter is the ba­sis of any cred­i­ble elec­tion. If the vot­ers roll is de­fec­tive, it be­comes im­pos­si­ble to pro­duce cred­i­ble re­sults as we have seen in Zim­babwe where elec­tions are rou­tinely dis­puted be­cause of a murky vot­ers roll…,” said the African elec­toral ex­pert who asked not to be named for pro­fes­sional rea­sons.

“If the head of any elec­toral body raises is­sues about the le­git­i­macy of a vot­ers roll,

then ev­ery­one must lis­ten and all and sundry must put their heads to­gether to re­solve the is­sue to avoid con­ven­ing an il­le­git­i­mate elec­tion. Equally im­por­tant is ad­e­quate fund­ing for any elec­toral body to run elec­tions and con­duct im­por­tant events such as voter ed­u­ca­tion”

But the ex­pert also said he agreed with con­cerns that per­haps Jus­tice Le­hohla was rais­ing crit­i­cal is­sues too late.

While the IEC has pre­vi­ously com­plained about lack of fund­ing for the elec­tions, he said the is­sue of the vot­ers roll was so im­por­tant that it should have oc­cu­pied the IEC “from day one”.

It should also be raised pub­licly by the IEC as it is a mat­ter of huge public and na­tional im­por­tance and not through pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence to a min­is­ter, the ex­pert said.

In a let­ter to Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo, dated 22 De­cem­ber 2014, Jus­tice Le­hohla com­plains that the “very tight” bud­get given to the IEC was con­strain­ing “nec­es­sary com­mit­ments with­out which the elec­tion will be at best highly im­per­fect or at worst as good as nonex­is­tent.”

The let­ter also points to the “scourge” of the miss­ing Mo­bile Reg­is­tra­tion Units which were stolen from the elec­toral com­mis­sion’s ware­house in Oc­to­ber and the poor state of the voter’s roll.

Jus­tice Le­hohla pro­poses the hir­ing of peo­ple with “cru­cial ex­per­tise” in the area of iden­ti­fy­ing “what­ever might be ir­reg­u­lar in the process of reg­is­tra­tion and clean­ing of the voter’s roll”.

“Be­cause of the state of the voter’s roll, com­pounded by the scourge of miss­ing com­put­ers, presently be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the po­lice, it is of ut­most im­por­tance that ex­pert ver­i­fiers be em­ployed, if the re­sult of the elec­tion will in­spire any amount of con­fi­dence in its cred­i­bil­ity,” said Jus­tice Le­hohla.

The IEC chair­man added that they had iden­ti­fied two ex­perts, Pamela Pokane and Pikie Mon­a­heng, “with ex­per­tise in the area of iden­ti­fy­ing what­ever might be ir­reg­u­lar in the process of reg­is­tra­tion and clean­ing of the voter’s roll (sic)”. But the two ex­perts would need to be paid hand­somely.

Ac­cord­ing to Jus­tice Le­hohla, Ms Pokane’s fi­nan­cial pro­posal for her ser­vices amounted to M5 456 630.52 while Mr Mon­a­heng would be “in the range of M2 000 000.00”.

In his first re­sponse to Jus­tice Le­hohla, Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo merely ac­knowl­edges re­ceipt of the IEC’S boss’s let­ter and notes its con­tents.

“Please be as­sured, sir, that your re­quest is re­ceiv­ing ur­gent at­ten­tion, and that I will come back to you with a re­sponse soon­est,” Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo wrote.

How­ever, in a fol­low up lengthy re­sponse, the min­is­ter then queries Jus­tice Le­hohla’s as­ser­tions con­cern­ing the voter’s roll, ask­ing when they had come to light. He also takes the IEC boss to task for not rais­ing all the is­sues of con­cern with the SADC Fa­cil­i­ta­tor, Mr Ramaphosa, or even rais­ing them be­fore Par­lia­ment’s last sit­ting since th­ese are mat­ters of grave im­por­tance.

Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo also re­quests Jus­tice Le­hohla to fur­nish him with de­tails of the pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure fol­lowed in iden­ti­fy­ing and screen­ing the ex­perts re­quired to scru­ti­nize and ver­ify the vot­ers roll as well as the terms of ref­er­ence em­ployed.

On the miss­ing com­put­ers, the min­is­ter also asked for de­tails of the na­ture of the data con­tained in those stolen com­put­ers, the link­age of the miss­ing com­put­ers to the IEC servers and why the grav­ity of the re­sul­tant sit­u­a­tion was not ad­dressed ear­lier.

Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo also re­quests in­for­ma­tion on the as­sess­ment made by Mr Ramaphosa re­gard­ing the IEC’S con­cerns on the voter’s roll and the miss­ing com­put­ers.

“I fur­ther note that you had orig­i­nally in­di­cated to the SADC Fa­cil­i­ta­tor that you re­quired 10 months to de­liver a cred­i­ble elec­tion,” wrote Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo.

“This pro­jec­tion was later re­duced to six months and later fur­ther re­duced to three months. Are you still con­fi­dent that you have suf­fi­cient time to de­liver cred­i­ble elec­tions?”

He con­tin­ues; “Dear Com­mis­sioner, I am sure that you will ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that as gov­ern­ment, we are duty-bound to give due at­ten­tion to all is­sues per­tain­ing to the elec­tions, hence the fore­go­ing ques­tions I raised. I am con­fi­dent that your re­sponses will in­deed be help­ful in our en­deav­our to as­sist you in car­ry­ing out your man­date …..” Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo wrote.

He then asked the IEC chair­man to re­spond by 5 Jan­uary 2015 to en­able the min­is­ter to do all he can to help the IEC de­liver its man­date.

How­ever, the min­is­ter’s prob­ing seems to have in­fu­ri­ated Jus­tice Le­hohla. In­stead of re­spond­ing to the min­is­ter, the IEC chair­man wrote to Prime Min­is­ter Tha­bane on 30 De­cem­ber 2014 seek­ing his speedy in­ter­ven­tion and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for the IEC, while also com­plain­ing that the tone of Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo’s last re­sponse was “com­pletely out of sync” with his ini­tial re­ply.

“On be­half of the IEC, I feel greatly con­strained to make ref­er­ence to an un­dated let­ter re­ceived here yes­ter­day, pur­port­edly writ­ten on be­half of the Hon Min­is­ter of Law and Con­sti­tu­tional Af­fairs, the tone of which is out of sync, with the one writ­ten by him dated 23rd De­cem­ber, 2014,” Jus­tice Le­hohla said.

“We have full trust in your com­pe­tence and com­mit­ment, to put this rather thorny mat­ter right, by pro­vid­ing nec­es­sary fund­ing sug­gested in my let­ter ad­dressed to the Hon. Min­is­ter dated 22nd in­stant…”

Con­tacted for com­ment last night, Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo ac­knowl­edged the cor­re­spon­dence be­tween him and the IEC Chair­man, but de­clined to com­ment on the con­tents.

“I am aware of the ex­is­tence of the cor­re­spon­dence you are re­fer­ring to,” Ad­vo­cate Phoofolo said.

“How­ever, I will not com­ment on the is­sue un­til such a time as is nec­es­sary.”

Mean­while, nei­ther Jus­tice Le­hohla nor any of the two other IEC com­mis­sion­ers were avail­able for com­ment at the time of go­ing to press.

But the IEC’S own ad­mis­sion that it can­not de­liver a cred­i­ble poll is likely to un­nerve a na­tion that had pinned its hopes on the 28 Fe­bru­ary poll to pro­duce a co­her­ent gov­ern­ment and end the per­sis­tent quar­relling that had de­fined the cur­rent coali­tion at the ex­pense of proper gov­er­nance.

IEC chair­man Jus­tice Ma­hapela Le­hohla

min­is­ter of Hu­man rights, Law and Con­sti­tu­tion af­fairs Haae Phoofolo

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