KALUWE HANZUKI, Lusaka
UNWARRANTED perception, suspicion and mistrust have become part of everyday life in the Zambian society today, especially in the political sphere.
These misgivings have sometimes resulted in inconveniencing innocent people or organisations, disrupting an achievement of a goal, delaying an undertaking of a task and or even not going for a planned assignment at all.
Other yields of such behaviour are hate, harassment and violence, among several resultant activities.
In the past few years, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has undergone acrimonious experiences at the hands of political parties, civil society organisations and even faith-based organisations.
This suffering has often intensified during an election year. This year, ECZ started feeling the heat of suspicions, perceptions and mistrust as early as the first quarter.
However, this worsened when the commission announced that ballot papers for next Thursdayâ€™s general elections and referendum would be printed by a Dubai-based company, Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Earlier, some stakeholders had rejected the idea of having ballot papers printed by the Dubai firm, accusing it of having helped rig elections in some African countries not long ago.
However, ECZ settled for Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company for the printing of the presidential, national assembly, mayoral/council chairperson, local government elections and referendum ballot papers.
The commission invited nine political parties, whose presidential candidates successfully filed their nomination papers, faith-based organisations and the civil society to be part of the team that would observe closely the process of printing the ballot papers in Dubai.
As if this was not going to render the process transparent enough, ECZ also included officers from the Zambia Police Service, Drug Enforcement Commission and the Anti- Corruption Commission just in case of any illegal dealings in the printing process.
The fourth estate, which is the media, was in the team that travelled to Dubai to ensure Zambians were kept informed about the process and ensure that any illegality be brought to the fore.
During the pre-printing briefing by Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company general manager Lakshmanan Ganapathy in Dubai on July 4, the question of whether or not the firm had printed ballot papers for a general election in some East African country this year did not miss.
â€œWe have not printed presidential ballot papers for Uganda,â€ said Mr Ganapathy, noting that his company, however, printed ballot papers for that countryâ€™s equivalent mayoral and local government elections.
He told â€˜Team Zambiaâ€™- as it came to be known during the printing period – that his company had so far printed ballot papers for countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Central African Republic (CAR), Guinea Conakry, Madagascar and Haiti.
The printing of ballot papers for Zambiaâ€™s general elections was the 27th ballot printing project clinched by Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company in its 30-year history.
A brief profile of Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company is that it has 30 years of printing experience in producing ballot papers and other election materials, newspapers, magazines, catalogues, brochures, learning materials and even books in braille.
The company is the only contract newspaper printer in the UAE and the biggest book printer in the Middle East with a production capacity of 15 million books per month.
It can print one million forms in one day on the fastest sheet-fed production technology in the UAE and three million using web offset.
Team Zambia was taken on a tour of the printing plant to appreciate the equipment before printing commenced on July 5.
Team leader Emily Sikazwe, who is one of the commissioners at ECZ, with her counterpart Justice Christopher Mushabati, appealed to the stakeholders who travelled to Dubai to freely raise concerns if any, before and during the printing process.
The two commissioners also urged team members to totally commit themselves to duty because Zambians had entrusted them with a huge responsibility of observing the printing of ballot papers and other election materials for the general elections and the referendum.
With the convincing history of Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company and the transparency of ECZ in mind, the levels of suspicion, mistrust and perception subsided amongst stakeholders, especially political party representatives.
They, however, remained observant and very alert on the printing process as Team Zambia worked from the printing plant all day long in most instances.
Often, ECZ and the Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company management gave progress reports on the process to the stakeholders.
All the concerns raised by stakeholders were adequately and efficiently addressed by ECZ and/or the printer.
â€œSo far as stakeholders, we are happy with the printing process. I can assure the people at home that the printing process is secure enough and that this election will not be tampered with in as far as security features are concerned,â€ said George Phiri, who represented the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) in Dubai.
Mr Phiri, who spoke on behalf of other political parties two days after the printing had commenced, said the process was transparent and that the printer was a trusted company with a very good track record and capacity to execute high quality work and deliver in record time.
Julien Mwape from the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities, who represented other stakeholders, said everything was going on well.
Ms Mwape, who is living with a disability herself, said fears that were raised in Zambia over having ballot papers printed in Dubai should be allayed.
She also expressed happiness over the ability of the Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company to print braille ballot papers.
Islamic Supreme Council of Zambia secretary general Sheikh Shaban Abdulamajeed Phiri, who represented faith-based organisations, said after seeing how transparent the process was, Zambians should have trust in ECZ.
The process continued on an impressive note, making all stakeholders happy and without any more doubts that nothing sinister would take place at the ballot paper printing level of the electoral process.
The political parties that sent representatives to monitor the printing process included the Democratic Assembly, FDD, Green Party, Peopleâ€™s Alliance for Change and the Patriotic Front.
Others were Rainbow Party, United National Independence Party (UNIP), United Party for National Development and the United Peopleâ€™s Progressive Party.
Meanwhile, the mood among stakeholders was characterised by peace, sobriety and brotherliness, throughout focusing on one goal of having a credible election starting from the printing process.
Stakeholders and ECZ were happy with the unity of purpose. They, therefore, urged other stakeholders back home to emulate the peace and harmony that existed in Team Zambia in Dubai for a period of one month.
ECZ commissioners Frederick Ngâ€™andu and David Matongo, who also visited Dubai during the process, were impressed with the unity and hard work among various stakeholders.
They echoed Dr Sikazweâ€™s and Justice Mushabatiâ€™s calls for continued unity. This call was crowned by ECZ chairperson Justice Essau Chulu, who visited Dubai to witness the completion of the printing and packaging process of ballot papers and other election materials.
â€œWe are delighted that at last, we have been vindicated as a commission. Let us learn to trust each other. As a commission, we believe in transparency and want to minimise mistrust,â€ Justice Chulu said when he met Team Zambia on July 23.
A total of 344 pallets containing ballot papers and other election materials such as posters and National Registration Card (NRC) verification forms were transported from Dubai to Zambia on July 28.
On July 29, a day before Team Zambia returned home, a communiquÃ© was issued and signed by all stakeholders that went to Dubai.
The communiquÃ© reiterated stakeholdersâ€™ observations during the nearly one month-long printing process in Dubai.
Representatives of political parties, faith-based organisations and civil society expressed satisfaction and extolled the transparency exhibited in the printing process.
They stated in the communiquÃ©, which was read by Bishop Shemmy Makelele from Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, that the engagement of stakeholders by ECZ was important as it contributed to confidence in the electoral process.
â€œWhile we were on this assignment of the printing of ballot papers, we worked as a team and as we return home to Zambia, we commit to be ambassadors of peace that our country Zambia is known for,â€ they pledged.
Dr Sikazwe commended team members for their dedication to duty during the entire printing process.
â€œDespite the workload that you had to accomplish, you worked diligently with no major incidences during the time of our stay. I hope that the spirit that you exhibited here during the printing of ballot papers shall continue even as we get back to Zambia,â€ she said.
She appealed to all team members to be advocates of peace and unity in their various roles because the work they did was not for their individual gain but for the good of Zambia.
Dr Sikazwe further urged the stakeholders in Zambia to maintain calmness and peace from now onwards until the voting day and subsequently the declaration of results of the general elections and the referendum.
She thanked Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company for successfully completing the printing of ballot papers.
â€œThe job was handled proficiently and in record time,â€ she said.
And Mr Ganapathy, the printing firmâ€™s general manager, paid tribute to ECZ for awarding his company a contract to print presidential, national assembly, mayoral, local government and referendum ballot papers.
The foregoing clearly shows that Zambians are one and can work together for a common goal.
Elections and jostling for political office should, therefore, not divide Zambians in any way because ultimately, all political parties are aiming at running the affairs of the country for the benefit of the people, regardless of their religious, tribal and political affiliations.
It is hoped that the arrival of ballot papers in the country will not arouse any more suspicion and mistrust, but instead cause stakeholders and the general public to value peace and trust for one another as they prepare to cast their votes on Thursday next week.
The report of representatives of various stakeholders who were nominated to monitor the printing process in Dubai should be believed by everyone. ZANIS