By Costa Nkomo
THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has warned it might not be able to run the much anticipated parliamentary and council by-elections in 2021 unless the government releases $12 billion the electoral body requires for the exercise.
ZEC chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana made the remarks Thursday while appearing before a post-budget consultative meeting with the Parliamentary Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
In the 2021 national budget, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube allocated ZEC $2.3 billion, which translates to only 19% of the $12 billion the commission had requested for its electoral activities in the coming year.
ZEC told the committee it was financially crippled to meet its electoral obligations and pleaded with Parliament to persuade Treasury to adjust the commission’s 2021 budget allocation otherwise the much awaited by-elections will not see the light of the day.
“We are very truthful when we say we need $12 billion instead of the $2 billion which is just a drop of our budget. It does not help us much,” Silaigwana said.
Chegutu West MP Dexter Nduna then asked Silaigwana if it then meant ZEC was currently non-operational without the required $12 billion.
“Sure,” Silaigwana tersely responded.
He added: “We also highlighted that the allocation was not adequate to support our programmes that encompasses delimitation and the by-elections for the coming year and beyond.
“What was allocated against the bid is only a total of 19% hence our cry for the committee to assist the commission so that it will be able to realise it’s obligations.”
ZEC chief inspector Jane Pamhidzirai Chigidji weighed in saying the commission’s capacity to conduct credible electoral activities will be questionable if it was poorly resourced.
“It’s a drop in the ocean when we have to have a credible election. So we are just appealing to Parliament to discuss this issue so that at the end of the day we are able to carry out our duties and bring up a credible election.
“There are delimitation issues that have to be dealt with before we have an election. Can we then have a credible election if we don’t consult stakeholders?”
The lawmakers inquired from ZEC, if Treasury had been made aware of the financial constraints the commission faced in preparing and running the by-elections.
In response, Silaigwana told the MPs the commission’s efforts to engage with senior finance ministry officials had not yielded any results.
“We are in constant discussion with Treasury on the issues of running elections and our discussions have not put us in a position where we can run elections.”
Chiefs Council President Fortune Charumbira said there was need to adequately resource ZEC for it to be able to run an election that will not produce disputable results.
Zimbabwe has to hold by-elections in over 30 parliamentary seats, and scores of local council wards across the country.
Most of the vacant seats are as a result of the recalling of MDC Alliance MPs and councillors by the MDC-T led by interim president, Thokozani Khupe on allegations the former legislators were no longer members her political outfit.
The by-elections were supposed to be held this month, but were suspended indefinitely by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who in his other capacity as health minister, said it was meant to contain the spread of Covid-19.