By ZACHERY PER
ELECTORAL Commission officials were locked out of the vote counting venue in Goroka for non-payment of rent yesterday, even as other creditors swarmed Goroka seeking payments for services rendered to the commission.
The completion of the vote count, and the declaration of a winner, were jeopardised by the sudden turn of events.
The Electoral Commission is believed to owe about K1.1 million to creditors, although this could not be confirmed with the commission yesterday.
The owner of the old Goroka Kina Betting Shop counting venue in Goroka yesterday changed the lock to the main gate, denying entry for officials to proceed with counting of the final two ballot boxes.
He changed the lock and placed a notice with the message “please pay up before enter” (sic).
The landlord said a promise by the commission to deposit at least half (K15,000) of the amount owed had not been kept.
According to an Electoral Commission staff, the EC owes the owner of the counting venue some K30,000 for the 23 days’ usage at K1,300 per day.
Other service providers came into Goroka from Mt Hagen and Enga province.They flocked to the Electoral Commission
office in Goroka demanding payments for catering, accommodation, hire cars and other services.
They said these payments must be made before the counting of votes was completed and a winner was declared.
Acting returning officer Simon Sinai and senior staff spent the whole day yesterday on the phone with Electoral Commission headquarters to get the payments processed.
“We don’t know who in the Electoral Commission is to pay us for the services rendered,” two service providers from Mt Hagen, who were in Goroka for the past three weeks, told The National.
They said the Electoral Commission was given some K4 million to conduct the by-election and should settle the outstanding bills for 21 days for Kandep and 23 days in Goroka.
The Government accounts for 2009 formally closed at the Department of Finance yesterday, and it is unclear if the Electoral Commission has funds to make those payments.
It would require the discretion of Treasurer and Finance Minister Patrick Pruaitch to authorise payments after close of accounts to pay these service providers.
The move to change the lock to the counting venue doused the celebratory mood of supporters of former Kandep MP Don Polye, who was poised for victory.
Mr Polye was leading the primary vote count with 53% of votes with ballots in the two boxes
remaining to be counted.
If Mr Polye’s final primary tally is pushed under 50% after votes in the two boxes are counted, it would trigger the elimination process under the limited preferential voting system.
That would take at least another two days.
The writs for the by-election are to be returned on Thursday.