ACCESSING THE NATIONAL VOTERS’ ROLL THROUGH THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION IN ZIMBABWE
Justice Alfred Mavedzenge1
The call for electoral reforms in Zimbabwe has been at the centre of deliberations on political governance and democratic reform in the country. The Constitution2 prescribes minimum standards and principles to which the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe must adhere. Zimbabwe is also bound by the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections which should give effect to amendments to the Electoral Act3 and related legislation.4
Amongst the key changes5 which must be made to the Electoral Act are those giving the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) the independence to fundraise for its operations; the independence to decide on foreign observer missions without interference from the sitting government; allowing diaspora Zimbabweans to cast their vote in elections; and imposing certain professional standards6 to be applied by ZEC when recruiting staff.
The main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has collaborated with other opposition parties7 to craft a document titled the National Electoral Reform Agenda, which details the reforms required to give effect to the standards and principles prescribed by the Constitution. However, the issue of public access to the national
voters’ roll has attracted much attention as signified by the court applications8 made to compel ZEC to release the national voters’ roll to the public. The national voter’s roll should be available to the public as it is an existing constitutional right, which the legislature are obliged to give effect to through amendments to the Electoral Act.
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.
ZEC has the duty to provide citizens with access to the national voters’ roll because it must be accountable and transparent regarding the state and condition of the national voters’ roll. Additionally, the State is obliged to provide access to the requested record if the information is needed by the requester to protect or exercise any of the rights entitled to the citizen by law. Citizens have the right to a free and fair election as interpreted in the context of the entrenched values of transparency and accountability which include the right to hold ZEC accountable for the manner in which elections are organised. To exercise this right, the citizens can request access to the national voters’ roll by invoking the right of access to information held by the State.
1 By Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Public law at the University of Cape Town and a practising constitutional lawyer in Zimbabwe.
2 2013. See in particular sections 155, 156 and 158
3 [Chapter 2:13] of Zimbabwe
4 Including the legislation governing freedom of the media, freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly.
5 This information is gleaned from unpublished position papers presented by various Zimbabwean civil society organisations and academics. Some of the information can be obtained from https://erczim.org/?cat=36 (Accessed on 29 July 2016)
6 To protect the independence and integrity of ZEC. It has been argued that these standards should, amongst other stipula- tions, prohibit the recruitment of serving State security agents to work within ZEC as this may undermine the independence of the Commission
7 Which include the MDC led by Professor Welshman Ncube, Transform Zimbabwe, the African Democratic Party and Progres- sive Democrats of Zimbabwe.