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South African Firm, Waymark, Continues to Fuel Misgivings about Guinea’s Legislative Elections

August 17, 2013

SA firm focus of Guinea poll misgivings

16 Aug 2013 12:18 Liesl Louw-Vaudran

A UN-brokered deal has won over the opposition but there are still misgivings about the voters’ roll.

Opposition leaders in Guinea fear that the long-awaited legislative elections in the country, planned for next month, will once again be ­postponed.

They accuse Waymark, the South African company hired to draw up the voters’ role, of colluding with the national electoral commission (known by its French acronym Ceni) to rig the elections. They also question the price tag for the operation and object to Waymark getting the contract to replace the French company, Sagem, without going through a tender process.

Violent protests in which 51 people were killed broke out over Waymark and its local partner, Sabari, late last year and the elections have had to be postponed twice.

Waymark’s managing director, Pikie Monaheng, who flew to Guinea this week, denies allegations that the voter’s role was inflated with supporters of President Alpha Condé. According to Monaheng, Waymark’s system is foolproof and the delays have been caused by political wrangling between political parties in Guinea.

He said the cost of organising the elections to print six million ID cards had risen to “between $35-million and $36-million” because of inefficiency on the part of the government and the Ceni. In June, the government demanded that a plane be chartered from South Africa to get electoral material to the country for an election on June 30 that was again postponed.

The bitter acrimony and violence that erupted in the run-up to these elections date back to suspicions over the hotly contested 2010 presidential elections. Condé only managed to get 18% of the votes in the first round but, in the second round, managed to beat his opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo, by a narrow margin. Since then, serious ethnic clashes have erupted and the economic revival promised by Condé in his campaign has not been forthcoming, eroding his support. Allegations of corruption involving large state tenders have further tarnished his image.

On July 3, the opposition agreed to lift its boycott of the upcoming elections, now slated for September 24, following a United Nations-mediated agreement. It was agreed that Waymark could go ahead with revising the electoral list on condition that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Francophone Organisation (OIF) verify the process. Waymark has also been excluded from the tallying process and the electoral commission has agreed to find another election operator for the 2015 presidential elections.

Opposition spokesperson Abou­bacar Sylla said this week it was imperative for legislative elections to be held because the country had been without a parliament since a coup d’état in 2008 and the opposition had been excluded from playing a role in the country’s politics.

“We are extremely worried,” he told the Mail & Guardian. “We agreed to go ahead with the election and to keep Waymark-Sabari in Guinea but there are still many problems with the voters’ roll.”

One of the country’s leading opposition politicians, Sidya Touré, who lost in the 2010 presidential elections, said the country was misled about who would pay for Waymark’s contract.

“The president told us this is a gift from President [Jacob] Zuma but then we were told Guinea has to pay,” Touré said.

South Africa granted the resource-rich Guinea development aid of $30-million in 2011. At least part of it was said would be used to fund the legislative elections. Experts say supporting South African businesses like Waymark is part of South Africa’s foreign policy strategy to combat French influence in Francophone Africa. Condé is seen to be one of the few strong supporters of South Africa in the region and Guinea could be very lucrative for South African mining companies, some of whom are already present in the country.

Monaheng said he was open about his relationship with the South African government and that it had supported Waymark’s work in Guinea and elsewhere in Africa.

“Surely there is nothing that stops the South African ambassador in Tanzania from calling up the government when they are looking for a company to do this work? This is what the Americans and the Europeans do,” he said. “There’s no secret that Alpha Condé looks at South Africans to assist Guinea. He wants to put an end to this thing of Europeans first and Africans last.”

Waymark first got involved before the 2010 presidential elections in Guinea when it won the tender to tally results but, even though software and equipment was shipped to Guinea, it was decided to tally the results manually.

The company was then hired by Condé to register and print ID-cards but, according to Waymark, pressure mounted to hold the elections and the ID cards will only be printed at a later stage. The focus has since been on the voters’ role.

Monaheng said he considered pulling out when the allegations of vote rigging and the violent protests over Waymark started. The government, however, convinced him to stay and agreed open dialogue with the opposition.

In 2012, Waymark agreed to change its encryption system following recommendations by the UNDP and the OIF, who did two separate audits of Waymark’s capabilities.

There were 3.8-million voters on the original voters’ roll that was handed over from Sagem to Waymark. Waymark then started a revision of the list and, through an elaborate process conducted around the country, added 1.9-million voters. About 300 000 names were scrapped from the original list during the process, which, according to the opposition, were fraudulently added. But they accuse Waymark and the Ceni of colluding to add additional voters from the Haute-Guinee province, Condé’s stronghold.

Opposition parties were again given the opportunity to verify the list during two weeks in July but Sylla says there were huge logistical problems with this process.

“We’ve written to the president of the Ceni about this but we still haven’t had a response,” he said.

Once all the parties approve the roll, voters’ cards need to be printed and dispatched.

Waymark says that its system is foolproof. It uses 10 fingers to register a voter, which excludes the possibility of people registering twice.

But Monaheng admits that the fact that people do not yet have their ID cards is a huge problem.

The South African government did not respond to questions by the M&G‘s deadline.

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