Sunday, October 25, 2020

Opposition didn’t send IT experts to e-voting workshop

While it is known to have misgivings about the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs) the opposition may be under-investing in effort to prevent what it fears may happen. Or maybe not.

The Botswana People’s Party (BPP) will stand out as an exception because according to its new Secretary General, Botho Seboko, the party didn’t get an invitation to last month’s EVM workshop that was hosted by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Representatives of a state-owned Indian company, Bharat Electronics Limited, gave a presentation at the half-day workshop that was held at Tlotlo Hotel in Gaborone. On the whole, the BPP which is one third of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, appears to be out of the loop with Seboko revealing that the leadership only learnt of the EVM process upon visiting the Independent Electoral Commission’s Facebook page. Recently the IEC sent a delegation to India to get first-hand, on-the-ground appreciation of EVM technology and processes but Seboko says that his party was not invited.

On the other hand, the other two UDC members did attend the EVM workshop. Among those representing the Botswana National Front (BNF) was Nelson Ramaotwana who is the Secretary for International Affairs. A former Gaborone mayor, Ramaotwana is a private practice lawyer having recently left the Attorney General Chambers. A lawyer needed an IT expert by his side because the transition from paper-based to electronic voting presents a unique challenge that political parties have never had to contend with and necessarily means that these parties have to acquire and apply IT expertise. While both the IEC and the company that will supply the e-voting technology insist that the machines cannot be hacked, IT security experts both here at home and abroad say that no computer system is 100 percent secure. In 2010, when India’s Chief Election Commissioner, Shri Navin Chawla, claimed that no one has ever been able to demonstrate the tamperability of Indian EVMs, the Centre for National Renaissance responded by organizing an International Conference of IT experts and constitutional lawyers from the United States, Germany, Netherlands and India itself to prove otherwise. Contributions from this conference are summarised in a book called “Electronic Voting Machines ÔÇô Unconstitutional and Tamperable.”

As the BNF’s Secretary General, Moeti Mohwasa reveals, none of the BNF representatives at the Tlotlo workshop has IT expertise. While Ndaba Gaolathe, the president of the Botswana Movement for Democracy says that some of the party’ representatives “are knowledgeable about IT”, in the next breath he adds that those representatives “are not necessarily IT experts.”

Likewise, the Botswana Congress Party didn’t send IT experts and the explanation from its president, Dumelang Saleshando, is that nothing in the invitation letter from IEC suggested that there was need for such expertise. He says that the Commission merely indicated that it wanted political parties to get a sense of how the machines operate.

Mohwasa points out one particular practical impediment that has long imperiled the opposition’s public use of its human capital. With the public sector being the largest supplier of products and services, getting lucrative government jobs is all too often, a matter of combining the right party colours (red, white and black) in dress. In an unguarded moment, a senior ruling party official has publicly stated that “It is our turn to eat.” For that reason, openly associating with the opposition when you expect to do business with government is tantamount to doing what Batswana crudely idiomise as “soiling one’s life paths.” The English more gently express such heedlessness as burning one’s bridges. Mohwasa says that while the BNF has members with IT expertise, such members know better than to identify with the party because they would be substantially less likely to get government jobs. On such basis, sending IT experts to the EVM workshop would have been a terrible idea.

Saleshando, who is a former Gaborone Central MP, expresses some bafflement about the manner in which the new electoral process is being mysteriously fast-tracked. He says that changes to electoral law are supposed to follow the same normal procedure that was used to establish the IEC itself and reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 years. Such changes, he adds, entailed adequate consultation with political parties. He doesn’t consider the IEC to have consulted parties on EVMs.

With parliament having voted to adopt changes to the Electoral Act that will officialise use of the machines, it looks almost certain that EVMs will be used in 2019. “Almost certain” because Saleshando says that the BCP has already asked its lawyers to stress-test the amendments that parliament adopted early Friday morning for lawfulness. Introducing the legal process in such manner would make nothing certain. 

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