The National, Thursday February 4th, 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 14 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.
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,” he said after taking office last month.
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.
Gamato’s plan to secure much-needed funds received a major setback this week when he revealed that the he National Government has brushed aside the Electoral Commission’s five-year reforms budget of K19.5 million.
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.
“In our commitment to improving elections in PNG, the commission had submitted a five-year Corporate Plan (2013-2017) to the Department of National Planning and Monitoring for commencement in 2014. PNGEC cannot implement improvements to the electoral system in PNG alone; it needs the support and appropriate long-term commitment of the National Government for change to occur,” Gamato explained yesterday.
“The key challenges that the PNGEC must attend to with appropriate levels of funding from the National Government remain as: Electoral Roll Improvement, Institutional Strengthening of PNGEC to improve the election process in PNG by improving the capacity and capabilities of commission staff to perform their tasks and responsibilities.”
It is somewhat disappointing to note that the Electoral Commission’s request for the K19.5 million to conduct this important exercise throughout the country has been rejected.
Whilst that is only a fraction of the total funding sought by the Electoral Commission, it is envisaged the political leadership will provide the necessary funding for Gamato and his team to conduct a successful 2017 general elections.