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ZEC claims its risky to release voters roll as High Court dismisses application

The chances of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe appear even more remote after High Court judge Justice Never Katiyo controversially dismissed an application by Harare North MP Allan Norman “Rusty” Markham demanding the release of the voters’ roll.

Last year Markham launched an application to compel the ZEC to release the voters’ roll in electronic format.

Not only has ZEC pegged a fee of US$140 000 to access a hard copy of the voters’ roll, they are refusing to release the electronic version claiming “it is susceptible to manipulation”

But, in his ruling, Justice Katiyo said ZEC was mandated to safeguard the voter’s roll, especially the electronic ones, claiming it can be tampered with “in this age of social media”.

“Lawyer representing respondent also argued that we now have the Cyber and Data protection Act and under sec 13 and 18, ZEC is protected to safeguard people’s data from manipulation and misuse.

“The intention of the legislature was to have this voters’ roll put to the public without fear or favour so that it would open in a democratic society.

“The constitution is also clear that the mandate to compile and share the roll is with ZEC. The applicant other than being a citizen is a legislator and that cannot be ignored.

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“He was asked if he was doing it on his personal interest and he said he wears all faces as alluded to. Case authorities have been cited and some seem to bear non-relevance in this case…the question is whether the respondent acted reasonably.

“Applicant said he wanted an electronic voters roll further applicant qualifies as a person to get that voters roll, he argues hard copy is tantamount to giving him a mountain.

“Courts are there to protect citizens as mandated, judicial officers that they discharge the duty without fear or favour. The law gives ZEC control over the voters roll. This was done with a purpose in mind, that in this time with social media can brew disaster hence mandating Zec to ensure the security of the electronic voters roll is secure,” said Justice Katiyo.

Markham’s lawyer, Denford Halimani confirmed the ruling to the media outside the High Court in Harare telling the judge had “ruled that there is no merit in the application to compel ZEC to provide the voter’s roll to the applicant Allan Markham.”

Halimani said he was going to consult his client on the way forward.

“We’re going to seek instructions from our client and then decide whether we are going to appeal against this ruling. We have obviously formulated our ideas but as lawyers, we deal with clients,” he said.

Zimbabwe is set to hold its harmonised general elections later this year. But the issue of access to the voters’ roll remains an issue.

Few months before the last plebiscite in 2017, Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, a legal expert, wrote an article articulating that the public had the right to access the voters’ roll as enshrined in section 62 of the Constitution.

“This paper argues that the issue as to whether citizens are entitled to access the national voter’s roll has been settled in the Constitution which requires all State institutions to exercise public power and discharge their functions in a transparent and accountable manner as enforced through the right of access to information, enshrined in s 62. This right entitles citizens to request any record of information held by the State which is obliged to provide the requested information if that information is needed by the requester for purposes of fostering public accountability,” he said.