VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
AFTER spending US$3 million to print ballot papers for the 2016 general elections in Dubai, Zambia has an opportunity to save US$7 million in 2021 if the printing is done locally.
Following the pronouncement by President Edgar Lungu that the 2021 ballot papers will be done by Government Printers, the issue has become a topic for discussion by citizens and political stakeholders.
Stakeholders have been debating whether Zambia is ready to print the 2021 ballot papers locally.
Mixed views bordering on the capacity of Government Printers and the credibility of the process have been expressed.
While some stakeholders are sceptical about Government’s decision, others believe the move is timely, saying the country has what it takes to undertake the job.
Government is set to have the 2021 ballot papers printed locally and has started working towards that goal.
President Lungu recently challenged stakeholders and opposition political parties to explain why ballot papers should not be printed locally.
The head of State noted that the country has the capacity to print ballot papers and claims by stakeholders that printing of ballot papers locally will encourage rigging are baseless.
Ballot papers for the 1991 general elections that ousted the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and ushered in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) government were printed in Zambia.
But after that, Zambia has been printing election materials abroad at a huge cost with the 2015 papers being printed at a cost of US$3.8 million.
National Restoration Party (NAREP) secretary general Ezra Ngulube said printing locally will enhance the local industry.
Mr Ngulube said that there is enough capacity and ability to take up the printing of ballot papers locally.
He appealed to Government to involve relevant stakeholders in coming up with modalities of what is required to have ballot papers printed locally.
Also supporting the undertaking, Green Party president Peter Sinkamba said there was nothing peculiar about printing ballot papers locally because similar materials for the 1991 general elections were done in Zambia.
“We have heard this statement before, so we will only believe it when it happens,” Mr Sinkamba said.
People’s Alliance for Change president Andyford Banda said the decision to print ballot papers locally is welcome provided that all stakeholders agree on the required process.
Mr Banda said Zambia will save a lot of money which is spent on printing election materials abroad.
“We do not have problems printing ballot papers locally because when they are printed outside, the country stands to lose a lot of money,” he said.
Mr Banda is confident that all stakeholders will support the process as long as it is consultative and transparent.
MMD national secretary Raphael Nakacinda said the pronouncement by President Lungu was timely because people have been crying for a cost-effective venture.
New Congress Party president Peter Chanda said printing ballot papers locally will build confidence in Zambia’s electoral process.
And with similar views, Party for National Unity president Highvie Hamududu said the development will create jobs.
“If the Government Printers does a good job, other countries can even start printing their ballot papers in Zambia,” Mr Hamududu said.
Government is ready to print the 2021 ballot papers in Zambia and it says it will address all the technical and security matters.
A committee to oversee issues of technical security has been constituted and will continuously monitor the issues of security at Government Printers.
Government Printers chief executive officer Charles Zimba says the company has state-of-the-art equipment purchased in 2014 from the United States of America (USA) called Miracle 3500 manufactured in Connecticut.
The printing press has the capacity to print ballot papers as recommended by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
“The printing press will in the next three months be tested. Additionally, we have been getting pieces of equipment that will act as backup should anything happen to the equipment,” Mr Zimba said.
He also said the company’s 312 members of staff are ready for the exercise.
“The contractor for the Miracle 3500 printing press is coming with his own lead printer and would be attached at Government Printers for the period of one year, ,” Mr Zimba said.
This means local personnel will be able to learn from the contractor during this period.
Independent Churches of Zambia (ICOZ) chairperson David Masupa said there is need to build the capacity of local firms by allowing them to undertake big projects.
“We have built capacity in ourselves in governance issues and there is nothing wrong to build capacity of our institutions by [for instance] printing the ballots locally,” he said.
Bishop Masupa advised civil society organisations to ask Government for a road map of how this will be done and also take interest in visiting Government Printers to appreciate what kind of equipment it has
Some members of the public interviewed feel it is a good move to have the ballot papers printed locally.
Francis Kalipenta, a resident of Serenje, said critics should be categorical on the alleged loopholes at Government Printers and present them to the relevant authorities for action.
For Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), the printing of ballot papers locally is long overdue.
Executive director Boniface Cheembe said countries like Egypt are able to print ballot papers locally and Zambia with the number of elections held so far, must have developed the capacity to do so locally.
“We appeal to the Government to ensure that the process of doing this is extensively consultative and inclusive of the different stakeholders in the political process,” Mr Cheembe said.
He said printing ballot papers locally must contribute to unity and peace of the country as opposed to creating discord and friction.
While other stakeholders are impressed with Government’s decision to print ballot papers locally, National Democratic Congress (NDC) secretary general Mwenya Musenge feels the country is not ready for such an undertaking.
“The kind of equipment at Government Printers cannot undertake the printing of ballot papers. Most of it is obsolete,” Mr Musenge said.
NDC recommended that Government should continue printing ballot papers abroad until the country builds the acceptable capacity.
UPND chairperson for mobilisation Sylvia Masebo says the Patriotic Front (PF) cannot be trusted with the printing of ballot papers locally because there is no distinction between the government and the ruling party.
Aware of such perceptions, Minister of Works and Supply Felix Mutati said Government will invite various stakeholders to run them through the system from the process of integrity security and transparency, so that they could make a judgement from an informed basis.
He said the fears that some stakeholders have are based on unfounded perceptions. “We will arrange a tour for the stakeholders, including calling on them for their wisdom and prudence that they want to see in order to achieve the correct level of confidence,” Mr Mutati said.
He said Government is working out a strategic plan that will spell out the strategic direction for Government Printers.
Some of the elements of this strategic and business plan include the focus on the sustainability and viability of the company.
This move is expected to facilitate the upgrading of technology and other infrastructure. But equally of importance is the security improvement at Government Printers and human capacity building which Government has prioritised.
“We want to reposition Government Printers in the medium term so that it can be a significant regional player in ballot printing exercise,” Mr Mutati said.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka