BY BLESSED MHLANGA
The integrity of next year’s elections is already in question, as it emerged that Israeli company, Nikuv International Project, could be roped in through the backdoor to manage, store and compile voters’ data ahead of the 2018 general elections, a development likely to raise eyebrows and questions about the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (Zec) much-hyped biometric voter registration (BVR) exer
Zec chairperson Rita Makarau
The fears arose after revelations that Zec was silent on how the data collected from registration would be stored, which is an integral part of the process.
Laxton Group, which won the tender to supply BVR kits, fears it could be unwittingly used as a cover for a grand election-rigging scheme.
Sources said the Chinese firm, which was recently awarded the tender to supply the kits, was resisting attempts to use its name in a development which could tarnish its international reputation.
Top secret documents compiled by Laxton Group Limited’s chief legal officer, Paul Bellin, and shared among the company’s board of directors and security chiefs in Zimbabwe, expose highly irregular issues in the manner in which Zec will handle voters’ data.
Chief among the fears expressed by Bellin are data security, accountability, technical compatibility and time risks, which Laxton Group says could soil their reputation.
“This is a highly alarming risk. Zec does not appear to have this infrastructure in place and when Laxton raised this issue, it fell on deaf ears.
“It was also made clear that Zec intends using an alternative company to provide the central system, which was even more alarming,” reads the leaked report.
The objective of the report was to provide a risk analysis of the BVR tender for evaluation by Laxton’s board of directors prior to entering into a contract with Zec.
Laxton, in its risk report, said it was alarmed that Zec sought to roll out the BVR system without providing for a central system to manage, back up and collate the data or disaster recovery.
Bellin said buying the BVR kits without the central system was like buying a car without an engine, because it was the driver and crux in managing the collected data.
“Typically, a central system is put in place before BVR kits are rolled out … the BVR kits without the central system are useless, they work together as a team,” the report reads.
“The BVR kits collect the data in the field, which they transmit to the central system. The central system is the brain that consolidates and processes the millions of records registered on the kits and removes all the duplicates to allow for a clean accurate voters’ roll to be produced.
“It’s confusing as to why this central system is not being contracted to the same company providing the kits. It’s like buying a car without an engine. They are very much symbiotic systems.”
Laxton said in the event Zec proceeded to contract another company to provide the central system, it would not be held accountable for the system’s failures.
“If issues arise, it is virtually impossible to know who is accountable. With multiple parties handling the system, then who is responsible if an issue arises? It will make it too easy to point fingers at each other,” reads the report.
On the technical risks, Laxton said if Zec insisted on using their BVR kits on a central system from another company, it could get “messy”.
“It’s like buying an Apple iPhone and trying to load android applications on it. It results in a messy solution and major effort and frustration to integrate the two systems in order to talk to each other. Then there are continuous compatibility headaches that continue into the future,” reads the report.
Laxton officials refused to comment on the leaked document, referring all questions to Zec owing to contractual agreements of confidentiality signed between the two.
The tender specifications on the BVR equipment advertised by the United Nations Development Programme did not include supply or setting-up of the central system.
But it required that BVR kits should have connectivity to a database and should have encrypted user identifiable data backup storage, which will be used to transfer data from one place to the other.
Sources told NewsDay that Zec would use Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede’s passport database, which was set up by Nikuv as its central system. Nikuv was, in the 2013 elections, accused by opposition parties of conniving with Zanu PF to rig and manipulate the voters’ roll.
Efforts to get comment from Zec chairperson, Rita Makarau over the past two days were fruitless, as her mobile phone went unanswered, while emails sent to her office had not been responded to at the time of going to print last night.