IEC needs R70m for PPE as registration looms for local government elections

Mawande AmaShabalala Political journalist
Health and safety protocols will change to protect voters and staff from contracting Covid-19, says the Electoral Commission. File photo.
Health and safety protocols will change to protect voters and staff from contracting Covid-19, says the Electoral Commission. File photo.
Image: Thuli Dlamini

The Electoral Commission (IEC) will need R70m it had not budgeted for to organise registration for next year’s local government elections in adherence with Covid-19 safety protocols.

That's according to the commission's chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo.

Mamabolo told TimesLIVE the commission would have to redirect funds from other areas to afford the R70m needed to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect its staff at 23,000 registration stations across the country.

The commission was forced to go this route, he said, because it understood the country’s fiscal constraints.

The IEC will next month, for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, conduct by-elections in 95 wards across the country.

Mamabolo said working with the department of health they had developed a framework of safety protocols for operations under lockdown.

However, it would come at a cost, which may lead to the IEC having to reduce the number of personnel at voting stations to cut expenses.

“The financial implication is quite a significant expenditure and had not been budgeted for because we could not have contemplated the Covid-19 pandemic three years ago when the budget was done,” said Mamabolo.

“Certainly for next year’s registration weekend and next year’s election, the cost of the required PPE would run into several millions.

“Our estimation of the cost of the required PPE for the registration weekend is approximately R70m for the 23,000 voting stations across the country. It will be even bigger for the elections, unless the trajectory of the coronavirus reduces significantly. Then we will have to revise the measures necessary at the station.

“It is inevitable we will have to jettison some projects in favour of others. For instance, we may have said we will provide 10 staff members per voting station but we may end up only affording six so we can finance the PPE requirements.”

Several other changes were necessary in the voting system to ensure voting stations did not become super-spreaders of the virus.

Starting with the by-elections next month, the commission will do away with pen-type indelible ink. This will be replaced with “an applicator which is a single-use item rather than everybody being touched by the same dispenser”.

Synchronised election 'a constitutional possibility'

The local government elections next year, said Mamabolo, would in all likelihood go ahead with or without the coronavirus.

Political parties that have called for the elections to be postponed or synchronised with the national elections may have to rethink their proposal, he said.

Mamabolo believes synchronisation of the local elections and general elections would be tricky and border on undermining the principles of democracy.

“A synchronised election is a constitutional possibility, but it occurs to us that you do not achieve that by extending a term of a government in office,” he said.

“Democracy demands you do not stay in office longer than the duration for which you were voted in, and these current local governments were voted in for a five-year term which expires next year.

“Therefore, it would be undesirable, constitutionally speaking, to extend that term.”

Mamabolo said the most viable route would be to shorten a term of office should the country decide to merge national and local elections.

He said the synchronisation of elections debate was a national policy issue which should be tackled with research-based views, not emotions.

“In that policy debate we must answer the question about what impact is there likely to be on local democracy. Is local democracy going to be subsumed into national policy issues when you synchronise?” he said.


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