By Buhle Tshavango.
As the country, gears up for the 2018 harmonised elections, scrutiny and speculations are already rife concerning the credibility of the upcoming ballot. The situation has not been made any better by an underfunded electoral commission that is already unpopular in voter confidence.
The country’s legislators have raised alarm over the meagre allocations set aside towards the elections, which are a far cry from what is required. This seemingly lack of prioritisation of such a crucial exercise has casts doubts over the whole process before it has even begun.
Finance Minister Hon Patrick Chinamasa in his 2017 national budget allocated USD$9, 761,000 to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)out of a requested USD$59 209 476. This leaves a deficit of USD$49 448 478. The allocated share does not cater for pre-election core costs including voter education, voter registration, and polling station demarcation.
In an electoral Cost Assessment done by the Election Resource centre (ERC) for 2017-2018 it was noted that the importance of investing in elections can never be overstated as its centrality in cementing a sustainable social contract between citizens and the government is unquestionable.
“The supreme law of the country states unequivocally that the state must do everything necessary to ensure the mandate of delivering free, fair, and peaceful elections”, it reads.
The ERC however argues that while the mandate of ensuring the successful implementation of this critical juncture lies with ZEC , its cost allocations are not well prioritised, unnecessarily increasing cost per voter to the highest in the region, if not the world. The paper further argues that the government of Zimbabwe is deliberately disabling functionalization of the people’s end of the social contract, leaving it free to manipulate the process and freely effect voter suppression.
“In the budget outline, ZEC gives five key result areas being; voter registration; voter education, conduct of elections and referendums, stakeholder engagements and delimitation of electoral boundaries. Of the key result areas, only USD 1, 5 million was allocated for by-elections. Nothing has been allocated for voter registration, voter education, stakeholder engagements and 2018 harmonised election preparations”, states the ERC.
ERC further argues that while the country is under economic strain that makes funding issues a cause for concern, there are various discrepancies in the funding allocations, which threaten the legitimacy and credibility of the 2018 harmonised elections way before they are conducted.
“ZEC allowances for staff overseeing elections are also a cause for concern, especially in a country undergoing the meltdown Zimbabwe is experiencing. These range between USD20 for polling officers to USD55 for presiding officers, a day. Considering that these officers are already on fully paid salaries by government, such allowances are a drain on the taxpayers’ money and make the cost of voting extremely exorbitant”, reads part of the assessment report.
While ZEC may have credibility issues of its own it must not be overlooked that this commission is working on a shoestring budget and is basically trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents as the old adage rings.
The 2017 National Budget was failed to allocate even a dime towards the USD 29 million needed for the biometric voter registration (BVR) process, leaving the commission to source for donor funding. To add to its woes ZEC is said to have accrued a three million USD debt from the previous elections, which is yet to be paid four years down the line.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Hon Jessie Majome described Treasury’s $9 268 000 allocation to ZEC as, “gross underfunding” which is inadequate for the conduction of a free and fair elections.
Various other organisations, which also work towards a peaceful electoral environment including the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, also received paltry allocations, which hinder their functions.
The inadequate electoral funding coupled by an inconspicuous 2018 election roadmap are just hints of many other urgent issues that need to be addressed to boost voter confidence ahead of the elections.