The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) told MPs on Tuesday that the 2021 local government elections will go ahead as planned despite fears of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The IEC was briefing Parliament’s home affairs committee on how it intends to make the R35-million budget cut brought on by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s supplementary budget to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.
The commission said that budget cuts since 2016 have stymied some plans to develop voter education and to recruit and pay certain staff members competitive salaries. The introduction of voter management devices has been delayed. These were meant to have been procured and used for the 2019 national and provincial elections. The devices are to replace the ageing “zip-zip” scanners used to scan voters bar-coded identity documents at voter registration stations and polling centres.
Funds have now been allocated for the devices and the process is now in the bidding phase with suppliers. The IEC described the new devices as “mission-critical” for the success of the 2021 local government elections.
Two election registration weekends will be set aside to prepare the voters’ roll. But Glen Mashinini, the chairperson of the IEC, warned that further budget cuts could result in the commission settling for one registration weekend.
It’s not possible to know how long South Africa will be in lockdown and whether concerns over Covid-19 would affect preparation time. But Mashinini said the commission is set to hold elections with plans in place to ensure the integrity of the poll and to keep voters safe.
“We need to be as flexible as possible. This virus is impairing our preparations. We have to continuously look out and balance the situation to realise the delivery of the upcoming election,” he said.
The IEC said it would like to pilot an e-voting project. If successful, it would limit the need for face-to-face contact with voters and would lower the costs of holding elections. But it said the project was still in the pipeline and that money was yet to be set aside for it.
The commission told MPs the financial implications of the Covid-19 crisis have been particularly hard on its face-to-face interactions with voters and the running of day-to-day operations.
It said that despite the budget cuts funds have been directed at buying protective equipment, deep cleaning 272 offices and screening and testing more than 1 000 staff members before they return to work.