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Desperate Mec ‘sells’ our registration data

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Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has taken its poverty profile to another level as it has gone into business with voter registration data, Malawi News can report.

Mec has gone into a contractual agreement with a company called BSystems Malawi Limited for the provision of online voter identification verification system which will be largely used by commercial banks, credit reference bureaus and companies like TNM and Airtel that register clients on Mpamba and Airtel money respectively.

BSystems Malawi is a Ghanaian company which has also registered in Malawi as BSystems Malawi.

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Mec will give a copy of its voter registration database to BSystems and the company will install its machine in banks for easy client verification.

When a client goes to the bank with a Mec registration voter card, the bank will not call the electoral body for verification but the bank will simply check in the machine to verify the client.

Mec Chief Elections Officer Willie Kalonga confirmed the development on Friday in an exclusive interview and justified the contract saying it is high time Mec thought outside the box.

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Kalonga said Mec is struggling financially and getting inadequate funding from government subjecting it to shame and ridicule, hence the need to raise its own money.

“When a client goes to the bank with Mec identity, the bank calls us for verification and we get nothing for that service but the bank benefits a lot because we help them avoid being defrauded. But from this service, we shall get something,” said Kalonga.

“BSystems will bring their server and we will give them our data base copy. BSystems have the capacity to do this because they have done it in Ghana also. We are not selling our data to BSystems. In fact we are employing BSystems,” said Kalonga when asked to clarify fears of the privacy of clients and voters.

He said Mec’s legal team advised the electoral body to go into a contractual agreement with the company and not to have a Memorandum of Understanding.

Asked how the project will benefit Malawians, Kalonga said clients will be served faster at the banks.

He also said keeping the data with BSystems will provide a backup service to Mec should its database crash.

He said money realised from the contract will go to Mec and the elections body will pay the company depending on the amount collected per month.

He said Mec had no choice but to go into business to get revenue.

“Money realised will be going to Mec. We realised that we have that data and we can make money from that. Time for Father Christmas is over. We are struggling. We have been giving services for free for so long. We cannot pay utility bills, we cannot hold commission meetings, our vehicles were snatched. We cannot continue begging for funds,” said Kalonga.

He said Mec’s monthly K24 million allocation is not adequate and the electoral body is always failing to perform its statutory duties.

He said banks have welcomed the concept and are ready to pay for the charges.

He could not tell how much Mec will be making per month adding that the electoral body will soon be engaging the banks to agree on charging fees.

However, the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) has received the development with a pinch of salt.

Mesn Chairperson Steve Duwa said in an interview that giving registration data to a company without voters’ consent was wrong.

“Giving such information without prior consent of the owners is a violation of their right to privacy. Even if such deal is permissible, Mec must first convince Malawians on the benefits of such including the primary beneficiaries of the same,” said Duwa.

Mid March, sheriffs impounded two ten-tonne vans and a Toyota Hiace minibus over the commission’s failure to pay debts totaling to over K90 million to three companies namely Universal Trading Company, Platinum Solutions and Transworld Radio. The vehicles were eventually auctioned off.

Three days later, the sheriffs also invaded the electoral body’s headquarters at Chisankho House in Blantyre where they impounded computers and refrigerators due to unsettled debts.

The debts come on the backdrop of the last year’s audit report from the Central Internal Audit Unit of the Ministry of Finance which revealed abuse of funds at the electoral body.

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