IEC shuts down EVM office

20 Nov 2018

The Independent Electoral Commission’s spokesperson, Osupile Maroba, says that the Commission has shut down the office that was to oversee electronic voting during the 2019 general election.

Maroba revealed that staff members who were in the office, who had been working for IEC in different capacities, have gone back to performing their previous roles. Engaged on a contract basis, former IEC Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso, was coordinating the implementation of electronic voting and was often identified as Electronic Voting Machine Coordinator in the media. According to Maroba, Seeletso was in involved in other non-EVM initiatives and programmes and will continue work for IEC.

Another one of the major policy reversals by the new administration, electronic voting had become a controversial subject. Over the years, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) support has been declining and one theory that came to gain currency was that party leaders wanted to hedge bets against an electoral outcome that would not only see the party losing official power but some of its leaders going to jail for decades-long white-collar crime. The process to implement electronic voting was moving along at the speed of greased lightning but opposition politicians complained that the consultation had been incomprehensive and that the electronic voting law was fast-racked through parliament. To corrupt electoral outcome, the pre-2018 Directorate of Intelligence Services and Security – which was essentially a cloak-and-mostly-dagger outfit, was said to have acquired the services of a computer whizz kid, a citizen, who would in effect have been the only voter next year.

However, when President Mokgweetsi Masisi replaced General Ian Khama on April 1 this year, the situation changed. Masisi suspended EVM use for the 2019 general election and in his maiden state-of-the-nation address said that this malleable technology posed “serious threats” to Botswana’s peace, stability and security. 

“This decision was arrived at out of the knowledge that it is much easier to destroy than to rebuild,” he told parliament.

Conversely, there is speculation that the hacking of the BDP’s voters roll ahead of its second and last round of primary elections motivated this decision. For the first time in its history, the world’s longest-ruling, democratically-elected party is being roiled by factional turmoil with Khama having reportedly formed a well-financed dissident group called “New Jerusalem.” Party leaders are said to have feared that if the BDP voters’ roll could be hacked, the same could happen to IEC in order to louse up the party’s chances of winning the 2019 elections.

While it is commonly believed that the IEC had made an EVM purchase order – which would have necessitated payment of a termination fee to the supplier - Maroba corrects the record by stating that such order had not been placed yet. What had happened was that the machines were to be acquired via single-source procurement - which arrangement the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board has since cancelled. Had the IEC gone ahead with the purchase of the machines, there would have been competitive bidding as a direct result of PPADB’s action.