Funding concerns over by-elections

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday July 21st, 2015

 IT is indeed worrisome to hear that Electoral Commissioner Andrew Trawen remains doubtful about the successful completion of the by-elections in West Sepik and Goilala because of inadequate funding by the National Government.

Trawen maintains he cannot guarantee the successful completion of the two by-elections if funding is released by the Department of Treasury on a piecemeal basis.

And he has warned that both by-elections will fail if the funds are not released immediately. 

“I must emphasise that the Treasury Department must release the balance of the by-election funds as a matter of urgency, otherwise both by-elections will be total failures,” he said recently.

It is understood that Treasury has released part of the K10 million allocated for the West Sepik by-election and more than half of the K5 million for the Goilala Open by-election.

Most of the funds have been spent for awareness and training and may not be sufficient to cater for other election expenses such as paying election officials.

Treasury has been warned; the balance of the funds must be released to the Electoral Commission because any prolonged delays will have dire consequences.

The by-election in West Sepik is for the governor’s seat held previously by Amkat Mai, who was dismissed by the court of disputed returns. 

The Goilala Open seat was left vacant by Daniel Mona who passed away early this year after an illness. This is not the first time the Electoral Commissioner has rung the alarm bells on lack of funding for elections and related matters.

In 2013 Trawen warned of threats by service providers to disrupt the local level government (LLG) elections if the National Government did not release about K12 million owed by the commission from the 2012 national elections.

He said at the time that K50 million allocated by the Government for the LLG elections was insufficient.

The Electoral Commissioner had been pleading for another K30 million for the LLG elections and to settle the commission’s outstanding debts to service providers of the 2012 national elections. 

However, his request for additional funding fell on deaf ears in Waigani. 

Will the Treasury Department heed his latest call and release all the funds for the West Sepik and Goilala by-elections, which are now currently underway.

If they are not listening to the country’s most seasoned chief electoral officer then who will. 

There is no doubt that Trawen faces a real dilemma and needs urgent financial support from the Government. 

Without the balance of the funding, Trawen is adamant that the Electoral Commission will not be able to successfully complete the two by-elections.

As Trawen has stated in no uncertain terms – the success of both by-elections elections depend on sufficient funding to the tune of almost K15 million. Indeed, it would be wise of the Treasury Department to take heed of the Electoral Commissioner’s grave concerns and release the balance of the funding to ensure the two by-elections are conducted successfully and without disruptions.

Trawen has warned time and again that financial problems and disruptive actions by disgruntled service providers in certain parts of the country remain and which urgent attention from the political leadership.

The Electoral Commissioner reported an incident in 2013 that should have sounded alarm bells in the corridors of Waigani. 

Service providers from 2012 national elections had forcefully closed a number of provincial electoral offices around the country demanding their outstanding payments.

While Trawen has assured disgruntled service providers that their dues will eventually be settled, the simple fact remains that the Electoral Commission is still unable to settle their debts without additional funding from the Government.

With the issuing of the writs for the West Sepik and Goilala by-elections just two weeks away, it is imperative that the Government take measures to ensure the polls are conducted without financial hindrances and other disruptions. 

Funding issues must be resolved and if need be, additional funds must be provided to top up the Electoral Commission’s budget for the by-elections.

After all, the people of West Sepik and Goilala are entitled to have political representation in Parliament following the demise of their former governor and MP.