New commissioner, same problem

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday January 11th, 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 meager 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 15 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.

He says “time is of the essence” and the commission urgently needs K182 million to prepare for next year’s national election.

The Electoral Commission had asked the Government for K192 million in the 2016 Budget, but was allocated only K10 million. The Treasury Department has yet to explain why it had allocated a meager amount for a vital programme. 

However, Gamato is confident the Government will come good with the necessary funding. “We’re not pressing the panic button because we know the Government is going to support us. The only pressure is the timing. I want to encourage the Government to at least front-load the budget so that we go out and carry out activities we want to do.” 

And Gamato insists the funding must not be released in “dribs and drab”.

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

The Electoral Commissioner 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.”

Indeed, the Electoral Commission is working against time and Gamato is targeting March this year 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 K112 million. 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.

While Gamato remains optimistic of necessary funding for his programmes this year, this is not the first time the Electoral Commission has rung the alarm bells on lack of funding for elections and related matters. In 2013, his predecessor 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 elections.

Sir Andrew said at the time that K50 million allocated by the Government for the LLG elections was insufficient and pleaded for another K30 million for the LLG elections and to settle the commission’s outstanding debts to service providers of the 2012 elections. 

He had warned time and again that financial problems and disruptive actions by disgruntled service providers in many parts of the country hindered the proper and smooth conduct of elections.

Nonetheless, it is envisaged that Gamato will get the necessary funding and political support to deliver a successful election in 2017.