ZIMBABWE is heading for fresh general elections in 2018, but legislators last week cried foul over the measly budgetary allocations to institutions like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), which deal with pre- and post-electoral issues.
Source: Underfunding cripples election institutions – NewsDay Zimbabwe February 7, 2017
BY VENERANDA LANGA
Over the years, commissions like Zec have been poorly funded, but the biggest disappointment to MPs in the 2017 National Budget was failure by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to allocate even a single cent towards the biometric voter registration (BVR) process.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, chaired by Harare West MP Jessie Majome, in a report last week, expressed concern over Treasury’s 2017 $9 268 000 Zec allocation, saying it was “gross underfunding” and will not be inadequate to conduct free and fair elections in the country.
It was noted that Zec had bid for $29 million for BVR, but was not given even a dime.
Procurement of BVR kits is said to cost between $25m to $40m, depending on the level of kits the country opts for.
“A bid of $29m was made for biometric voter registration and the supporting of voter education in preparation for the 2018 elections, but no allocation was provided for this,” the Justice Parliamentary Portfolio Committee said.
“This is alarming given the committee’s reports of previous years to the effect that if this gross underfunding is not stopped, Zec will not be ready to conduct free, fair and credible general elections for 2018.”
The committee said the national security and sovereignty consequences for failure to adequately fund Zec will be too ghastly to contemplate.
They said the amount allocated to Zec for employment costs will be inadequate in meeting its proposed expansion, adding the electoral commission will also be unable to purchase the necessary materials, goods and services required for the 2018 harmonised general elections.
“In addition, the allocation of $335 000 for maintenance is not adequate for repair of the old vehicle fleet to transport election materials and equipment whose book value is more than $25m,” the committee said.
For possible by-elections in 2017, the committee cried foul over the $1,5m allocation when Zec said they actually needed $8,5m.
In preparation for the 2018 harmonised elections, Zec will need to conduct voter registration, and voter education, including engagement of different electoral stakeholders.
Its other duties include delimitation of constituencies and wards, and conducting referendums, as well as development of expertise in the use of technology, and promotion of co-operation between government, political parties and civil society during election periods, and accreditation of observers of elections and referendums.
To exacerbate their problems, Zec is said to be saddled with a $3m debt accrued from the 2013 elections.
“The commission (Zec) is facing several challenges, including the late release of resources for by-elections, lack of appropriate office accommodation, poor conditions of service, debts amounting to $3 093 000 from the July 2013 harmonised elections, among others.”
The other peace-building commission, which is critical for observance of human rights during electoral periods, is ZHRC, which got a paltry $1 908 000.
“The ZHRC is facing several challenges, ranging from a shortage of staff, poor working conditions, lack of office equipment, inaccessibility in most parts of the country, and inadequate budgetary allocations.”
Deepening their woes is that the ZHRC is burdened by a debt of over $147 000 owed to various service providers and suppliers, including security companies, utilities and wages to their former executive secretary.
Some of the creditors are said to have slapped ZHRC with lawsuits to try and recover their money.
The under-funding of ZHRC will affect their operations to fulfil their constitutional mandate of handling complaints, doing investigations, monitoring human rights, promotions and education.
Another pivotal institution, as Zimbabwe nears the 2018 elections, is the NPRC, which was allocated $1 123 000.
The NPRC still needs to set up offices, but it is severely underfunded, and employment costs that were allocated only $699 000 are said to be too little to cover salaries of commissioners.
“This means the commission will not be able to recruit staff that will assist it to implement its programmes. The commission made a request of $467 000 for office rental, furniture and equipment and vehicle purchase but was allocated $220 000. The allocated amount falls short of the commission’s requirement by 53%, a situation that will adversely affect the setting up of the commission,” the Justice Parliamentary Portfolio Committee said.
They said what was more worrying is the fact that the NPRC will be in existence only for 10 years, of which three years have already elapsed, and failure to allocate them adequately will hinder their peace-building efforts.
Victims of the 2008 and 2013 electoral violence, as well as the Gukurahundi atrocities still await the NPRC to start hearing their cases in order to begin the national healing process.
Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko brought the NPRC Bill before Parliament last year, but it was removed from the National Assembly Order Paper after the Parliamentary Legal Committee adjudged some of its sections unconstitutional.
The NPRC Bill is, however, set to make a comeback this year for crafting in order to operationalise the commission.