Independent Electoral Commission on Elections and Department on Turnaround Strategy: briefings

Home Affairs

23 February 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
24 February 2004
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND DEPARTMENT ON TURNAROUND STRATEGY: BRIEFINGS

Chairperson:
Mr H Chauke

Documents handed out:
Department Turnaround Strategy Report
Independent Electoral Commission on Election Readiness

SUMMARY
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) presented their preparations for the upcoming elections. Members expressed their concerns about Election Day security, special voting rights, and the rights of prisoners. The Department presented their turnaround strategy to address major challenges. Questions arose pertaining to corruption, Information Technology (IT) efficiency, the implementation timeframe, and the treatment of Department officials.

MINUTES
Chairperson Chauke reported that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had been working with the Department to update the Identification Document (ID) system as many South Africans did not possess a bar-coded ID. One of the major challenges to the ID campaign was the long queues at Home Affairs.

Electoral Commission on Readiness for the Election
Commissioner B Bam (IEC) stressed this information was important for the Committee and Parliament, and even more so for the general public. The first part of the presentation would cover the IEC's timetable and the second part would cover the most recent election and voter statistics.

Commissioner Van Der Merwe outlined the responsibilities of the Chief Electoral Officer. The means of contesting the election and submitting candidates were discussed in detail. The manner in which to oppose an individual's candidacy was specified, as were the procedures for acquiring special voting rights. Voting stations had been identified and secured and voting staff have been appointed and would be trained. The logistical and procurement plans and the communication network and IT systems had been established. Security issues had been addressed and voter education was underway. The IEC was as prepared as possible to ¨deliver a free, fair, and credible election.¨

Advocate P Tlakula (Corporate Executive Officer, IEC) said that the number of registered voters had been compared to the figures for the 1999 elections. The composition of voters had been broken down according to percentages of females, males, youth, and rural-based individuals. The number of registered voters in each province and the percentage increase since 1999 had been discussed. Details pertaining to electoral staff were also provided. (Please see attached documents for further information.)

Advocate Tlakula added that only one political party had registered as of 23 February. The signing ceremony with the political parties would occur in Pretoria on 1 March. The draw for first position on the ballot would also occur at that time.

Commissioner Bam noted that the Code of Conduct was being signed by the provinces. The Western Cape would sign the Code of Conduct that evening, thereby making the Free State and the Northern Cape the only two provinces left to sign. The IEC would be working Easter Monday, even though it was a public holiday. The Committee was urged to remind voters to register for special voting privileges by the Thursday before Easter Weekend, as special voting would occur on the following Monday and Tuesday.

Mr K Morwamoche (ANC) asked if a party that failed to register on time could contest the IEC by taking the matter to the Constitutional Court. He also asked if a party could appeal to the Constitutional Court after the Electoral Court had decided on an appeal of the Commission's objection to a specific candidate. Commissioner Van Der Merwe noted that any person could take any issue to the Constitutional Court. Nevertheless, the Court could not help anyone who missed the registration date as the electoral timetable was ¨set in stone.¨ Appeals could be made to the Constitutional Court, although the Electoral Court had been designed specifically to deal with such matters effectively and efficiently.

Mr W Sikakane (ANC) asked for clarification of the report's statement that ¨co-ordinating structures…[with] the security services are operational.¨ In particular, he was curious about what would happen in KwaZulu-Natal. Commissioner Bam responded that the IEC worked with many public departments (such as Police, Defence, and Military) in case there was difficulty reaching rural areas. The IEC also worked closely with Intelligence in areas deemed ¨hot spots.¨ that were known for their instability and, therefore, required constant monitoring. Two police officers would be at each voting station on Election Day (14 April).

He continued that the IEC's leverage was derived from their Code of Conduct to regulate the behaviour of citizens and political parties. The latter in each province were signing the Code at public ceremonies. In terms of KwaZulu-Natal, the IEC had discussed talking with political leaders about the importance of abiding by the Code. It had also been suggested that civil society be mobilised to assist the IEC in upholding it. Meetings with groups within civil society were being organised at the local level in all the provinces. The IEC had held several meetings with the KwaZulu-Natal press in order to educate them about the Code, the importance of preventing inflammatory statements, and the press' role in promoting free and fair elections.

Prince N Zulu (IFP) questioned the voting rights of Awaiting Trial Prisoners. Commissioner Hussain (IEC) responded that they would be allowed to vote. Those prisoners who had the option to pay a fine instead of being incarcerated would also be allowed to vote. The other prisoners had taken the Department and the IEC to court, claiming their voting exclusion was unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court would rule on the case the following day. Prince Zulu asked what would happen if the Act was found unconstitutional. Commissioner Hussain noted that the Act prohibited prisoners from registering to vote. Therefore, even if the Act were amended, only those prisoners who were already registered to vote would be allowed to do so, since the election timetable did not allow for further registration before the upcoming election. Advocate Tlakula assured that the IEC was fully prepared to hold elections in the prisons, should the Court find the Act's provisions unconstitutional. The IEC was also prepared to extend registration to those unregistered prisoners in the event that the Court found this provision unconstitutional as well. Chairperson Chauke noted that Parliament would reconvene to rewrite the Act if it were found unconstitutional.

Mr Sikakane asked if the IEC was prepared for any violent outbreaks in remote areas. Chairperson Chauke reminded the Committee that ¨hot spots¨ had been identified and that the IEC had secured the co-ordinated efforts of various law enforcement agencies.

Commissioner Bam mentioned that very few people had been killed on Election Days in the past - most violence occurred in the days leading up to the election. It was the responsibility of the State and party leaders to assist the IEC in preventing pre-election violence. If there was an outbreak of extreme violence, the police would radio the military.

Mr Sikakane asserted that the 1999 elections were the best he had seen in KwaZulu-Natal since the army and police were visible at the voting stations. However, the key to the election's success was the fact that parties knew they would lose all their votes at any voting station in which they engaged in unlawful activity. Therefore, it was crucial that parties be given an incentive to encourage lawful behaviour on Election Day.

Mr M Kalako (ANC) agreed with the IEC that government was responsible for promoting free, fair, and safe elections.

Prince Zulu questioned the low increase in voter registration in KwaZulu-Natal, despite the IEC's continued efforts to encourage voter registration within the province. He asked if this problem was related to the scanning method of voter registration. Advocate Tlakula felt the IEC had done everything possible to increase awareness of the importance of voting. There were very few scanners that were not ¨docked¨ (i.e. added to the information system at Head Office) in KwaZulu-Natal. Commissioner Bam argued that the scanner issue should be investigated and a study should be conducted to deduce the reasons for the low voter turnout in KwaZulu-Natal. Women were tired of violence in their communities and thus, many women had registered to vote since the last election.

Chairperson Chauke asked what the IEC was doing in regards to voter education, specifically within the 18 to 35 age group. Commissioner N Mpumlwana (IEC) stated that the IEC was targeting 27 million voters, particularly women and youth and those in farming communities and urban informal settlements. The IEC had employed many field workers to inform community organisations about ¨ballot education¨ and NGOs were educating those in rural areas.

Prince Zulu was curious about the provisions stating the Chief Electoral Officer would issue certificates to candidates. Advocate Tlakula noted that the certificate was prescribed in the Electoral Act of 1998.

Mr W Skhosana (ANC) questioned whether there would be mobile voting stations on 12 and 13 April, for those who had registered for special votes. He also asked if individuals would lose their right to vote in the provincial elections if they were outside their province on Election Day. Advocate Tlakula responded that there would be no mobile voting stations and those outside their provinces would not be allowed to vote on April 12 and 13 since Section 24, which allowed individuals to vote outside their districts, did not apply to special votes. However, Section 24 permitted individuals to vote in the national elections outside their province on Election Day, provided they successfully completed a declaration with the presiding officer at the voting station. Section 24 was created to deal with special circumstances and that citizens should be encouraged to vote within the district in which they were registered.

Chairperson Chauke reiterated the importance of educating the public on special voting rights and ensuring that individuals registered for such votes prior to the Easter holiday. It was the responsibility of Parliament and political parties to assist the IEC in guaranteeing successful free and fair elections. Home Affairs was aiding the process in their distribution of the new bar-coded ID books.

Mr B Gilder (Director-General, Department of Home Affairs) mentioned that, as of 18 February, the Department had distributed 3 285 580 new ID books.

Turnaround Strategy presentation
Mr Gilder outlined the challenges facing the Department and the elements of the turnaround strategy, including funding implications. Challenges included understaffing, poor infrastructure, inadequate technology, ineffective and inefficient HANIS, and difficulties in budgeting and funding. These challenges created serious problems with regards to corruption, civic services, immigration control, refugee and illegal foreigner management, security, and service delivery. (Please see attached document for further information).

Chairperson Chauke felt the Committee was already aware of these challenges and was more concerned with when and how the turnaround strategy would be implemented. Mr Gilder said that the Department would have their annual planning meeting the following week, at which time they would discuss the precise timeframes. Project teams had already been determined and assigned to the implementation of specific elements of the turnaround strategy. Visible improvement had commenced several months ago, as vacancies were filled and unspent money (R79 million) was reallocated to the new turnaround projects. Funding had been procured for 67 fully-equipped mobile units that would be operational at the beginning of the new financial year.

Chairperson L Jakobus (Select Committee on Social Services) questioned the responsibilities of the three Deputy Director Generals (DDGs). She was concerned that the border-post IT systems did not communicate with those of the other government departments also involved in border control, as this was a cause of corruption and inefficiency. She asked how compatible the proposed new IT system was with those of other government departments, especially the police and SARS. Mr Gilder responded that the DDG of Corporate Services was responsible for finance, human resources, and legal services. The DDG of IT was responsible for the IT systems. The restructuring of the Department called for the creation of two additional DDG positions: The DDG of Immigration and the DDG of Service Delivery. The latter would be responsible for overseeing and co-ordinating all of the departmental offices within the country and abroad. In response to the second question, Mr Gilder noted that the IT system would not be fully accessible to other departments for security reasons, although measures were being taken to facilitate the accessibility and transfer of necessary information. Negotiations had begun with the Commissioner of SARS in regards to better co-ordinating the two systems. Stats SA was also involved in the process of updating the Department's IT systems.

Mr Morwamoche was concerned with the IDs that were being sent from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western Cape. He asked Mr Gilder if he planned on treating the Regional Directors unequally, as his predecessor had done. He also asked if each province would have a DDG. Mr Gilder said that he was unfamiliar with the case of the IDs sent from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western Cape, but assured the Committee that the new IT system would be capable of tracking internal documentation effectively and efficiently. All applications would be bar-coded to facilitate tracing within the Department. He stressed that all staff members would be treated equally. There was no plan for provincial DDGs, although there would be heads for each province. Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape were the exceptions, in that they would be divided into two regions.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) questioned how the Department planned to rectify the technology resource distribution inequalities among the different Home Affairs offices.

Chairperson Jakobus recognised that the Department was understaffed and enquired when the 370 funded positions would be filled. She also asked if there were any plans to shorten the turnaround for ID applications, recommending the standard six week period be shortened to four weeks. Mr Gilder responded that the Department had decided to fill additional posts based on anticipated funding in the coming financial year and predicted savings. Thus, with the addition of the 370 funded positions pertaining to the current financial year, the Department hoped to fill a total of 1 445 positions by 1 April. A total of 387 of the 1 445 positions had already been filled. In response to the second question, Mr Gilder stated that the Department planned to shorten the ID turnaround period to two days. The Department had had difficulty dealing with the increase of ID applications in the last year caused by the ID campaign. This would be the last ID campaign tied to an election as the Department was organising an independent and permanent ID campaign.

Chairperson Chauke stressed the need to address corruption within the Department. He asked what the Department planned to do in regards to illegal marriages and to the possession of multiple ID books. Mr Gilder noted that more effective infrastructure and IT systems made corruption less likely. For example, the Department planned to give every applicant a unique 13-digit identity number for life. This differed from the current system in which ID numbers changed when one applied for a change of birth or status changed (i.e. from permanent resident to citizen). In this way, it would be impossible for individuals to have more than one ID number or to share the same ID number.

The Department wanted to urge the House to amend the Marriage Act and consolidate all marriage legislation, thereby eliminating many of the current loopholes that enabled fraudulent marriages. While it was necessary to make the system more difficult to commit fraud, it was equally necessary to deal effectively with corrupt officials. Education campaigns targeted at employees and the public would make corruption less likely at the administrative level. Other measures included a joint programme with the security and Itelligence agencies to deal with the syndicates that perpetuated corruption and an increase in contra-corruption staff with extensive investigation capacity. The culture of corruption would not be changed overnight, but it could be seriously addressed.

The meeting was adjourned.

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