2023 game changers

SIEC outlines cost-cutting priority measures for orderly elections in next NGE

By Alfred Sasako

THE Chairman of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission and Speaker of the National Parliament, Patteson Oti, has announced a range of measures that could be the “game-changers” in the 2023 National General Election.

“…I would like to highlight only the main areas I consider to be the game-changers in the way the 2023 General Election will be conducted if successfully implemented,” Mr. Oti said.

He was speaking at the Kukum campus of the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) where a Australian National University (ANU) team launched its 2019 Solomon Islands National General Elections Observation Report last Wednesday.

“The priorities of the Electoral Reforms Strategy Framework (ERSF) can also be regarded as ways the Commission will be addressing the main findings of the ANU observer team as well as other international observers.

The measures identified in six priority areas are intended to cut costs as well as to help improve the conduct of elections in this country.

Priority one, he said, is “Combining the conduct of national and provincial elections on the same day.

“The conduct of both the national and provincial election on the polling day of the 2023 General Election will be the first since Solomon Islands became independent in 1978.

“… it will release public funds usually allocated for election purposes at the provincial and local government level because, with the change, we will be conducting only one election instead of 11 elections (general election, 9 provincial elections and one Honiara City Council (HCC) election).

“This means that all elections for the national parliament, Honiara City Council and provincial assemblies will share the cost of election as the Electoral Commission will only have to engage once the venue as polling station and/or counting centre, temporary electoral staff usually recruited to help conduct the election, security officers arrangement (police officers and their equipment), transportation of electoral materials to and fro and the cost of administering the conduct of the election.

It could potentially save more than $20million to the Consolidated Fund, he said.

“It will also elevate the importance and credibility of provincial and local government elections now that the Electoral Commission will conduct them to international standards and subjected (to) international scrutiny,” Mr Oti said.

The second priority area is changing the voter registration phase to a continuing daily process throughout the year.

“Changing voter registration into a continuous process will have huge positive impacts on the election. It will solve many of the problems the Commission face(s) during the election year.

“The Commission spent $48.4million from September-December 2018 for the voter registration process. There are two main reasons for this high cost. First, the time allocated for voter registration (registration update, publication of provincial (provisional) list, objection and omission and public hearing) is usually short and tight.

“Second, because of the short and tight period, the Commission has no choice but to recruit more than 1,000 temporary election officials to manage the registration period to its completion,” the former diplomat and MP said.

“A continuous voter registration every day, annually, means that there is no pressure for time and there is no need to recruit 1,000 temporary election officials to help conduct voter registration. We have estimated that it will only be sufficient to have a budget of $7million each for years 1, 2, 3 and $10million for year 4 (of the election cycle) if we are to do continuous voter registration. The change will generate more than $15million savings to the Consolidated Fund,” he said.

“The change will also enable the Commission to publish the Final List of Voters the same day Parliament is mandatory dissolved. This is possible given that we would have more time to complete the inspection of the provisional list of electors, the objection and omission results, and the conduct of public hearing.

“The time period between the dissolution of Parliament and the General Election polling day can also be shorten(ed) as much as possible. In other words, because we can now publish the Final List of Electors on the day Parliament dissolves, this means that the Commission can request the Governor General within seven days, after Parliament dissolution, to proclaim the day for the General Election, i.e. the first Wednesday after the 56th day from proclamation.

The third priority is establishing SIEC’s Electoral Offices in all Provincial headquarters

This will enable the Commission to:

  • Conduct voter registration continuously;
  • Conduct pre-registration of 17-years old by visiting secondary schools in the provinces;
  • More effectively clean out dead people in the Electoral Roll of a constituency;
  • Conduct voter awareness and/or vote education programs in the provinces and Constituency level; and
  • Help prepare the constituency in the province for a by-election (national or provincial)

“The cost of delivering the above mandate by our electoral provincial offices is considered to be sufficiently covered by the additional annual $7million appropriation for year 1, 2, 3 and $10million for year 4 that we are asking Government in lieu of $48.4million budget we would normally require for the purpose of voter registration in an election year,” Mr. Oti said.

Re-defining “Ordinarily resident” is the fourth priority area the Commission has identified.

“The Commission has already commenced work in tightening the definition of ‘ordinarily resident’. This is a very important step to resolving the problem of cross-border registration. Notwithstanding a voter’s motive to register in a constituency, without the ability of the Commission to verify whether a voter is an ordinarily resident of a constituency, the problem of cross-border registration will grow and there is little we can do to stop this problem if we are unable to verify the claim by an applicant.

“We are hoping that with the new definition, which we hope would be more concise and pragmatic for enforcement, comes with obligations for the new voter and an existing voter applying to register in another constituency to provide proof during registration that he or she is indeed an ordinarily resident of the constituency she/he is applying to registering at,” he said.

The fifth priority is to introduce out-of-constituency voting.

“Doing away with out-of-constituency registration will go a long way to help stop cross border registration.

“On the other hand, introducing out-of-constituency voting will help reduce corruption during election, provide a level playing field for all candidates, and will also reduce campaign expenses that would normally be incurred by intending candidates because there is no longer a need to transport voters to vote in constituencies in the province they are registered at. Voters can vote for the constituencies they are registered at from designated out-of-constituency polling stations in where they live, either at the provinces or at Honiara city,” Mr. Oti said.

Amending the Electoral Act 2018 is the sixth priority area.

“There are a number of amendments that have been identified in the current Electoral Act. Most … are intended to bring clarity to certain sections of the Act.

“There are also other measures in the form of offences we are seriously considering to curb certain practices, for example the practice of Voter Identification Card being used as a promise for the voter to vote for the candidate.

“We are also seriously considering introducing other measures that would strongly discourage voters from taking steps that could be deemed to be an act of selling their votes for a benefit for cash or otherwise.”

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