Time to support elections office

The National,Friday June 17th, 2016

ELECTORAL Commissioner Patilias Gamato is a man on a mission – to successfully deliver the 2017 general election.
Seven months ago when Gamato was appointed, 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 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.
On assuming office, Gamato requested for K192 million for the roll update exercise but the Government did not respond until last week 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.
Gamato also received his first pat on the back from the Prime Minister for the successful by-election for Samarai-Murua in May.
“Despite the cuts in the budget, you can see from the recent by-election that the electoral commissioner had been able to deliver the election without any difficulties,” O’Neill said.
The good news on election funding and planning was confirmed this week during the launch of the Electoral Commission’s website.
Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari, who launched the website, said the Government was ready for the 2017 elections and an inter-departmental election committee would finalise the election programme, including costs, next week.
Lupari chairs the committee which includes Treasury secretary DairiVele and Finance secretary Dr Ken Ngangan.
“We have a whole-of-government approach to this exercise. It’s not only the Electoral Commission that’s going to do it. This team will give it all the support it needs, including security forces,” Lupari said.
Indeed, the Electoral Commission is working against time and Gamato was targeting the first quarter of this year to start work on updating the electoral roll given the availability of sufficient funding. The commission’s 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 is expected to 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). 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,” Gamato said recently.
A key part of the electoral roll update exercise is “roll cleansing”, which is basically going through the existing data, identifying and deleting ghost names.
The Electoral Commission will start work on updating the electoral roll by the end of June.
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 is roll cleansing, has been completed. Roll cleansing involves 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.