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File pic: Priscilla Chigumba, ZEC Chairperson during the 2018 elections

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ZEC caught pants down on computer server storm

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THE European Union (EU) provided funding for the purchase of a computer server for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) before being shut out and denied access when the hardware was delivered ahead of the 2018 general elections which President Emmerson Mnangagwa is accused of stealing.

OWEN GAGARE

Zec has been flip-flopping and lying about the server at the centre of the 2018 presidential election rigging scandal. Before the elections and during the rollout of the Biometric Voter Registration process, Zec, through its former commissioner Qhubani Moyo, confirmed the server existed.

 After the disputed polls and under oath during the court challenge of Mnangagwa’s wafer-thin victory by his fierce rival main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa, then MDC-Alliance candidate, the chairperson of the electoral body, Priscilla Chigumba, said there was no server.

However, Mnangagwa in his court papers during the same election petition hearing said it was there, but was hacked. The hacking story was never verified.

The NewsHawks has established the server is there and was bought by the EU through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Last week, Zec spokesperson Jasper Mangwana further muddied the waters: “Zec has no server hosted by any external organisation, including Africom.”

Yesterday, Mangwana refused to comment specifically on the server bought for Zec by the UNDP, but went on to laboriously pontificate about the issue using sophistry — generating more heat than light.

 “I can’t comment on that. I am not so sure, I don’t think that will be in the interest of the public. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has many partners, including government and civil society, so what will be the relevance of it in that aspect? I do not see the relevance of that in the public domain. All we need to know is: whether Zec is conducting its mandate according to the law and whether Zec is in control of its infrastructure? Yes we are,” Mangwana said.

“As Zec, we have ICT infrastructure which we manage and which we hold, compared to the speculation that there is someone who is managing infrastructure for the commission from somewhere else. That is not correct,” Mangwana said.

“Did you know that in this country internet resources, IP addresses which are actually said to be used to calculate and check our data, rarely come in the name of the end user because for you to have it you need to apply for it? The commission does not have that. What does the commission do? It is allocated resources from the internet service providers that we have, the commission has ISPs and these ISPs provide public IPs which the commission can then resolve to specific domains which it uses.

“We want to tell the public that we don’t have any infrastructure as far as elections are concerned and the server which transmits results, that’s fiction. We transmit our results manually from the polling station to the ward collection centre, from the ward to the constituency from the constituency to the command centre of the province. As a commission we do not transmit results electronically, so the so-called server does not exist because we wait for the physical copy; people actually get into trucks and then drive to the next collection centre, this is coming from the commission.”

But high-level government sources said the server, which was bought by the UNDP using EU funds, was then used to manipulate the 2018 elections after the military seized control of it through Africom internet service provider.

While Zec is now ducking and diving over the server, Moyo unequivocally confirmed its existence before the elections. The UNDP yesterday also confirmed purchasing servers for Zec under an electoral capacitation programme.

Diplomats told The NewsHawks that the EU was completely shut out and denied access to the server once the equipment landed in Harare despite its role in the procurement process.

 Broadly, the UNDP, through the funding of the EU and other partners, had embarked on a Zec capacity building project which has a long-term vision of developing the institutional, organisational and electoral capacity of the commission.

The server was purchased as part of this project, whose expected outputs were: strengthened Zec institutional and electoral capacity to meet its constitutional mandate to ensure sustainability; a sustainable voter registration system for the 2018 elections and beyond that credible and inclusive, as well as enhanced and effective engagement with electoral stakeholders, including eligible voters.

The programme had a budget of US$19 642 253, although the total resources required amounted to US$36 857 363.

UNDP project manager Vincent da Cruz confirmed assisting to capacitate Zec and purchasing the server under the programme. “UNDP is indeed implementing a capacity-building project with Zec . . . The UNDP project is funded by several of Zimbabwe’s development partners, the largest contributor being the EU. The first phase of this UNDP project closes at the end of April and discussions are currently ongoing about a second phase,” he said.

“Support included the procurement of equipment, including servers and licences, for setting up the Zec data centre to house the data of the biometric voter register. The cost of this was around US$480 000. All data centre equipment was handed over to Zec in 2017 and is operated under Zec responsibility.”

Da Cruz said the UNDP did not “request access and never had access to the data in the data centre”.

In 2017, Moyo told reporters that data collected during the biometric voter registration was stored in tamper-proof flash drives before being fed into a central database — the server —which is hack-proof.

 “First, the information is collected from the field and it is served into tamper-proof flash drives. The machines themselves are embedded with USB storage as backup storage,” he said.

 “The USBs are manually transported to a consolidated server where information will be fed with all the data from all the registration centres. All the information will be consolidated into one server which is located at Zec offices (Quantum House in Harare).

“At this server, we will use the Central Automated Finger Identification System which will weed out people who have registered more than once, to leave us with a clean voters’ roll. The clean data will be stored in the final server at our head office.”

He said the server is protected with numerous passwords and other security measures which “I cannot make public”.

 After Chamisa challenged the 2018 presidential election result in the Constitutional Court, Chigumba denied that Zec had any server on which results were stored.

 In her opposing affidavit, Chigumba (pictured) said: “I, Priscilla Makanyara Chigumba, in my capacity as the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and by due authority of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and that of the 25th respondent, hereby take oath and state that the facts I depose to hereunder are within my personal knowledge and belief and are true and correct. Where I relate to issues of a legal nature, I do so on advice from counsel which advice I accept.”

 Chigumba added: “Transmission of results from polling stations, wards and constituencies is done manually. This is consistent with the provisions of section 64(2) of the Electoral Act. The Electoral Commission had no server set up at the national command centre or anywhere else, on which results were sent and stored in real time as the applicant suggests.”

 Ahead of the polls, Chinese firm Laxton Group Limited — which had won a US$4 million tender to supply biometric voter registration kits for registering voters ahead of the 2018 general elections — took Zec to court after the tender was unprocedurally withdrawn.

The contract was then given to an American company, Ipsidy. According to the project document under which the server was purchased by the UNDP, the organisation responded to a request by the government and Zec for UN capacity building support to the electoral commission after the 2013 elections.

The UN then fielded an electoral Needs Assessment Mission (Nam) from 26 May to 5 June 2015 to undertake wide stakeholder consultations to evaluate the electoral environment, the legal and institutional framework governing the electoral process and the capacity and needs of various election stakeholders.

 “The mission recommended support for immediate short-term assistance in the areas of voter registration, voter education, and budget formulation, followed by development of a longer-term programme of capacity development for Zec and other election stakeholders,” the document reads.

“It should be mentioned that the Nam recommendations validate the issues raised by election observer groups in their reports of the 2013 harmonised elections. Some of the organisations are the local Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, Sadc Electoral Support Network, Comesa, Sadc and the African Union. The European Union also fielded an Elections Expert Mission, which also came up with similar findings and recommendations.”

 In November 2015, the UNDP fielded a Project Formulation Mission, which had detailed discussions with Zec, government officials, political parties, civil society organisations, women and youth groups, faith-based organisations and media entities.

“Initially the project focuses on medium and long-term institutional goals, with a focus on providing technical assistance to Zec on developing a new voter registration system, capacitating Zec, especially its information services and voter registration departments teams, embarking upon a robust voter education campaign, reaching out to electoral stakeholders and building their trust in the electoral process, making election systems sustainable and building the electoral capacity of Zec,” the document says.

 Activities related to capacity building, voter education and stakeholder engagement had a longer-term perspective, it added. The strengthened institutional and electoral capacity of Zec is designed to meet its constitutional mandate to ensure sustainability output and focuses on its sustainability, including its institutional, financial and human resource sustainability.

“In the context of elections, sustainability refers to electoral policies and practices which are cost effective and realistic, and meet the needs of stakeholders in the electoral processes both now and in the future. Specific activities include the development of Zec’s five-year strategic plan, capacity building of commissioners, and institutional and capacity development plan,” the document says.

Output two, which sought sustainable voter registration system for the 2018 elections and beyond that, is credibility and inclusivity among all key electoral stakeholders.

Output three sought enhanced and effective Zec engagement with electoral stakeholders, including the eligible voters.

“This output relates to Zec’s voter education, public outreach and engagement with electoral stakeholders. The voter education and public outreach focuses on the Zimbabwean public and eligible voters. Stakeholder engagement targets eligible voters; political parties, civil society, media and other electoral contestants in accordance with its legal mandate.

“Activities under this output are strengthening planning for voter education and public outreach strategy, voter education for ensuring participation in national voter registration exercise, promotion of dialogue and engagement with other stakeholders to build trust and confidence on Zec and strengthening its promotion of gender equality.”

A diplomat told The NewsHawks that people in the UN system and European diplomats were disappointed that despite their funding the server was used to steal elections, while Zec has remained opaque.

 “It’s a tricky situation and they don’t know how to handle it. Initially, they thought or hoped Pachedu was exaggerating, but in my view their evidence is pretty rock solid. The EU poured millions into this (via the UNDP, as the EU cannot give money to the government directly). After the server was procured, Zec shut everyone out in 2018. I mean, being told you can’t even inspect the server that you bought. It raised eyebrows at the time, but it was too late,” the diplomat said.

“So, the EU now funds the fraudulent Zec that rigs elections and it’s a concern.”

Using geolocation technology, Pachedu established beyond reasonable doubt that Zec’s server was being hosted by Africom at its No. 99 Churchill Avenue offices in Gunhill suburb, Harare. Africom is a military company and this ensured the army controlled the electoral process and ran the elections, including manipulating results.

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