By Jameson Chauluka & Audrey Kapalamula:
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has instituted investigations into reports that the National Registration Bureau (NRB) registered minors as adults so that they can vote in the forthcoming fresh presidential election.
However, with the Supreme Court of Appeal ordering that only those who voted during the annulled 2019 presidential poll should be allowed to vote in the fresh election, the registration of the minors as adults—if it indeed took place—might have turned out to be an exercise in futility.
Still, MHRC states that just registering children as adults, for whatever purpose, infringes on their rights as they will be identified with ages which do not belong to them.
A notice of the investigation says the commission got information from the media that under-aged children as young as 14-years-old were being registered as adults by NRB so that they could in turn register with Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) as potential voters.
“Pursuant to its primary function of protecting and investigating violations of human rights as provided in Section 129 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, the commission in its own volition, instituted some primary investigations and confirmed such incidences in a number of registration centres in some districts,” reads the notice in part.
MHRC also says there are allegations that in some cases, traditional leaders have been facilitating the process by providing letters certifying that the children have reached the eligible voting age.
“The commission, therefore, has decided to investigate the alleged matter in all the districts where registration had already taken place. The main objective of this investigation is to establish the extent of the malpractice given that this has a number of political, economic, social and cultural implications on the national development agenda,” the notice adds.
MHRC has since called for submissions from any concerned persons who know or have the children who have been affected by the syndicate to be assisted.
Addressing the press in Lilongwe Tuesday, NRB Chief Director Mackford Somanje said the bureau will institute investigations on the allegations but maintained that they did not register minors as adults.
Somanje and Mec Director of Information Technology, Muhabi Chisi, while admitting that there could be minor issues in their systems, further downplayed fears that the national identity and the election databases have anomalies.
On the other hand, Somanje insisted that NRB’s database cannot be audited—seemingly as requested by Malawi Congress Party— by a non-authorised independent firm apart from the National Audit Office to avoid breaking the law.
But MCP’s IT expert, Daud Suleman, maintained that both NRB and Mec’s data was compromised and that it needs to be cleaned because “any small error in election matters”
“They should get the stakeholders to look into the system. The fact that they are trying to explain the problem shows that there is a problem. We are going into an election where even one vote can determine who wins as we are talking about 50%+1. It means one vote is enough,” Suleman said.
Meanwhile, MHRC has urged Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority to ensure equal access of political parties to media outlets, both public and private, during the election campaign period.
Addressing the press in Lilongwe Tuesday, MHRC Chairperson, Patrick Semphere, said the commission has received complaints regarding operations of various media houses in relation to election coverage.
The date of the fresh presidential election is not yet clear after Mec backtracked on its earlier announcement that the election should be held on July 2. Now the electoral body says according to the law, Parliament is mandated to set days for elections.