Team Zambia shows unity of purpose
Published On August 4, 2016 » 2452 Views» By Bennet Simbeye » Features
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UNWARRANTED perception, suspicion and mistrust have become part of everyday life in the Zambian society today especially in the political sphere.
These misgivings have sometimes resulted into inconveniencing innocent people or organisations, disrupting an achievement of a goal, delaying an undertaking of a task and or even not going for a planned assignment at all.
Other offshoots of such behaviour are hate, harassment and violence among several resultant activities.
In the past years, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has undergone acrimonious experiences at the hands of political parties, civil society organisations and even the faith-based organisations.
This suffering has often intensified during an election year. In 2016, the Commission started feeling the heat of suspicions, perceptions and mistrust as early as the first quarter.
However, this worsened when the Commission announced that ballot papers for the general election and referendum would be printed by a Dubai-based company, Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Earlier, some stakeholders had rejected the idea of having ballot papers for this year’s elections printed by the stated company accusing it of having helped rig elections in some African countries not long ago.
However, ECZ settled for Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company for the printing of the 2016 presidential, national assembly, mayoral/council chairperson, local government and referendum election ballot papers.
ECZ invited nine political parties whose presidents successfully filed in nomination papers for election to the position of president of Zambia, faith-based organisations and the civil society to be part of the team that would observe, closely the printing process in Dubai.
As if this was not going to render the process transparent enough, the ECZ also included officers from the Zambia Police Service, Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) just in case of any illegal dealings in the printing process.
The fourth estate- media was in the team that travelled to Dubai to ensure Zambians were kept informed about the process and that any illegality should be brought up to the surface.
During the pre-printing briefing by Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company general manager Lakshmanan Ganapathy in Dubai on July 4th,2016, the question whether the printer had printed ballot papers for a ‘disputed’ general election in some East African country this year arose.
“We have not printed presidential ballot papers for Uganda,” said Mr Ganapathy noting that his company however printed ballot papers for that country’s equivalent of mayoral and local government elections in the last election.
He told “Team Zambia” as it came to be known during the printing period, that his company had so far printed ballot papers for countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Central African Republic (CAR), Guinea Conakry, Madagascar and Haiti.
The printing of Zambia’s general election ballot papers was the 27th ballot printing project for Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company’s 30 year history.
A brief profile of Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company is that it has 30 years of printing experience in producing ballot papers and other electoral materials, newspapers, magazines, catalogues, brochures, learning materials-even books in braille.
The company is the only contract newspaper printer in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the biggest book printer in the Middle East with a production capacity of 15 million books per month.
It can print one million forms in one day on the fastest sheet-fed production technology in the UAE and three million using web offset.
Team Zambia was taken on a tour of the printing plant to appreciate the equipment before printing commenced on July 5, 2016.
Team leader Emily Sikazwe, who is Commissioners at ECZ and her counterpart, Justice Christopher Mushabati, appealed to the stakeholders to freely raise concerns if any before and during the printing process.
The two commissioners urged team members to commit themselves to duty because Zambians had entrusted them with a huge responsibility of observing the printing of ballot papers and other election materials for the 2016 general elections and the referendum.
With the convincing history of Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company and the transparency of the ECZ in mind, the levels of suspicion, mistrust and perception subsided amongst stakeholder’s especially political party representatives.
They, however, remained observant and alert on the printing process as Team Zambia worked from the printing plant all day long in most instances.
Often, the ECZ and the Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company management gave progress reports on the process to the stakeholders.
All the concerns raised by stakeholders were adequately and efficiently addressed by ECZ and the printer.
“So far as stakeholders we are happy with the printing process. I can assure the people at home that this election will not be tempered with in as far as security features are concerned,” said George Phiri, who represented the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) in Dubai.
Mr Phiri, who spoke on behalf of other political parties two days after the printing had started, said the process was transparent and that the printer was a trusted company with a good track record and capacity to produce high quality work and deliver in record time.
Julien Mwape from the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ZAPD), who represented other stakeholders, said everything went on well.
Ms Mwape, who is living with a disability herself, said fears that were raised in Zambia over having ballot papers printed in Dubai should be allayed.
She also expressed happiness over the ability of the Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company to print braille ballot papers.
General secretary of the Islamic Supreme Council of Zambia (ISCZ), Sheikh Shaban Abdulamajeed Phiri, who represented faith-based organisations, said after seeing how transparent the process was, Zambians should have trust in ECZ.
The process continued on an impressive note making  all stakeholders happy and without any more doubts that nothing sinister would take place at the ballot paper printing level of the electoral process.
Political parties monitoring the printing process included the Democratic Assembly (DA) FDD, Green party, People’s Alliance for Change (PAC) and the Patriotic Front (PF).
Others were the Rainbow party, United National Independence Party (UNIP), United Party for National Development (UPND) and the United People’s Progressive (UPP) party.
Meanwhile, the mood among stakeholders was characterised by peace, sobriety and brotherliness, throughout and focusing on one goal of having a credible election starting from the printing process.
Stakeholders and the ECZ were happy with the unity of purpose.
They therefore urged other stakeholders back home to emulate the peace and harmony that existed in team Zambia in Dubai for a period of one month.
ECZ commissioners, Frederick Ngándu and David Matongo, who also visited
Dubai during the process, were impressed with the unit and hard work among various stakeholders.
They echoed Dr Sikazwe’s and Justice Mushabati’s calls for continued unity.
This call was crowned by ECZ chairperson Justice Essau Chulu, who visited Dubai to witness the completion of the printing and packaging process of ballot papers and other election materials.
“We are delighted that at last, we have been vindicated as a commission. Let us learn to trust each other. As a commission, we believe in transparency and want to minimise mistrust,” said Justice Chulu when he met team Zambia in Dubai on July 23.
About 344 pallets containing ballot papers and other election materials such as posters and NRC verification forms, were transported from Dubai to Zambia on July 28.
On July 29, a day before team Zambia returned home, a communiqué was issued and signed by all stakeholders who went to Dubai.
The communiqué reiterated stakeholders’ observations during the nearly one-month long printing process in Dubai.
Political party representatives, faith based organisations and civil society expressed satisfaction and extolled the transparency exhibited in the printing process.
They stated in the communiqué which was read by Bishop Shemmy Makelele from Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), that the engagement of stakeholders by ECZ was important as it contributed to confidence in the electoral process.
“While we were on this assignment of the printing of the ballot paper exercise, we worked as a team and as we return home to Zambia, we commit to be ambassadors of peace that our country Zambia is known for,” they pledged.
Dr Sikazwe commended team members for their dedication to duty during the printing process.
“Despite the workload that you had to accomplish, you worked diligently with no major incidences happening during the time of our stay.
“I hope that the spirit that you exhibited here during the printing of the ballot papers shall continue even as we get back to Zambia,” she said.
She has since appealed to all team members to be advocates of peace and unity in their various roles because the work they did was not for their individual gain but for the good of Zambia.
She further urged all stakeholders in Zambia to maintain calmness and peace from now onwards until the voting day and subsequently the declaration of results of the general elections and the referendum.
Dr Sikazwe has meanwhile thanked Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company for successfully completing the printing of ballot papers.
“The job was handled proficiently and in record time,” she said.
And Mr Ganapathy paid tribute to ECZ for awarding his company a contract to print presidential, national assembly, mayoral, local government and referendum ballot papers.
The foregoing clearly shows that Zambians are one and can work together for a common goal.
Elections and jostling for political office should therefore not divide Zambians in any way because ultimately, all political parties are aiming at running the affairs of the country for the benefit of the people, regardless of their religious, tribal and political affiliations.
It is hoped that the arrival of ballot papers in the country will not arouse any more suspicion, perception and mistrust but instead, cause stakeholders and the general public to value peace and trust for one another as they prepare to cast their votes on August 11.
The report of representatives of stakeholders, who were nominated to monitor the printing process because they are trusted members, should be believed by everyone. – ZANIS

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