Garbage in, garbage out’: Suleman maintains on manipulation of results in Malawi polls

Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale on Monday tussled with Malawi Congress Party (MCP) IT expert and witness in the on-going elections case, Daud Suleman, on how results in the presential elections in May were allegedly manipulated in the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) system.

Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidential candidate Chakwera (r) and UTM president Saulos Chilima are seeking nullification of the presidential election results over alleged irregularities.

During the cross examination, Kaphale representing the electoral body by virtue of being government chief legal advisor,  focused  his questioning to undermining the expertise of Suleman and  undermining the conclusions of his investigation.

Kaphale questioned the expertise of the witness, drawing attention his credentials in the IT profession and realiability of data punched into the system.

The witness maintained that what mattered most was that when data was entered into the system there should have been the integrity of results and not accuracy.

Suleman also maintained his claim that the electoral body’s system was insecure  purportedly because “ghost” users were logging to upload  presidential results.

The sixth witness of second petitioner Lazarus Chakwera  stuck to his  position in his demonstration to court that IT experts at the electoral body including Muhabi Chisi logged into the system to upload results after MEC chairperson Jane Ansah had already announced the winner.

In his analysis, Malawian legal scholar based at the at South Africa’s Cape Town University,  Professor Danwood Chirwa, said Kaphale only targeted  Suleman on formal qualifications but not experience.

“But by demonstration, Suleman speaks and acts like an expert in his field and so the damage to his evidence isn’t too great. I hear that some hackers as computer geniuses are school dropouts,” Chirwa said.

Professor Chirwa said what will matter is how MEC IT expert Chisi will perform his simulation and whether he will show that the system was not insecure and that it wasn’t infiltrated.

“ He has to do this, not just come to say Suleman was wrong,” he said.

As regards Suleman’s conclusions, law expert Chirwa said there has been also some significant headway in the cross examination, especially as regards whether the “ghost” that penetrated the IT system in fact altered the results.

“Suleman seems only to have proven that there was unauthorized entry into the system and that the online approval system was operated by unauthorized personnel. He seems not to have been assigned the job of checking whether the IT system in fact produced altered results. Kaphale tried to make this point, almost too repeatedly that he got entangled in unnecessary and unproductive squabbles,” pointed out Chirwa.

He added: “It will be interesting to see what Suleman’s ‘garbage in and garbage out’ metaphor will be taken up by the petitioners in their closing argument. I think it is a powerful metaphor for what is being alleged.

“There are many altered documents, duplicates and some unsigned by monitors. The MEC has to prove the sequence of events. If the MEC printed, as Kaphale was suggesting, documents fed into and processed by the computer which were open to manipulation in the IT system as Suleman alleges, and if during verification and approval by the Commission, source documents were altered to conform to the IT generated docs, then Suleman carries the day. “

Chirwa said there has to be “independent evidence” for the correctness of the results which were altered or presented on duplicates or not signed by monitors.

“ The commission will have to produce it and that that evidence was available before the commission at the material time. If the results were computer manually, the commission still has to show what role the IT system played in the election and how it carried out the entire manual system,” he added.

Social commentator  Stanley Onjezani Kenani in his post on social media observed that Kaphale’s cross-examination os Suleman seems to imply that he does not deny that 403 unauthorised users had  used the MEC system, or that a “ghost” user processed the results of almost 4 000 polling centres.

“ Instead, he seems to imply that we should forget about all the anomalies in the Results Management System, as long as the manual side of things was fine.

“That is problematic on several fronts. One: Many witnesses have demonstrated how the data that was entered into the system was also manually manipulated. Their evidence seems supported by the Malawi Electoral Commission’s own auditors, who have listed a slew of documents that were manipulated, and also documents whose results did not balance,” Kenani a professional accountant, wrote.

He pointed out that Suleman referred to “Garbage in garbage out.”

Wrote Kenani: “Those manually manipulated results – let’s call them the ‘garbage in’ – were typed into the system and then printed out (i.e. garbage out). Just because Commissioners approved them does not make them authentic, right? A report by BDO – external auditors hired by MEC – says there were 273 forms affected by the correction material, Tippex, 65 forms were manually amended, 45 had missing signatures, while 66 forms did not have political parties’ signatures.

“ According to the report, some Form 66 sheets were unclear; other forms used were not original and even more were excessively Tippexed by presiding officers. The report goes on to say there was suspected manipulation of results forms, and the MEC information, communication and technology (ICT) people, in some instances, scanned the wrong copies of Form 66 and captured wrong data. That is the garbage Daud is talking about.”

Kenani also focused on MEC’s ICT Director Muhabi Chisi’s affidavit of 22 July which categorically states as follows: “I state that the results of the Tripartite elections that were held on 21st May were managed, processed and eventually determined by the Commission in accordance with the Results Management System.”

He then queries why Kaphale could turn around and ignore all the manipulation that took place in the RMS and focus on the manual side of things.

“ Prior to the elections, MEC spent a lot of time making dry runs in the presence of stakeholders to demonstrate how the RMS was going to work. The idea was to assure stakeholders that the RMS was there to safeguard the integrity of the elections. Kaphale cannot turn around now and say we should disregard all that and focus on the manual trail,” Kenani stated.

“Interestingly, even as with one corner of his mouth he seemed to persuade the court to focus on the manual process, with the other he attempted to discredit Daud Suleman as not being sufficiently qualified to audit the RMS. Mind you, until this point, he has not disputed any of the key aspects of Daud Suleman’s evidence.”

First petitioner UTM Party president Saulos Chilima and second petitioner  Chakwera are seeking nullification of the presidential election results over alleged irregularities.

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