- Commission fully aware of faulty voters roll ahead of poll
MASERU – Beleaguered electoral operations manager at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), ‘Mamatlere Pontšo Matete, is back at work – and Public Eye can reveal that when she was suspended the IEC was already fully aware of the faulty voters roll. With less than six months left before national elections, the IEC suspended and then sent on terminal leave the manager of electoral operations, a decision which seems to have had catastrophic outcomes.
This means the IEC went to the national assembly elections with an acting manager of electoral operations. Matete returned to work on Monday this week after winning a case in the high court. The manager of electoral operations is responsible for managing an effective and efficient voter registration processes, electoral operations, electoral dispute resolution, voting activities and electoral administration.
The position has been held by Matete for over 10 years. According to the job description, a copy of which Public Eye has seen, apart from facilitating the development of a certified voters register, electoral operations manager liaises with government departments and agencies “to facilitate voter registration and ensure integrity and accuracy of the voters’ register”. She was suspended on June 1 this year by the director of elections, Advocate Mpaiphele Maqutu, for allegedly refusing to hand over an office to the newly employed senior procurement officer.
And while domestic and international elections observer missions commended Lesotho for the atmosphere of peace and calm in which the October 7 elections were held, they expressed great concern over the integrity of the voters’ roll. This, they said, caused confusion and disenfranchised voters in many areas. “Generally, across all constituencies, the voters’ roll was a concern and an area of confusion for numerous reasons, chief among which names of voters were missing on the voters’ roll and party agents had lists that were different from those held by the IEC staff,” Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN) observation mission stated in an interim statement.
In an interview with Public Eye, Matete noted that after discovering anomalies with the voters roll she informed the director of elections, Mpaiphele Maqutu, but instead of addressing the issue, Maqutu was more interested in removing her from office. She said during the voter verification period she checked her name in the voters’ roll, and her name appeared at Ha Ratjomose in the Maseru Central constituency while it was supposed to appear in the Thetsane constituency.
“When I realized this mistake I told the director of elections. Instead of him attending to the matter at hand he told me to vacate the office, which I refused. The office was being used by IEC officials when they come from field and wanted to finalise their work. After refusing to leave the office, I was given a letter instructing me to furnish reasons why I should not be suspended,” Matete explained. On May 31 this year, Matete was issued with a show cause letter by Maqutu requesting her to justify why she could not be suspended from work for failure to obey instructions by refusing to hand over an office to the newly employed senior procurement officer.
She claims she received the show cause letter at 12:58 pm and was required to respond by close of business the same day. She replied and told Maqutu that as a matter of fact, there was no vacant office at the IEC headquarters and that the office referred to was being used to accommodate field staff. “The suspension comes after I applied for a leave that was denied under the explanation that elections were near and I have to prepare for them. It is funny that I was suspended a few months before elections despite the responsibilities I was reminded of when I wanted to take leave,” she said.
Matete, now back in the office, says she was not officially informed of her expected return to the office when she received the suspension letter, but noted that on November 14 the IEC staff received a memo informing them that the court has ruled that accumulated leave days by IEC staff has been found unlawful. “The effect of this decision is that the substantive manager of electoral operations has resumed work with effect from 14th November 2022,” reads the memo.
The memo further stated that since Matete is left with 11 working days to the date of her retirement, she has been presented with an option of taking her 2022/23 accrued leave days to her end of term or use the remaining 11 days for purposes of handover to the acting manager electoral operations. Matete said she is not happy that her employment details were made public and known to all IEC while she could have just been informed in private. She, as a result, wrote to director of elections telling him of her dissatisfaction. In a separate interview with Public Eye Maqutu said Matete’s suspension had no impact on the general elections and the quality of voters roll.
He said believing that absence of Motete had impact on the performance of IEC is implying that she or anyone else is bigger than the IEC.He said absence of anyone, including himself as director of elections, can never have impact on the institution’s performance as it does not rely on one person to be able to pass its mandate successfully. “There is no such thing, what kind of a credible institution can rely on one person, this is more like saying a person is bigger than the institution, which is absurd. The elections were successful even local and international observers said so,” Maqutu noted. He said Matete was released from her duty while she was already a few weeks due to her retirement which is supposed to start on November 28.
Some IEC staffers who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity, alleged that there were many concerns of the voters’ roll because Matete was sent home at a critical time and replaced with a person who is not known for mastery of voter registration and electoral operations. “The commissioners resumed duty in late 2020 which means that they have been in office in less than two years when we held elections last month. Director of elections was appointed in March this year,” the staffers said.
“Electoral operations manager, on the other hand, was already occupying the position when we held the 2012 elections, was acting director of elections during the 2015 snap elections and was still here as electoral operations manager when we held another snap election in 2017,” they added. On July 6, while still on suspension, Matete was asked by IEC chairperson, Mphasa Mokhochane, to proceed on terminal leave. “This is in view of the fact that you will be going on compulsory retirement on the 28th November, 2022,” Mokhochane said.
In its post elections statement, the LCN mission further observed that voters’ names did not appear both on the IEC held voters roll and the one held by party agents yet their names appeared on the IEC website when they checked. The head of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) electoral observation mission, Frans Kapofi, said the mission noted concerns regarding inaccuracies in the first certified voters roll published after the voters’ verification exercise. “The first certified voters roll did not include names of some registered voters and it contained names of some deceased persons and duplicated voters’ names,” Kapofi said.
He further indicated that there were also complaints of delays in the publication of the voters roll.“Some polling stations and party agents did not have final copies of the voters’ roll even on election day,” chairperson of the Commonwealth observer group, former president of Seychelles, Danny Faure, in an interim statement.For his part the Chief observer of the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission (EOM), Ignazio Corrao, said closer to elections day, allegations of errors and inaccuracies in the voters list were expressed in the media.
Corrao said the IEC denied the allegations and threatened anyone spreading inaccurate information with civil action.“The EU EOM observers reported various cases of voters whose names could not be found on the voters list or who were not aware of the location of the polling station. These cases were noticed mostly in constituencies with recently revised boundaries,” Corrao said.
At a press conference on elections day at the ’Manthabiseng Convention Center, Maqutu said only voters roll related complaints and voter transfer complaints had been lodged throughout the election process. He made an assurance that most of these complaints were resolved.