The Election Resource Centre (ERC) acknowledges the move taken by government to take over the purchase of biometric equipment intended for use in the impending voter registration process. This was reportedly announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Chairperson Justice Rita Makarau.
Funding of election related costs is indeed the primary responsibility of governments globally.
However, the ERC is perturbed by the continued absence of transparency characterizing funding of elections by government. The recent commitment by government comes in the wake of Parliament of Zimbabwe passing a National Budget which only availed less than 10% of funds required by ZEC to support the intended biometric voter registration exercise. Clearly, the 2017 national budget could not provide for funding of such a crucial process ahead of the 2018.
This situation leaves electoral stakeholders wondering as to what could have motivated such a reconsideration by government.
The ERC is deeply concerned that the new government commitment to fund procurement perpetuates a funding model for elections which is fraught in secrecy as it is done outside the approved national budgets. Funding for by-elections which happened from 2013 to present faced such limited transparency. While it is normal for government to fund election administration costs, such support must be transparently done through the national budgeting process.
Additionally, the continued funding of elections from obscure sources outside the national budget happens following a commendable move by government to allow ZEC to get a seperate direct vote from the national budget.
Clearly if the government is to avail funds for procurement of BVR kits from “other sources” outside the mandatory ZEC vote in the national budget that will negate the constitutionally enshrined independence of the Electoral Management Body. In view of the foregoing, the ERC urges government to ensure transparency of any mechanism that is used to fund ZEC operations. Lack of such transparency is a disservice to the quest for credible elections and resultant legitimacy.
As such, government support for BVR must firstly recognize that elections are constitutionally supposed to be administered by ZEC and such administration must be independent and be seen to be independent for it to be fully compliant with the constitution. It therefore means that government’s financial support for any election must process must not be accompanied by any measures that could give the impression of the Executive influencing when the support should be given to ZEC, how it should be given and what it should be used for. ZEC must still be able to exercise independent determination of what government support should be used for.
All election support from government must be publicly budgeted for. Public budgeting allows for transparency which is necessary to support credibility of elections, something that Zimbabwe desperately needs ahead of 2018. Without publicly budgeting for elections, suspicions are raised around where such support is coming from. Not publicly budgeting for BVR casts doubt on whether the money is really there or the commitment could be just an attempt to shut out international support for elections, which comes with clear provisions for transparency and potentially limits vulnerabilities such as manipulation and fraud in electoral processes.
Consequently, not publicly budgeting for BVR further exposes what should constitutionally be an independent commission to Executive influence through the control of the “purse.” He who controls the money controls and determines the processes in elections. The Executive is an interested player in elections therefore must not be allowed to dictate the pace of a competition in which they are a competitor.
Finally, government support for BVR must guarantee stakeholder access to fully engage with, scrutinize and access all BVR processes to the confidence of all stakeholders. There must be clearly set out benchmarks for accountable adimistration of the committed resources not just in terms of the cash but also in terms of processes being funded.