DODOMA: MEMBERS of Parliament have backed a provision in the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill, 2023 which allows District Executive Directors (DEDs) to serve as Returning Officers.
The lawmakers said that using DEDs as poll supervisors has nothing to do with the victory of contestants because the arrangement has been in use for a long time and contestants from both ruling and opposition parties have been either winning or losing the election.
They aired their views while debating on the three crucial electoral reforms bills, which were presented for the second reading in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The bills are the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Bill, 2023; the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill, 2023; and the Political Parties Affairs Laws (Amendment) Bill,2023.
Manonga MP, Seif Gulamali said that using public servants as returning officers cannot be avoided because even though the electoral commission hires its own staff, they will automatically be paid salaries by the government.
“During the collection of public views on these electoral bills some stakeholders suggested that election supervisors should neither be public servants nor district executive directors, they want the commission to have its own staff,”
The lawmaker added that “allowing the commission to hire its own staff will increase its operational costs because they will need to be paid salaries, thus public servants cannot be avoided in any way in the entire exercise of overseeing elections.”
The MP said that Tanzanians should understand that public servants are crucial stakeholders in supervising election and they have nothing to do with either victory or defeat of the contestants.
He cited Kenya and Zambia where members of the electoral commission are presidential appointees but even opposition parties are winning the elections through the same commissions.
He said in the proposed amendments the president has given a chance for Chief Justices in Mainland and Zanzibar to propose names for commission chairman and vice-chairman.
“Members of the electoral commission being presidential appointees does not hinder a contestant to be voted for and win the election. Tanzanians should support the government move which aims at bolstering democracy and good governance in the country.”
Tarime Rural legislator Mwita Waitara said that by allowing public servants to serve as returning officers will help the government to reduce operational cost of the national electoral commission.
“The general election is conducted once in every five years. The government cannot hire people and pay them salaries every month. Retuning officers should remain senior public servants with required qualifications as proposed in the bill,” he said.
Another MP, Edwin Swalle (Lupembe, CCM), said the bills have been brought to the National Assembly with the aim of bringing reforms in the country.
Regarding appointment of the national electoral commission members, he said, claims by opposition parties are unfounded because an independent commission cannot be obtained from the people who are not within the community.
He said the bills have considered transparency in various areas including proposing political party agents in polling stations who will be provided with forms for election results.
“This means that if the commission will not release the results, the candidate can go to court thus there is no need to worry about the results,” he insisted.
Singida North MP Abeid Ramadhani said he has no objection with the section which allows DEDs to serve as returning officers because they have been supervising several elections in which opposition MPs also emerge winners.
“DED being a returning officer is not a problem, the concern should have been directed to individuals… a senior public servant intended to serve as returning officer should have integrity, be patriotic and fair,” he said.
Presenting the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill, 2023, Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office (Policy, Coordination and Parliament) Jenister Mhagama said the government proposes amendment of section 6 regarding appointment of election supervisors to allow the commission to appoint a senior public servant to serve as returning officer.
Section 6 (1) of the bill states that every city, municipal, township and district executive directors will serve as Returning Officer at constituency and ward levels and can serve in more than one constituency.
According to the bill, without affecting the conditions stated in subsection (1) the National Electoral Commission can appoint a returning officer by considering a status of a person in the office or by name from among the public servants with similar qualifications as district executive director.