IEC preparing for next year's elections despite budget cuts
Despite the R35 million budget cuts due to Covid-19, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) was firmly on track with preparations for next year's elections.
Briefing the home affairs portfolio committee on Tuesday, the commission's chairperson Glen Mashinini said they have found ways in terms of areas that would be less risky for the commission.
"The situation we work under is difficult," he said, adding that they were making plans to make themselves flexible.
The electoral body cut R35 million from its budget as a contribution towards the reprioritisation of R4.5 billion for Covid-19 pandemic.
Chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo told MPs that they were in a financial year in preparation for next year's elections.
"We tried to implement a budget cut such that it does not impact the capacity to deliver on next year's elections," Mamabolo said.
He also said the cuts were made though the IEC had to perform preparatory work for next year's elections.
"Despite the cuts we maintained our programmes," Mamabolo said in reference to administration, electoral operations, outreach and party funding.
Mamabolo also said in terms of administration, they needed to strengthen institutional effectiveness at all levels.
He said the ICT hardware refresh and platform upgrade has been affected.
The additional funding to the National Treasury was not approved.
Mamabolo also said the IEC was unable to implement the organisational review due to lack of funds and that their organogram funded 90% of employees.
"Past and present budget constraints lead to a reduction in the funds available for skill development and training of permanent staff in the organisation."
He told MPs that they were in a process of evaluating bids for the voter management devices.
"It remains to be seen whether the current budget availability will meet the tender prices for these equipment. In a few weeks we will know the outcome of the item."
Mamabolo told MPs that the IEC has not been able to increase inflationary electoral staff over the years and that duration of fixed terms contract staff have been reduced by a month to accommodate the reduced budget.
He also said the IEC planned to have two registration weekends despite the budget cuts.
"We plan two ahead of elections next year. Should there be additional budget cuts, we can't guarantee them.
"We may have to review the reality of the two registration weekends, but currently we plan for two."
Mamabolo also said the e-voting pilot project, which was aimed to drive down the cost of elections, remained unfunded.
He said they were still in discussion with the National Treasury.
Mamabolo also said they have planned for no by-elections to be set aside by the Electoral Court.
He said the IEC planned to have 25 960 000 registered voters on the voter's roll this year.
The plan is to have 1.1million this year, and 700 000 in 2021/22 and 600 000 in the following financial year.
Mamabolo also told MPs that the reduced budget affected the funding of initiatives aimed to foster awareness and participation in electoral processes.
He said there were no face-to-face civic democracy awareness events in this financial year annual performance plan.
"There is limitation of physical contact," he said in reference to the Covid-19 regulations that bars gatherings of more than 50 people.
Mamabolo also said their recruitment of staff for the implementation of the Political Party Fund Unit has been slow.
Mamabolo, however, said the current allocation to the represented political parties has not been affected by the budget cuts.
"The represented political parties will continue to receive their allocation in terms of money available in the fund."
He also said their party liaison committee meeting would be reduced owing to the Covid regulations.
A presentation by the chief finance officer said the R35m cut would be allocated to outreach programme as an additional cut on top of the R793m cuts in the MTEF.
The MPs heard that the IEC has other funding pressures including the buying of personal protective equipment, testing of staff, deep cleaning and ensuring staff worked remotely due to Covid-19.
"These protocols are being implemented for all of our 272 offices nationwide and over 1000 employees."
The cuts on the outreach program, traditionally carried through human interactions and civic events, would require different media and platforms to be implemented.
"The financial impact on the transition still needs to be determined."
"The long term operational and financial impact resulting from Covid-19 is still unknown."
The MPs heard that the financial impact of the recent constitutional court judgement that declared electoral act unconstitutional was expected to be significant.
The impact would be in re-writing of ICT business applications, retraining of staff, possible re-determination of voting districts and possible reconfiguration of local offices.
"It is early days to count the cost of the court decision."