My Vote Counts is deeply concerned over the persistent cuts to the Electoral Commission’s (IEC) budget by National Treasury. Last month’s Budget Speech confirmed Treasury’s plan to cut the Commission’s budget by R240-million this year. This may undermine the Commission’s mandate to hold free and fair elections.
The 2023 Budget Speech follows National Treasury’s 2021 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), which proposed to cut the IEC’s budget by almost R800million (before considering inflation) over three years (2022-2025). In addition to a R240-million budget cut this year, Treasury has proposed a R250-million cut next year.
On 28 February of this year, the IEC presented its budget allocation for 2023/2024 to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs. The Committee provides an oversight role to ensure the IEC delivers on its mandate. Central to the presentation were concerns over the underfunding of the Commission, especially considering the expansion of the IEC mandate. Last year, the Commission warned that continued underfunding will undermine its ability to hold elections that are free and fair.
This is particularly concerning considering the obligation of the IEC to prepare for the 2024 General Election. The preparation will also require further resources considering changes to the electoral system, which will be presented in the Electoral Amendment Act. The Commission through the Party Funding Unit has the additional responsibility of administering the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA). As mandated by the PPFA the Commission will present the Audited Financial Statements of private funding of political parties this year.
Practically, the IEC has noted specific activities that will be impacted by budget cuts, including:
- Implementation of the Electoral Amendment Act: The President is expected to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law in the upcoming weeks. Underfunding will impact the need for the Commission to adapt their ICT, conduct workshops and training, prepare ballot papers and conduct public education Leaver on the revised electoral system.
- Electoral reform beyond 2024: The Electoral Amendment Bill is likely to provide for the establishment of a reform consultation panel. This may lead to further reform with the implications for the IEC being, but not limited to re-delimitation of voting districts, re-configuration of local delivery mechanism, changing existing systems and printing of ballot papers.
- Recruitment of staff in the Political Parties Funding Unit: The Unit requires staff to, amongst other things, monitor and investigate compliance with the Act.
- Electoral Voting Pilot will be impacted: Plans to introduce an e-voting pilot project in 2024, towards ensuring elections are free and fair, is now underfunded.
The Commission’s mandate is part of the foundation of our democracy, and its continued budget cuts constitutes an underfunding of democracy.
We recognise that these cuts do not exist in isolation and are part of the government’s broader commitment to an unsustainable path of ‘fiscal consolidation’ using austerity measures, as highlighted by our partners at the Institute for Economic Justice. This commitment deprioritises the need to meaningfully tackle the crisis of poverty, and now presents a threat to our democracy. As we call for a strengthening of the IEC, we also call for an end to austerity measures.
We call on the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to pressure Parliament to end the persistent underfunding of the IEC. Especially considering the implications of the 2024 General Elections, we cannot weaken institutions that are so pivotal to sustaining our democracy.
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