HOLDING elections is a costly process to the government. The country is going to hold by-elections in 18 constituencies, most of them on June 10.
The by-elections came about following the death of some MPs and the recent mass expulsion of 21 former MDC-T MPs after they crossed the floor to join the MDC Renewal Team. We appreciate that it is a constitutional requirement that by-elections be held within 90 days of a seat falling vacant. But for a country in its economic throes, some of these costly events may not be necessary.
Among many other things, money is required to buy and print election materials, voter education, transport, as well as pay allowances to staff.
But whatever costs incurred must be justified as it is taxpayers’ money after all. Yesterday, we carried a story where we raised the issue that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is expected to mobilise about $36 million to cover administration costs for the 18 forthcoming by-elections.
We are told that each by-election in each constituency costs approximately $2 million.
This is quite a scandalous figure especially at a time the government is staring bankruptcy, failing to pay civil servants on time and unable to provide food aid to people after a poor harvest.
In the run-up to the 2013 general elections, Zec indicated that it required about $115,3 million to hold the harmonised polls. Can the electoral body now justify such an inflated cost of $36 million for holding just 18 by-elections? Why is it that it is expensive to hold elections in Zimbabwe? A comparison with other countries in the region shows that our costs are way too high.
We are told that Zec officials and other election staff are paid hefty daily allowances. Could this be the reason why the costs appear inflated so that people line up their pockets?
Zec chairperson Justice Rita Makarau a few months ago told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs that government had only availed a budget of $1,473 million when Zec wanted $2,144 million for the recent Chirumanzu-Zibagwe and Mt Darwin West by-elections.
Makarau also disclosed that Zec still owed CMED $3 million for vehicle hire during the 2013 elections.
But according to reports, by-elections in Zambia cost up to $200 000 in the larger constituencies. In Tanzania it is said by-elections cost between $300 000 and $500 000 depending on the size of the constituency. In Lesotho each by-election costs an average of $160 000.
So why is it that our by-elections are that expensive? There is need for transparency. Zec must tell the taxpayers how their money is being spent. The Comptroller and Auditor-General also needs to investigate such anomalies.
The country must also reflect deeply and decide if it must continue on this path holding such expensive by-elections or channel the money elsewhere where it is needed the most, i.e. to buy food, medicine and provide water.
This is because more by-elections are likely to be held this year amid reports that Zanu PF is planning to recall almost 100 MPs aligned to former Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s camp.