ZEC fees will dissuade foreign observers- Veritas

Chris Mahove – Editor

The new accreditation fees for observers set by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission are too much and will discourage observers, especially foreign ones, from observing Zimbabwe’s elections in 2023, Veritas Zimbabwe has said.

On August 19, 2022, ZEC published three statutory instruments, SI 143/2022, SI 144/2022 and SI 145/2022 which increased the nomination fees for candidates wishing to contest elections, as well as the fees for accreditation as election observers and for obtaining copies of voters’ rolls.

The electoral body set the fees for accrediting foreign observers from non-African countries at US$300 from the previous US$50 [for embassy staff] while fees for other foreign observers were pegged at US$400 from US$100.

Accreditation fees for foreign observers from African countries were increased from US$20 to US$100.

However, the fees for local observers and local media practitioners remained unchanged at US$10.

In its Bill Watch dated September 2, 2022, Veritas said the fees operated partially and unequally between different classes of observers; adding there was no rational reason for distinguishing between the classes.

It said the fees were grossly unreasonable and as a result, should be regarded as invalid.

“Both the old fees and the new ones discriminate between local observers, observers from Africa and observers from elsewhere. There is no rational reason for the discrimination, because a person can be a competent and credible election observer no matter where he or she comes from. And the cost of accrediting observers is much the same, wherever they are from. The only possible reason for the differential increases is political prejudice, and that is not a rational reason,” Veritas said.

It noted that the hike in fees was definitely not due to inflation as both the new and old fees, were fixed in United States dollars, which was a fairly stable currency.

“The State has a duty, which it must exercise through ZEC, to conduct and facilitate elections, and it cannot seek to recover its costs from the participants.

 It would be outrageous, for example, if the State were to charge citizens fees for entering polling stations and casting their votes. Is it no less outrageous for the State to charge candidates high fees for standing for election?”

Veritas noted that the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the SADC Principles and Guidelines on Elections both emphasized the importance of independent observers in ensuring that elections were transparent, credible and democratic, qualities which it said were essential for elections held under Zimbabwe’s Constitution and the Electoral Act.

“We have concluded that all the new electoral fees – those for copies of voter’s rolls, for accreditation as election observers, and for nomination as candidates – are invalid. The only justification offered for the new fees is that they will ensure that only serious people contest elections,”

Veritas said while it could be necessary to eliminate entirely frivolous candidates, the new fees went too far.

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