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LOBAMBA – The technologically advanced system worth over E24 million, bought to make the recent national elections better, failed to function as expected and would now and then freeze.

This resulted in delays and a decision was taken to revert to the manual system which was used in the 2008 elections.
The Times SUNDAY has established that this is the same reason temporary staff engaged for the elections has been retained.
Richard Phungwayo, Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Project Manager, said the Turnkey Election Management Solution failed to function properly as envisaged, such that it had to be set aside.

He said the elections process could not be done through the system because some components of it failed to function as expected.
Among its many failures, the system froze at critical times and in some instances it locked out the elections officers, as a result the election process, particularly the Primary Elections, had serious glitches.

The system was supplied and installed by South African company, Face Technologies, through Tender number 71 of 2012/13.
This is the same company that was among suppliers of electronic equipment for the Kenyan elections early this year. That election was said to have been mired by glitches as well.

Phungwayo said as per the contract between EBC and Face Technologies, the equipment was supposed to be used to deliver a fully automated election through a computerised elections management solution.
The solution was to be used during the registration of voters; for the production of voters’ identity cards among its many deliverables.

It was also to be used for the printing of draft voters roll, management and validation of voters roll, management of nomination, cater for primary and secondary elections, report and provide solution to enquiries as well as providing results for the elections.
For the latter function, the EBC through the contractor, bought two 55 inch flat screen television sets  for E55 000 which were going to electronically display results from polling stations as they were counted.

Due to the failure of the system, the results were counted manually and never displayed.
The EBC is yet to compile the final number of voters who voted in the secondary elections.
Phungwayo said among many equipment failures observed was that some of the equipment froze in critical times and others locked out elections officers while elections were in progress.

He said in some areas, the processing speed of the equipment was very slow.
The manager said following the failures of the system, a near crisis and chaotic scenario was avoided when ballot papers and boxes were procured and deployed at polling stations just before the election date.

“We put the equipment aside and conducted the elections using old methods and this proved to be a right decision as there were fewer problems during the Secondary Elections compared to the primaries,” he said.
The computer system consisted of 500 units.

Each of the units was made up of a laptop, camera, scanner, fingerprint scanner and signature scanners. These were bundled in single units of work stations that contained each of the above tools.
They were deployed in the various polling stations, which were found all over the country.

Phungwayo said the problems with the system were initially observed during registration period and they came to a boil during the Primary Elections where people spent lengthy periods of time in queues, while the system worked slowly.
He blamed the failures on the equipment itself and to the lack of knowledge by the users, being the elections officers, mainly because they were not well schooled on how to use it.

He said at the end the EBC observed that the glitches could not be tolerated, particularly for the Secondary Elections as among other remedies, the EBC had to facilitate training for officers on how to use the system.
He said there was no time for that and the only option was to set it aside and activate Plan B, which was to revert to the `tried and tested’ system used during the 2008 elections.
This meant that the ballot papers and boxes were used, instead of the ‘smart cards’ which had been produced and were supposed to be used in the elections process.

He said the failure of the equipment meant that the funds that were used to purchase it were not used to the optimal particularly for the 2013 national elections as the system failed at a critical time when it was supposed to deliver the elections and its results.
Phungwayo said the equipment functioned with minimal problems during the registration period.
However, he said problems were experienced in some areas.

According to the contract, each workstation was supposed to be loaded with a full register of registered voters.
This was to be done to ensure that voter validation was to be undertaken by doing a one-on-one match on fingerprints.
The station would have validated a voter on the basis that he or she had not voted in another area, as well as producing instant results on each voting centre and nationally.

Phungwayo said long queues were eliminated in most areas as people voted without problems during the Secondary Election, albeit without the system.
The use of the old system meant that results were not counted and relayed electronically. Also the overall numbers of people who voted had to be counted manually after the elections, a process that was ongoing even today.

Jabulani Nxumalo, a local representative of Face Technologies blamed the problems of the system that was provided to the people who used it.
Nxumalo said there was no problem with the system, instead, the users failed to use it properly. He asked not to comment further.
Responding to a questionnaire from the Times SUNDAY, Face Technologies said the EBC was now the owner of the complete solution and suggested that further requests for comment be directed to them.

The company said it did not receive any negative feedback from the EBC and based on the extensive press and international reports, this project was seen as a big success, both locally and internationally.
“The capacity of the hardware that we provided is based on the experience that we have obtained over the past few years in successfully  implementing multiple other similar electoral solutions for other clients in Africa.

The hardware capacity  provided was according to what we had specified in our tender response,” the company said.

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