From Swazi Media Commentary http://www.swazimedia.blogspot.com/
Swazi newspapers have attacked the appointment of an electrician to be chair of the Swaziland Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), the body that will oversee the national election later this year.
One newspaper editor has gone so far as to speculate that this is a deliberate ploy to rig the election.
The anger revolves around the appointment of the five-member EBC, which is to be headed by Chief Gija Dlamini, who has been employed as an electrician for 20 years at the Swaziland Water Services Commission.
The appointment of Chief Gina and the rest of the EBC, who also do not seem to be qualified for the job, caused outrage in the Swazi Press.
When the news broke in newspapers on Friday (7 March 2008) both the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer drew readers’ attention to the new Swazi Constitution which states that ‘the chairperson, deputy chairperson and other members of the commission shall possess the relevant qualifications of a judge of the superior courts or be persons of high moral character, proven integrity, relevant experience and demonstrable competence in the conduct of public affairs.’
According to the Times on Friday, when questioned by journalists about Gila’s qualifications, Prince David, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said King Mswati III had used ‘the second part which starts with “or” when appointing the chief’.
The condemnation of the appointments to the EBC was swift. The following day Thulani Thwala, editor of the Swazi News, writing in his own newspaper (8 March 2008) said none of the five members were really properly qualified for the job.
Thwala said that Gila ‘has never been a judge and from the look of things he is nowhere near being a judge’ he was appointed because ‘he is a hard-core traditionalist, who heeds all royal command’.
Thwala said that the Swazi Constitution that came into effect in 2006 was being ignored. He wrote, ‘Was the constitution drafted in good faith or was it purely availed for the country to appease the international community for us to continue getting donations we so much adore?’
Thwala wrote, ‘My worry is whether the EBC is ready to reward us with sound MPs or its duty would be to rig the elections.’
The Weekend Observer (8 March 2008) interviewed civic society organisations and found they were ‘worried about the people who were appointed into the commission’. Members of the EBC keep the job for 12 years.
In its report the Weekend Observer noted, ‘In the event the commissioners blunder because of lack of political experience the Judicial Service Commission will have to take the blame for ignoring high, learned and experienced Swazis.’
A spokesperson for the Swaziland National Association of Teachers told the Weekend Observer the commissioners ‘lacked experience at political and leadership level’.
The Lawyers for Human Rights said Gija was unqualified for the job.
‘His job requires a high level of knowledge in politics, constitutional law and international relations. His job is not about morals per se,’ the Weekend Observer quoted a spokesman saying.
The spokesman added that there were many Swazis who were qualified for the job.
The Times Sunday (9 March 2008) in an editorial said the nation was ‘clueless’ as to how the members of the EBC were selected. The process of selection had not been transparent, the newspaper said.
The Times Sunday also reported the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO), which said the way in which the members were selected ‘shows the executive’s complete disregard for the principles of parliamentary supremacy’.
SCCCO noted ‘with extreme concern the utter disregard for both the spirit and the nature of the Swazi constitution in the appointment of members of the EBC’.
SCCCO wants a judicial review of the way the members were selected and are lobbying both Swazi and international civic organisations to its cause.
The Times Sunday quoted SCCCO saying, ‘We will not stand idly by and watch our votes be rendered useless by a system that regards Parliament and elections as mere window-dressing to appease other states and give the impression of democracy to satisfy international donors.’
SCCCO continued, ‘Our human rights will not be respected, transparency and accountability will continue to be foreign concepts and our political freedom to be governed as we choose will remain far off dreams.’
The date for the nation election has not been set but it is widely expected to be sometime in October or November 2008. That means there is not much time to get everything ready in time. There needs to be widespread voter education ahead of the polls to ensure that all people in Swaziland know their rights and obligations at election time.
The row over the appointment of the EBC needs to be resolved quickly. I support the Swaziland press in its attempts to ensure that the EBC works in line with its constitutional obligations. At the moment this is not the case.
I hope that civic organisations within and outside of Swaziland can unite to protest these appointments.
Here is a fine chance for the Swazi independent media to stand up for the people of Swaziland and stand up for democracy.
First published 11 March 2008