Funding woes for commission

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday April 15th, 2016

 ELECTORAL Commissioner Patilas Gamato is facing the same dilemma that his predecessor Sir Andrew Trawen had constantly faced during the crucial period before the general elections.

And that is the lack of sufficient funding to conduct the five-yearly elections.

Sir Andrew retired last November with much reservation about the meagre K10 million that had been allocated in 2016 National Budget for the Electoral Commission.

He had expressed grave concern about the lack of funding for the Electoral Roll improvement and update project, which is an essential activity in the commission’s preparation agenda.

With 12 months left before the writs for the 2017 general elections are issued, Gamato is sending out a reminder to the political leadership to give him the necessary funds.

And to add to his woes, the Electoral Commission has been slapped with a bill of around K59 million for outstanding legal and other services.

Gamato told The National yesterday that service providers from previous elections had been pestering his staff.

He also said the commission was faced with other serious challenges which posed a potential risk for next year.

“The costs of running elections have increased substantially and today outstanding legal bills and service provider’s bills stand at K 59 million. Legal bills total K42 million and general service providers’ bills are K17 million. This is a potential risk for the Government and for the 2017 national and LLG elections. PNGEC has written to the National Government seeking additional funds to settle the outstanding bills.”

Gamato said an independent review team has been engaged to review the current financial systems and processes within the commission including mapping of claims, outstanding acquittals and procurements.

It is understood Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is expected to introduce a supplementary Appropriation Bill in parliament soon to fund election preparation work.

The commission estimates that the 2017 election would cost around K600 million, and will finalise its submission for national government funding by June. A separate budget for security will be submitted by police.

Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge for the 2017 elections is updating the electoral roll, which is expected to cost K112 million.

Gamato says that given the urgency of the roll, and the pressure on deadlines, he is looking to the provinces for assistance.

“What I want to do is decentralise the function of enrolling from headquarters to the provinces. That is an improvement from the past where enrollment forms were brought to (EC) headquarters,” he said after taking early this year.

Indeed, the Electoral Commission is working against time and Gamato was targeting the start of the second quarter to start work on the electoral roll given the availability of sufficient funding.

The Electoral Commission first priority is to conduct supplementary elections for the failed local level governments (LLGs), which the National Court had ordered to be done quickly. This will cost K22 million.

Then there is the updating of the electoral rolls which will cost K112million. Other costs are ballot boxes and other essentials (K15.5m), legal bills (K31m) and unpaid bills to service providers in the 2007 and 2012 elections (K17 million).

A submission is before the National Executive Council seeking the additional funding for these election-related activities.

Since he assumed this role, Gamato has been working strenuously to overcome the commission’s shortfalls and meet targets.

Moreover, the lessons of 2012 seemed not to have been learnt. “The key lesson from 2012 is the electoral roll. I think we have treated the electoral roll with contempt, meaning a lot of people complain that they come to the polling booths and don’t find their names. Those are the lessons we want to improve on.”

A key part of the electoral roll improvement exercise is “roll cleansing”, which is basically going through the existing data, identifying and deleting ghost names.

Following the 2012 general election the commission had proposed to the Government to recognize the importance of electoral reforms and to include them as one of the priority areas in revising the Medium Term Development Strategy. 

The O’Neill Government has assured the Electoral Commission of its total support for the successful conduct of the 2017 elections and this was further emphasised with during a meeting of heads of departments and agencies last week.