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Mec cost-cutting measures saved K1.5 billion

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Chifundo Kachale

The Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) saved K1.5 billion in administering the court-ordered June 23 presidential election, the electoral body’s chairperson, Chifundo Kachale, has said.

The fresh poll was budgeted at K29.3 billion but Mec used K27.8 billion to manage the election which saw Tonse Alliance torchbearer Lazarus Chakwera emerging the winner ahead of candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party- United Democratic Front Alliance Peter Mutharika and Peter Kuwani of Mbakuwaku Movement for Democracy.

Presenting a report at a National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) meeting on Friday, Kachale said the commission had to put in place a number of cost-cutting measures during the election.

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“Mindful of the fact that the commission was faced with inadequate funding for the implementation of the election, cost-cutting measures had to be deployed some of which were as follows: a) simplified approach to inspection of the register: The inspection of the register was initially planned for five days per phase, using two field staff per registration centre. However, this activity was done for only two days per phase, with one staff per registration centre.

“b) Reduction of ballot paper size from A4 to A5: The nomination of candidates yielded only three candidates and the commission made a decision to print ballot papers using an A5 size instead of the budgeted A4 size, thereby reducing the printing cost by almost 50 percent. Eventually, the actual expenditure incurred for the Fresh Presidential Election went down to K27.8 billion,” Kachale said.

He, further, told party representatives that the fresh presidential election met its own challenges which included uncertainty on the date of elections as well as political will and funding challenges in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Kachale said there was uncertainty on the date of the election as it changed three times.

“On February 3, 2020, the High Court sitting as a Constitutional Court had ordered that a fresh presidential election be held within 150 days from the date of the judgement. The commission resolved to set the polling date on the July 2, 2020.

“Meanwhile, Parliament had passed a bill for May 19, 2020 as polling date but the bill was not assented to by the then Head of State. The Supreme Court of Appeal in its ruling on May 8, 2020 stated that the order of the court meant by the 151st day from the date of the Constitutional Court judgment, there should be a President in place.

“It was stated by the court that Parliament needed to set the date of the election. It is in this context that the Clerk of Parliament through a letter dated June 9, 2020 informed this cohort of the electoral commission that Parliament had resolved that the Electoral Commission should publish in the Gazette June 23, 2020 as the date of polling for the fresh presidential election,” Kachale said.

On funding, Kachale said finances for the election were erratic and not in line with the cash-flow projections.

He said it took the intervention of Parliament through a meeting with Mec, the Office of the President and Cabinet, Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Malawi with less than one week before the polling day.

“A resolution was made at that meeting that funds should be released immediately and directly to the Electoral Commission operations account to enable it effectively conduct the polling process,” Kachale said.

Mec Director of Media and Public Relations, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, said the money saved from the June 23 fresh presidential election could be used in managing future by-elections.

“Not necessarily returning the money but Mec could contact Treasury for authorisation to use the money for other activities within the commission like some costs for by-elections,” Mwafulirwa said.

Currently, Mec plans to hold by-elections in five constituencies and one ward on November 10 this year.

The constituencies are Mangochi West, Mangochi North East, Phalombe North, Lilongwe North West and Karonga Central. The other by-election will be held in Makhwira South Ward in Chikwawa East Constituency.

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