‘Why DEDs should remain returning officers’

DODOMA: A PROMINENT advocate Alex Mgongolwa has differed with a section of stakeholders at a public participation exercise airing views on election bills over whether or not should District Executive Directors (DEDs) serve as Returning Officers.

Advocate Mgongolwa argued that that there is nowhere in the ruling of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights that disqualifies civil servants from supervising elections.

For the past four days the Parliamentary Committee on Governance, Constitution and Legal Affairs has been handling the process of collecting views regarding the proposed three crucial electoral bills from members of the public, with a section of participants proposing that DEDs should not be allowed to supervise elections on behalf of the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

The main argument provided was the fact that the DEDs are civil servants who are appointed by the President, and therefore, they would be impartial as majority of them are said to be members of the ruling party, CCM.

They also charged that using them as Returning Officers was tantamount to violation of article 2 of the Human and Peoples’ rights, which states that every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune birth or any status.

Among the participants who contributed in the four-day exercise to gather views which ended, yesterday included the opposition Chama Cha Democrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) Secretary General, John Mnyika who asked the parliamentary committee to withhold a decision by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights noting that it had restricted the NEC from using civil servants as returning officers.

“I ask the committee to ensure that the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill, 2023 is amended to allow NEC to employ its own persons who will supervise all elections countrywide,’’ stated Mr Mnyika.

The CHADEMA Secretary General cited a court decision on a case filed by Bob Chacha Wangwe and Legal and Human Rights Centre versus the Tanzanian Government, which among other issues complained of alleged violation of the right to non-discrimination.

In the case, the applicants charged that appointment of returning officers from the civil service would definitely bring discrimination, which comprises their right to participate in electoral processes.

However, when presenting his views yesterday, Mr Mgongolwa, a renowned lawyer, said that the majority of political stakeholders, who cited the said court ruling, were quoting the court’s decision out of context.

Mr Mgongolwa who took time to provide a lesson to some participants who were against DEDs to be used as returning officers quoted some parts of the ruling, saying the court had taken note of the submissions by the Respondent State for its preference in the use of civil servants for managing various aspects of the electoral process.

According to him, the court noted that the involvement of civil servants in the management of the electoral process is nor irregular.

The 43 paged court ruling details says: “In the circumstances, the court holds that limiting the selection of the Director of Elections and the returning officers from the civil service is not a violation of article 2 of the charter.’’

According to Mr Mgongolwa, out of a ten-man bench of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights led by its Vice-President, Blaise Tchikaya, only one Judge offered dissenting views regarding the use of public servants in supervising elections as there was no sufficient evidence to prove that they were likely to be biased thus affecting a level playing field during elections.

The exercise by a parliamentary committee to gather views from Tanzanians regarding the three bills— 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, was carried out on January 06, 08, 09 and 10, 2024 in the country’s capital Dodoma.

The bills were presented in Parliament for the first reading on November 10, 2023.

According to the committee chairperson Dr Joseph Mhagama, beginning today, his committee would kick off its marathon meetings to fine-tune the views presented before tabling its recommendations in parliament for debate and adoption after the second and third reading respectively.

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