Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has said the consequences of the government’s decision to underfund 2019 tripartite elections preparatory activities in the 2017/2018 budget will be a repeat or even worse than the challenges faced in the 2014 elections.
The Treasury has put forward funding ceilings of K6.8 billion to Mec for general and by-elections against the requested budget of K16.4 billion, a shortfall of about 57 percent.
Mec needs a total budget of K41.97 billion for the 2019 elections between this year and 2019 and the portion for the yet-to-be-approved budget was supposed to be K16.4 billion.
Out of that amount, K15.2 billion was meant for general elections preparatory activities including voter registration, K1.2 billion was for by-elections and K700 million was for procurement of motor vehicles.
Initially, Mec prepared a budget of about K19.6 billion for general and by-elections in the fiscal year, other recurrent transactions and personal emoluments but it was sent back for revision in accordance with the then budget ceilings of K13.8 billion.
The electoral body, however, indicated that the funds provided using such ceilings would not be adequate and the team representing the Secretary to the Treasury (ST) promised to consider the request and adjust the ceilings accordingly.
But on May 10 2017 Mec received a letter from the Treasury that the new ceiling were drastically revised downwards and the commission adjusted again the budget to the new ceiling figures.
Finance and Administration Chairperson at Mec, Commissioner Linda Kunje, told the Commissions and Public Appointments cluster of Parliament on Wednesday that with the K6.8 billion, the commission will not be able to commence voter registration exercise from April 2018 as planned.
Kunje said the development will force Mec to push the registration exercise into 2018/2019 fiscal year leading to three-month gap between the planned activities in the calendar and the actual implementation of the voters’ registration.
Donors said they will not fund the voter registration exercise as they are already funding the ongoing national registration and identification system exercise.
Kunje said since the polling day is fixed, in accordance with the Constitution, there will be operational pressure as every planned activity will still have to be carried out, thereby compromising the output of such activities
“There will be limited time to carry out activities. The constraints on time to implement the activities will likely lead to flouting of procedures. For example, when procuring electoral equipment and materials, Mec follows the Public Procurement Act (2003), the Act places several requirements which are very demanding and require time in order to be fully complied with.
“With this budget cut, therefore, standard procurement procedures as demanded by the Act will be compromised. In the end, this will lead to endless audit queries as it happened with the 2014 elections,” Kunje said.
She also said due to late funding, Mec will embark on the intended Biometric Voter Registration technology without learning from other electoral bodies, posing a threat of the commission’s failure to mitigate the challenges associated with such technology.
On personal emoluments, Mec requested a provision of about K1.4 billion for 2017/2018 but the provisional ceiling is K1.037 billion, a shortfall of K382 million.
Kunje said the members of the secretariat have never been given any salary increment and despite not resorting to industrial action, staff workers union has exerted pressure on the management.
“In this regards, the commission has proposed an annual increment of five percent and also salary adjustment of 25 percent. The commission pleads with the committee to consider the proposal accordingly,” she said.
Mec also needs K117.2 million as severance pay accrued to staff as at May 31 2011 or risk lawsuits from staff members who retired or beneficiaries of the deceased staff.
Co-chai rperson of the committee Lingson Belekanyama advised Mec to prepare a report on its concerns to be presented to the Minister of Finance for consideration
“All of us are concerned. It is obvious that this vote will bring an emotional debate in the chamber. Rework your report for further consideration,” Belekanyama said