Audit needed after elections

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday 12th July 2012

THE Commonwealth Observer Group has noted that while some of the "benchmarks for democratic processes were met, several significant challenges remain to be addressed".

Rather ambiguous assertion, we would submit, and much too kind.

The group urged the PNG Electoral Commission and other relevant authorities to ensure the counting and results processes and those steps which follow, including any election-related legal matters, are concluded in a timely and transparent manner, to ensure full accountability for, and confidence in, the outcomes of the election.

The team is kind, of course, as a similar team was in 2007.

Its findings this time are, of course, the same as the findings of the 2007 commonwealth observer group.

This time, as last time, the team has pointed out:

The need to improve management of elections;

That common roll be drastically improved;

The huge discrimination against women voters;

Bribery which is rampant;

Delays in polling and counting;

Lack of concern and urgency by election officials; and

The list goes on. This is nothing new.

The question we must ask again is whatever happened between 2007 and 2012?

Why were all the problems observed above in 2007 not fixed in time for 2012?

We are stumped for an answer.

That is a situation that beggars description.

The government did budget money annually for the Electoral Commission.

Even if it did not, there was a huge programme undertaken by the Australian government in conjunction with the PNGEC to improve on electoral performance.

After 2007, the Australian taxpayer, through its government, poured in millions of kina under the electoral support programme to see improved elections management, elections operations, with particular emphasis on the updating of the common roll.

There was no doubt that a huge effort was being made to improve elections.

Alas, it has come to nothing.

The problems that marred the 2007 elections, which the programme was meant to minimise or eradicate altogether, have remained and have been compounded in the 2012 national election.

By many accounts, they have got worse. How worse, we shall have an answer when the elections are concluded.

If the electoral support programme managers were to report back to the Australian parliament, it should contain only two words: "Zilch result."

Where ever has all the money from Australia been spent?

When debate was raging weeks before the issue of writs and parliament moved by an absolute majority to defer elections, Australia was vehement that the elections be conducted on time.

It poured in more support and its foreign affairs minister went to the extent of threatening sanctions if the elections were deferred.

In hindsight, the question can be asked: What would Australia have in its closest northern ally – failed elections and anarchy or deferred elections which put into parliament a democratically-elected government?

Coupled with strong domestic NGO pressure and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s vehemence that the elections do go ahead as scheduled, the external pressure did deliver timely elections but a quite messy one.

This must in no way be read to mean that we are apportioning blame for the chaotic elections on Australia.

Many will head down that lane but this newspaper is not one of them.

What assistance Australia or any other of PNG’s friends offer is just that: Assistance.

How it is managed on
the ground is entirely up to the recipient PNG institution.

In this instance, the electoral support programme and how it has been managed is entirely up to the PNGEC and its management.

We would ask that following the elections, an inquiry or even an audit of the elections be undertaken by a reputable and independent team of people.

The need to set up an electronic system for future elections.