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We made a grave mistake, says IEC



MASERU – THE Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is under a barrage of attacks for its mistake in calculating the allocation of Proportional Representation (PR) seats. Accused of malice and incompetence, the commission has been in crisis mode since it discovered the mistake. It is a mistake that the IEC is now trying to resolve through legal means. thepost this week spoke to the IEC’s Director of Elections, Advocate Mpaiphele Maqutu.

Please explain the mistake that you are now trying to rectify. What happened?

This was the first time under the Electoral Act of 2011 that a political party or political parties that had won constituency seats were not entitled to PR seats.
The last time this happened was in 2002 but it was under a different electoral law.
The mistake this time happened because the law was not applied in full.
A critical stage in the calculation of the allocation was not applied.
We were supposed to exclude the votes of two, which were not entitled to PR seats, from the total number of votes to get a new threshold to allocate the seats.
That didn’t happen. Instead, we used the global figure that included the numbers of those two parties.

At what point was the mistake discovered?

After an election, we try to have a comprehensive self-evaluation of how we fared as an organisation.
We do that exercise when things are still fresh, meaning immediately after an election. It is during that process that we picked up the mistake.

How was the mistake discovered?

It was during the same platform that I alluded to earlier. We admit that a mistake was made and it is highly regrettable.
I think the process we are going through is better than sitting with a mistake and allowing a wrong to continue to avoid the backlash we are getting now.
I must however point out that this was not an IEC’s mistake alone. We were working with representatives of all 65 political parties who were part of the election committee.
One would expect that political representatives know the rules of the game and are conversant with the electoral law.

How did political parties react when you told them of the mistake?

As soon as we discovered the mistake we called all the leaders of political parties and explained the situation.
We thought there would be a backlash from them but they were very understanding because they could see this was a genuine mistake.
They could see that there was no malice or ill-intention on our part.

But, judging by the responses on radio stations, the mood has obviously changed.

Yes, the situation appears to have changed after some of the leaders went back to their supporters.
We now hear that some of the supporters are now saying the leaders betrayed them by accepting that a mistake was made.
Some of the leaders appear to be blaming us as well. But I can assure the nation that this was a genuine mistake and we deeply regret it.

Who should be held accountable for this mistake?

The calculation was done by the IEC and the elections committee made up of representatives from all political parties. We all agreed on the calculation.
We should also remember that the political parties already knew the results even before they were officially announced because they have representatives at all election stations across the country.
They also had an idea of what the PR seats would look like. We then had a closed meeting where the allocation was discussed and we agreed to announce them.
We were all sure that the numbers were correct. There was no doubt.

Some are asking why it took the IEC nearly two weeks to pick up such a serious mistake.

It is easy to point fingers when mistakes happen. We should be mindful of the fact that this was a joint effort for which we take collective responsibility.
Some of the people who are now pointing fingers were part of the committee that endorsed both the calculation and the allocation.
We could have kept quiet about this and avoided the backlash we are getting now but that would not have been right.
We welcome the backlash because we made the mistake. We would rather be criticised for trying to correct a mistake than being pilloried for trying to hide it.
This was a genuine mistake and we are trying to correct it.

Have you investigated to find out what went wrong and who could be responsible for the mistake?
Our investigation has been thorough because we wanted to understand if there was any malice or ill-intention.
I can assure you that there is none whatsoever. As director of elections, I do not do the calculations myself.
There is a team that does that. But having looked at what happened I do not doubt that this was a genuine mistake.
It would therefore be disingenuous for me to turn around and point fingers at the team.

But were those calculations not within the scope of one of the service providers responsible for the IEC’s data?

It was. I could turn around and say maybe they should have made sure that the calculations and formula were applied correctly.
But then we also did our own parallel calculations that should have still picked this mistake.
We were happy with our own calculations. This was just an unfortunate mistake.
We however take solace from the fact that those miscalculations did not have a significant bearing on the election outcome.
In saying this, I am not trying to minimise the mistake. It was a grave mistake that should never happen again.

The consequences of this mistake could have been disastrous. What measures have you implemented to ensure that it doesn’t happen again?

The first step is this self-evaluation that is happening now. The second is to increase the participation of civil society and other stakeholders in the electoral process.
We have seen that even though political parties claim to know the law and the process we still need to have checks and balances to avoid misrepresentations and mistakes.
We will also have a detailed and clear process mapping in terms of how we deal with the issue of results so that it’s not just a question of recollection from memory but have the steps documented in clear form.
This will ensure that there are clear steps to follow in line with the different scenarios that may arise.

Staff Reporter 

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