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Stakeholders Recommend for Electoral Commission to Have Its Staff Instead of Depending on Council Directors

Stakeholders from political parties, civil societies, religious groups, bar associations, academicians, and others have recommended discontinuing the practice of utilizing council directors and other public servants as return officers during elections citing unfairness during electoral process.

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Stakeholders from political parties, civil societies, religious groups, bar associations, academicians, and others have recommended discontinuing the practice of utilizing council directors and other public servants as return officers during elections citing unfairness during electoral processes.

The latest appeal came during a discussion organized by the Council of Political Parties. The two-day event, which commenced yesterday and concluded today on January 4, 2024, brought together numerous stakeholders to deliberate on three bills tabled on November 4, 2023. These bills include the National Electoral Commission Bill, the Presidential, Parliamentarians, and Councilors Election Bill, as well as the Political Affairs Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

“We have gone through a period where politicians will tell [Council Directors] that if I give you fuel, and salary make sure my party doesn’t lose the election, in this situation, we can’t have a free election” argued Professor Ibrahim Lipumba in his contribution during the Council of Political Parties meeting.

Lipumba who serves as the Chairperson of the Civic United Front (CUF) quoted the late President John Magufuli, who warned council directors to ensure the outcome of the 2020 election was in his favour.

Many analysts have highlighted that council directors who served as returning officers contributed to the largest extent on the botched 2020 election that saw the ruling party winning 99 percent of the constituency seats.

Veteran politician John Cheyo echoed these sentiments, saying, “we must emphasize for the new Electoral Commission to have its staff from higher level to lower levels and not to continue to borrow public servants.”

Cheyo revisited the 2020 election, highlighting instances where Council Directors employed tactics such as hiding and providing random excuses to disqualify candidates.

In the submission made on behalf of several civil society organizations including TWAWEZA, the Legal and Human Rights Centre, Centre for Strategic Litigation, and Jukwaa la Katiba, Dr. Baruani Mshale also emphasized the need of the electoral commission to have its staff.

In the first multiparty election in 1995, the National Electoral Commission hired its own staff. However, the practice of using civil servants as return officers was adopted in 2000 following changes in laws.

In a proposal that contains about eleven recommendations for improving the bill, the Legal and Human Rights Centre argued the issue is a ‘longstanding complaint from democracy stakeholders in the country’, and went on to provide an analysis of why the new bill is yet to provide a solution.

“According to section 21 of the tabled Bill, the commission will continue to use and borrow public servants as returning officers. In other words, District Executive Directors, Town Directors, Municipal Directors, City Directors, Ward Executives, teachers, and other government officials will continue to be election returning officers,” explained Dr. Anna Henga, LHRC executive Director in their press on November 21, 2023.

“We propose that this section should be rewritten and that the commission should be given the power to hire its own staff from the ward, district, regional, and national levels,” added Dr.Henga.

ACT Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe, explained that instead of tying election supervision exercise to public servants the bill should set the criterias for who can be a returning officer allowing all eligible Tanzanians to be candidates.

Parliament is expected to conduct a public hearing on the three bills between January 06 and Janaury 10,2024. Its expected the bills will be passed either in the parliament session of February or the April-June 2024 session.

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