The South African Electoral Commission briefed the Select Committee on Social Services on the strategic plan for the period between 2015 and 2019, with the key focus on the upcoming local government elections in 2016. It highlighted challenges that it was addressing, the main one being that it was being increasingly subjected to litigation, even though it won most of the cases. It also had an issue with the office space which they rented from local governments, as its operations were affected by service delivery protests in unstable municipalities.
Amidst all these challenges, the IEC was increasingly hosting foreign missions from all over the world on matters relating to elections, and also received invitations from foreign governments to assist with elections. In this regard, one of the challenges was the delayed response from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), which funds these foreign missions, as this sometimes meant it had to cancel its planned missions if DIRCO delayed funding its plans. The IEC also informed the meeting that with two Commissioners resigning, it was in the final stage of appointing two new Commissioners and was waiting on the President to make the final call.
The Commission gave details of its three goals and the indicators and targets to both monitor and assess their progress. The goals were:
- Strengthening governance, institutional excellence, professionalism and enabling business processes, at all levels of the organisation;
- Achieving pre-eminence in the area of managing elections and referenda, including the strengthening of a cooperative relationship with political parties;
- Strengthening electoral democracy.
To achieve all these goals, it would require just above R1.5 billion for the 2015/16 financial year, an increase to more than R1.6 billion for the following year, and R1.2 billion for the 2017/18 financial year.
Members expressed concern over the issues related to the renting of office space in municipal premises, which were inevitably politicised, and suggested the IEC should explore owning their own buildings. They were also critical of the delay by the municipal delimitation board (MDB) to release their report regarding municipal boundaries so that the IEC could execute its functions ahead of next year’s elections. Members also asked about the IEC’s technological preparedness, considering that the current fleet of zip-zip electronic barcode scanners was outdated, and would be replaced after next year’s elections. They urged the IEC to aim for an 80% registration of eligible voters in the near future, and to target receiving clean audits.
The IEC assured Members that it was ready for next year’s elections and welcomed the support the Committee had offered. It said that the zip-zip would work effectively for next year’s elections, and that issues relating to the delayed opening of voting stations would be addressed through an sms system. It would do all it could to ensure free and fair elections next year.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson said the Committee appreciated the service which the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had been rendering since 1994. However, it was worried that the Chairperson had not been appointed, as there were elections next year. Preparation for the elections should be under way already, and it was anticipated that the elections could possibly be difficult. The IEC should not be used as a scapegoat for the foreseen challenges, as it was an easy target. It was important to hear how far the IEC had progressed and what support it needed from the Committee. The Chairperson then handed over to the Mr Terry Tselane, who was leading the delegation.
Briefing by IEC
Mr Terry Tselane, Vice Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, said that there were two vacancies in the Commission of five, with the Chairperson, Ms Pansy Tlakula, and Ms Raenette Taljaard leaving. The Commission was waiting on the President (Mr Jacob Zuma) to make the final call on appointing new Commissioners. He had noted the Chairperson’s interest in the IEC’s preparations for the upcoming local government elections. The IEC would be presenting its annual performance plan.
He said that the IEC also did work outside borders of the country and was funded by Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) through the International Relations and African Renaissance Fund, but this work would not be covered in the presentation as it was impossible to plan and preempt other countries’ invitations to invite the IEC to their elections. The IEC had assisted in Tanzania, DRC, Morocco, Namibia and Lesotho, and Madagascar had requested the IEC to assist them. Unfortunately it had not been able to help Lesotho, as it had been at short notice.
Burundi had asked for help in assessing their elections and the IEC had submitted a detailed budget proposal, but they had not received anything from DIRCO. The IEC was extremely worried that the elections in Burundi were taking place in May and they had not heard anything from DIRCO. The IEC was in the process of finalising its ideas, and a letter would go to the DIRCO and Burundi stating that it regretted it could not provide assistance at this stage, as it did not want to compromise its reputation, and those that the IEC assisted.
He further mentioned that the IEC also participated in the Electoral Commissions Forum (ECF), a body of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Executive Commonwealth Electoral Network. The IEC was ready with its preparations for next year’s elections, but it did not control the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) and was waiting for the finalisation of boundaries by the end of August 2015. If this did not happen, the IEC would face a serious problem. It might compromise its capacity, as the IEC plans were time bound, with a possible earliest election date on May 18, and the last possible date August 16. The IEC could not have elections outside this period, otherwise the South African constitution would have to change. The IEC had been in constant communication with the MDB, and was worried that they might not comply. Other issues were the amendments to the legislation that the IEC had proposed and was submitting to the Department of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA). The Commission was trying to meet with the Ministers of COGTA and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
Mr Mosotho Moepya, Chief Electoral Officer, IEC, CEO greeted everyone and introduced the presentation. He covered the mission and vision and went through the IEC’s seven values, which entailed serving the needs of all stakeholders.
In the past, the IEC had kept their offices in municipalities, but they were now finding that municipalities could not afford that commitment. When there were issues in a municipality, like cars being burnt during service delivery strikes, it affected the IEC. The IEC work was subject to contestation, and a lot of cases were ruled in the IEC’s favour. The technology that they used, such as zip-zip electronic barcode scanners, were outdated and would be replaced after next year’s elections. They would be refreshing their IT platforms. The IEC used only tried and tested technology, and did not engage in experimentation. He referred to the move from ID books to smart cards, and said the IEC could not put stickers on smart cards, and was exploring ways to address this.
He also announced that Mtubatuba in KZN would have by-elections on the first Wednesday of May. He said that at some point in time, by-lections would stop at this level, and proportional representation (PR) elections would continue.
Mr Moepya said the IEC was doing a lot of work outside South Africa. On average once a month, they hosted a mission from outside the country – for instance, Jordan in the next two weeks -- and was also increasingly being invited to other countries. Its strategic plan from 2014-2019 had been drafted and presented to the portfolio committee and approved, in line with the framework for strategic plans and annual performance plans. It had quarterly monitoring reports, as detailed in the presentation.
He gave details of the Commission’s three strategic goals.
Goal one was strengthening governance, institutional excellence, professionalism and enabling business processes, at all levels of the organisation. Between 2015/16 they were aiming to keep on average the same number of staff, depending on people leaving the organisation, and planned to offer bursaries to up to 80 staff as part of staff development, with the aim of retaining them. The IEC had up to 160 short courses, both internal and external, available to staff. The IEC was aiming for an unqualified audit at the end of financial year.
Goal number two was to achieve pre-eminence in the area of managing elections and referenda, including the strengthening of a cooperative relationship with political parties. The aim was to maintain the validity of elections, as had been the norm. It usually announced results much earlier than expected and prescribed by the legislative framework. This week was Schools Democracy Week, and the IEC was teaching how democracy worked. Learners who were 16 and above were encouraged to register for elections. The Commission had 234 offices, as per the number of municipalities. All voting stations should have full materials in terms of kits determined to be necessary. The IEC holds liaison sessions with political parties at all levels of government. For manpower, it would be looking at 220 000 staff members for next year’s election day, and would train more than 50 000 to train the rest.
The last goal was to strengthen electoral democracy. He was happy that last year they had had only 1.92% spoilt ballot papers -- lowest rate across all the elections in South Africa, and the world. They planned to have 60 000 civic and democracy education events during the year. They looking to have 30 formal strategic partnerships with neutral, not political, organisations.
The Chairperson thanked the CEO for the detailed presentation. She said the IEC had been individually invited, away from the Department, to allow more time for them to engage with the Committee.
Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) said he believed that the 2016 local government elections would be a success, and hoped the CEO would get the right people to assist. The IEC could count on the Committee to help. He asked what the relationship between the IEC and MDB was. Was it a good relationship? Why were they taking a lot of time to establish boundaries? He said he was involved in the Rustenburg area, and had seen that they wanted to combine municipalities. The MDB wanted to combine Ketleng River with Rustenburg. Did the IEC need more offices? What was the Commission going to do in the future -- were we moving towards electronic voting? As part of the IT strategies, what had been approved for upgrade for 2016,? Was it possible to register 80% of the eligible voters?
The Chairperson told the delegation that she would appreciate a clean audit, rather than the goal being an unqualified audit, because it was possible for the IEC to get a clean audit and they should strive for that. On the issue of buildings, why was the IEC not building their own buildings and stopping renting? The initial key focus should be on national and provincial offices, with local offices to be considered later.. The Chairperson was not happy with the IEC offices being in municipal offices, as those were politically charged environments. She agreed with the CEO that he needed to get the MDB report as soon as possible. It was important to retain the IEC staff, because it was a specialized institution. She asked if the IEC had considered partnering with sports federations in terms of registration of voters. She expressed concern at the delay in the opening of some voting stations caused by late officials, and the IEC needed to improve. This was because monitors were not there at the opening of voting stations. There were usually challenges with scanners with flat batteries. This was a concern, because each and every vote was important. The IEC should look at the recruitment unemployed graduates and people other than teachers, to help during elections. Regarding the zip-zip technology, what were the features of the new technology? Why did the IEC want to replace it? The Committee was looking forward to the amendment of legislation in the next five years. What new initiatives did the IEC have? It was doing well and should avoid ruining “a good thing.”
The IEC used to be very vibrant, but was not doing well on civic education. It seemed to be forgetting that at all elections, there were new voters. It needed to strengthen that area.
Mr Tselane said the IEC’s relationship with MDB, was healthy, and they communicated frequently. They had a technical committee where the MDB used IEC resources to work together. The delay last year in the publication of the formula for determining the number of councillors, which was published in January this year, had caused a number of challenges for the IEC. The whole process of getting the report as soon as possible had also been delayed when the Minister had asked if the MDB should look into combining and disintegrating other municipalities. However, the IEC had strongly advised that this be looked at after the 2016 elections.
The IEC was looking at having independent offices. It was exploring with other international organisations and countries to see what technologies were out there for it to consider. It was looking at various methods. For every election, it evaluated what kind of mechanisms to use to get people registered. At the last elections, the target was focused on young people. The Commission had the school democracy week, and had used social media very strongly. It also used youth ambassadors and celebrities who were popular. It was the IEC’s ambition to have clean audits, but matters got messy on election day. It was working on developing innovative ways to address these issues. It had a partnership with the soccer fraternity, and would look to open up this avenue. Teachers constituted less than 10% of its election day employees, and it was a challenge to get professional and efficient staff.
Mr Moepya said that in the ICT sector, the Commission looked at how stable its systems were. It ran simulations behind the scenes a year before the elections to test its systems. It avoids experimenting at all elections. The Treasury did not allow anyone to be paid by any means other than through a bank account. The IEC was exploring e-wallets and money transfers to shorten the turnaround to pay election day workers.
By law, the IEC was not allowed to own a building, so it had to rent. The Committee may be able to look into this issue from a legislative viewpoint. The rent it paid was significant. Staff were trained extensively and the IEC tried to retain them, but local government usually took them and the Commission did not mind. Increasing the number of voters beyond 80% was possible. In Australia, voting and registering was compulsory, but here it was voluntary. For the first time, South Africans outside the country had been allowed to vote.
Regarding the delayed opening of polling stations, the IEC monitored its staff electronically by sms-ing to a specific number which gave the national office a Geographic Information System (GIS) location of where they were. It had done very well on the openings, despite a number of incidents, accidents and muggings.
The scanning issue had arisen because, in the past, the IEC had used them for registration only. Now it had back up scanners. The battery life of scanners had improved considerably, compared to the past. One of our goals was the professionalising of staff, and arrogance would be dealt with. Arrogance would drop and assertiveness would increase. The zip-zip fleet was ten years old and would not last until the 2018 elections. There were four new features. The zip-zip was used for registering and to conduct surveys as voters came to the voting stations and for research purposes, to see who arrived at what time so one would know when to take lunch and when to increase staff and the closing of offices. They were also used for processing the staff register to address issues around the non-arrival of staff on election day. .
The Chairperson asked the parliamentary liaison officer present to liaise with the Committee and the Minister about the MDB. The DIRCO delays also needed to be addressed quickly, and was something to be followed up on.
The meeting was and adjourned.
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