The Electoral Commission has presented a K14.2 billion (about $43 million) budget to government for the 2014 tripartite elections, almost triple the cost of 2009 polls, authorities have confirmed.
The challenge for the Commission is to convince skeptical donors, government and other stakeholders who doubt its capacity to effectively manage huge sums of money given its history of financial mismanagement.
The Commission’s chief elections officer Willie Kalonga confirmed that his body has presented the budget to the Ministry of Finance.
“The Commission submitted a comprehensive budget for the tripartite elections that will be financed in two fiscal years—2012 -13 and 2013-14. Discussions with Ministry of Finance are still going on and the actual election budget would be known once the discussions are through,” he said.
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Nations Msowoya said: “I can confirm that the Commission has submitted their budget estimated at K14.2 billion for the tripartite elections. We will look at their budget line by line to appreciate the basis of their costing and ascertain if they are realistic enough.”
Msowoya said once the final budget is agreed, government would engage donors on their contribution.
In 2009, government approved a K5.3 billion budget for general elections, out of which donors committed K2 billion.
Those polls did not include Local Government Elections which will be administered in 2014 together with Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.
In November this year, Parliament passed a Bill allowing for tripartite polls in 2014, the first time Malawians will vote for their president, MPs and councillors together. Local government polls were last held in the country in 2000.
In e-mail interviews on Wednesday, donors expressed commitment to support the electoral process but said they expect the Commission to justify the amount.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) communications assistant Steven Kamponda said donors have been discussing with the Office of the President and Cabinet, Treasury and the Commission on the importance of presenting the budget quickly for them to determine their levels of support.
He, however, said the outcome of the election budget negotiation between the Commission and government has not been officially communicated to UNDP which is still waiting for a detailed briefing. UNDP manages a basket of donor funds for elections.
“UNDP is committed to supporting the Electoral Commission in its work to deliver free and fair elections, but how that support is delivered will also depend on its progress in financial management and audit systems. The Electoral Commission’s draft Strategic Plan for 2012-2017 gives a strong focus to the issues of internal financial management and audit systems, which is encouraging.
“The forensic audit report, however, has not been released and the full implementation of past audit recommendations are not yet completed. As such, we cannot view these issues as resolved, but rather recognise that the Electoral Commission is being proactive in making progress,” he said.
Kamponda warned that the complexity and increased workload of holding tripartite elections should not be underestimated and that the period between now and the polling date pose a challenge
European Union head of delegation to Malawi Ambassador Alexander Baum said the electoral body’s operational plan would form the basis of discussing the budget for the tripartite elections.
“It is obvious tripartite elections will be a challenge to organise and that it will be costly. However, there are potentially wide margins in the cost of these elections which will have to be assessed and discussed with both the EC as well as the Ministry of Finance as we have to agree on both the budget and the individual contributions,” said Baum.
He also noted that there has not been a follow-up to the 2009 audit and subsequent forensic audit that revealed elements of financial mismanagement.
The 2009 audit report showed that K1.6 billion disappeared from the Commission’s coffers without any supporting documents, which forced the late president Bingu wa Mutharika to suspended the entire Commission.
This was followed by a March 2011 forensic audit into the alleged financial mismanagement, which revealed that out of the K1.6 billion, over K467 million could not be verified due to lack of documentation.
Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) publicity secretary Steven Duwa said the K14.2 billion budget was “scary” and hoped the Commission would justify the expenditures to secure donor support.
Duwa said although the 2014 elections would have three categories, these are not the first polls in Malawi, which means some facilities used in previous polls such as generators and vehicles could be re-used.
He said the history of financial mismanagement at the Commission remains a challenge.
“[We want] to be convinced that the Commission has the capacity to handle that kind of huge financial resources if approved by government and donors and we are also interested to see the justification of why they need that kind of money,” he said.
But Kalonga said elections are never cheap, saying the demarcation of ward boundaries, the voter registration exercise, civic and voter education, the polling and counting processes were some of the activities that require a lot of funds.
On fund mismanagement, Kalonga said the Commission has enhanced the capacity of the finance division by recruiting qualified and experienced staff to avoid mismanagement of financial resources.
“The Commission has also enhanced the capacity of its internal audit section. Every payment is sanctioned by the internal audit before it is effected. The Commission continues to identify possible risks in the system and preventive measures will continually be employed,” he said.
Asked on the feasibility of finalising major tasks before elections day given that the Commission’s budget is yet to be approved, Kalonga said he was confident that once Parliament approves the Commission’s budget during its mid-year review meeting early next year, the electoral body should implement the calendar of events in preparation for the 2014 elections without any problems.
He said the Commission initially planned to complete the demarcation of wards exercise by the end of January 2013, but that the programme was now expected to run up to March 2013 in some councils.