Let the commission do its job


ELECTORAL Commissioner Patilias Gamato is determined to successfully deliver the 2017 general elections despite the lack of funds and other pertinent issues.
With eight months remaining before Papua New Guineans go to the polls, Gamato wants to concentrate on this massive task.
And he certainly doesn’t need to be told how to do his job, especially by intending candidates.
It seems a group of intending candidates in the National Capital District has taken the electoral commissioner to task over the country’s electoral process.
They have petitioned Gamato to conduct “a free and fair election” by addressing issues regarding the common roll update system and deployment, age limitations on the common roll, census registration and political neutrality in the appointment of election officials, particularly in the National Capital District.
Irked by the petition, Gamato has urged all intending candidates to “concentrate on running for election” and leave the task of managing the elections to the Electoral Commission.
Whilst the concerns expressed by these intending candidates may be genuine, they must understand that the Office of the Electoral Commissioner is a constitutional and independent office that must not be interfered with.
Hence, Gamato needs their support, not interference, in delivering a free, fair and successful election.
When Gamato was appointed electoral commissioner in December last year, he faced the enormous challenges of his new role as well as the same dilemma that his predecessor, Sir Andrew Trawen, had constantly faced during the crucial 12 months before the polls.
And that is the lack of funding to prepare for the 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.
On assuming office, Gamato requested for K192 million for the roll update exercise but the Government did not respond until June when Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told Parliament that some funding had been cleared through the Central Agencies Coordinating Committee.
O’Neill said the Government had allocated up to K10 million to start the roll update exercise and had re-prioritised expenditure items so that the elections could be delivered in a fair and cost-effective manner.
The good news on election funding and planning was confirmed during the launch of the Electoral Commission’s website in June.
The commission has been working against time and Gamato was targeting the first half of this year to complete updating the electoral roll, given the availability of funding.
Gamato had estimated that updating of the electoral rolls would cost K112 million.
Other costs were ballot boxes and essentials (K15.5 million), legal bills (K31 million) and unpaid bills to service providers in the 2007 and 2012 elections (K17 million).
Gamato has been working strenuously to overcome the commission’s shortfalls and meet these targets.
Moreover, the lessons of 2012 seemed not to have been learnt.
“The key lesson from 2012 is
the electoral roll,” Gamato said recently.
“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.”
The total number of citizens currently on the roll stands at 4.7 million against a national population of 7.1 million as per the 2011 national census.
The first phase of the roll update exercise, which was roll cleansing, has been completed.
Roll cleansing involved the removal of ghost names, duplicates and multiple entries, deceased plus underage voters.
The next phase is the display of the cleansed roll in the provinces, districts and wards for viewing by electors during the roll update exercise, which is expected to start soon.
The roll update exercise ceases when the writs for the national and local level government elections are issued by the governor-general on April 20, 2017.
It is encouraging to note that the Electoral Commission will continue to work diligently to update the roll and wants the commitment of all citizens of voting age to confirm their voter information and details.