IEC’s chief electoral officer, Sy Mamabolo. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
IEC’s chief electoral officer, Sy Mamabolo. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) says budgetary cuts of almost R120m have affected all aspects of its work and it will be engaging with the finance ministry about keeping its funding at an optimal level. 

“The electoral commission has had to endure a number of budget reductions, to ensure that the fiscal position of the country is not much worse than it already is. So we have had therefore to adjust plans to come within what is available,” chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said on Monday.

“At the same time the commission is planning to engage with the ministry of finance to see to the need to keep the funding levels at the optimum level to ensure the mandate that we have to deliver for the country is not impacted by budgetary constraints.”

The IEC has had a R118.4m budget cut for 2020/2021.

This comes as the IEC holds one of the largest by-elections this week, after months of being unable to go to the polls due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The by-elections on Wednesday will be taking place in 95 wards across 55 municipalities in all nine provinces.

The commission is also set to hold by-elections in December and January, and is preparing for the 2021 local government elections.

Along with the budgetary cuts, the holding of elections during the coronavirus outbreak has meant that the IEC has had to spend extra money on safety measures and procuring personal protective equipment.

Deputy chief electoral officer Masego Sheburi said the commission had already spent R3m on PPE for this week’s by-election and the figure was increasing because it still had to go to the polls in December and January.

Mamabolo said the IEC’s budgetary cuts meant that it had to delay some of its projects, which included a pilot that would have seen technology being used at voting stations in select wards. That, however, was no longer possible.

He said the budget cuts affected all aspects of the IEC’s “institutional life”. 

“The communications campaign, the outreach campaign, the logistics, provisioning and so on are all affected, so there is no aspect which is not affected by budget cuts.

“We are engaging in a careful progress to determine the impact so that we don’t impair our ability deliver on the mandate, and to supplement that with engagements with the ministry of finance to ensure that we are able to offer South Africans an election that meets the standards that this commission had set in terms of credibility and fairness,” Mamabolo said.

The IEC said it was sure this week’s by-election would be free, fair and safe, as long as everyone conformed to the strict safety measures and protocols put in place at voting stations.

Mamabolo said that included strict social distancing practices outside and inside the voting stations, the mandatory wearing of masks that covered the nose and mouth, the application of hand sanitiser when entering and exiting the voting station, and the replacement of the traditional indelible ink marker pens with an indelible ink liquid, which will be applied from a bottle using cotton buds, which would be disposed after each use.

This by-election will be the first real test as to how voters will react to political parties after the lockdown and will give a signal to parties about how much work they will have to do convincing the electorate to vote for them ahead of 2021’s local government elections.

The by-election is also a test for the IEC to see how it will fare holding an election in the middle of a pandemic.

“Adequate planning and preparations are necessary but not sufficient for successful elections. We also need voters to turn out in numbers to participate to give credibility and legitimacy to the outcome — especially in ward by-elections where victory can be determined by a handful of votes,” Mamabolo said.

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