By Nathaniel Gana
Concerned about the rising cost of conducting elections in the West African sub-region, the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) recently commissioned a study to look into all the dimensions associated with the subject matter and suggest solutions.
The study, which is part of ECONEC’s two-year Work Plan (2016-2018), culminated in a two-day workshop, which began today in Abuja and is expected to validate its findings.
The Validation Workshop on the Study of the Cost of Elections in the ECOWAS Region is being attended by representatives of Election Management Bodies (EMBs) from all ECOWAS member countries.
According to the President of ECONEC and Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the study was carried out in six carefully selected countries, comprising Nigeria, Liberia, Benin Republic, Senegal, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau.
He explained that making the selection, ECONEC was mindful of the different jurisdictions within the ECOWAS region.
Prof. Yakubu noted that the research was “borne out of the serious concern by all Electoral Commissions in the sub-region about the spiraling cost of conducting elections.
He observed that the costs kept rising with every cycle, making it impossible for many countries to fund critical aspects of the electoral process as a sovereign responsibility”.
The ECONEC President outlined some areas where electoral expenditure continues to spiral. He said: “The ever rising cost of voter registration and the compilation of credible voters’ register, recruitment and training of electoral officials, provision of electoral logistics, election security, civic and voter education, procurement of sensitive and non-sensitive materials, deployment of electoral technology, undertaking regular engagements with stakeholders and handling of pre-election and post-election litigations are enormous”.
Prof. Yakubu lamented the burden such costs had often exerted on national resources. His words: “the task of meeting such extensive expenditure has increasingly challenged the national resources of many countries in our region. It is against this background that the Governing Board of ECONEC inaugurated this study to explore what we can do as Election Managers, working together with national stakeholders and development partners, to find ways to reduce the cost of elections without jettisoning new innovations or compromising the quality, transparency and credibility of elections”.
The ECONEC president called on Election Management Bodies in the ECOWAS region to synergize and fashion out how to make elections cost effective while upholding the mandate of conducting free, fair, and credible elections in their respective countries.
He said: “It is imperative for Electoral Commissions in the ECOWAS region to rethink the way elections are funded in such a manner as to make the electoral process more cost-effective but yet free, fair and credible. This is because of the contending expenditure of government on other aspects of national development. An expensive election that ushers in a government that lacks the resources to fulfill its campaign promises to citizens may, in the long run, erode public confidence in elections in particular and the democratic process in general”.
Director, Political Affairs at the ECOWAS, Dr. Ajibewa Remi argued that organizing elections should be a matter of national sovereignty. He however averred: the reality is that in most of our member states, election budgets are largely funded by development partners, which should not be the case. They often provide 50 percent or more of the election expenses”.
This situation, Dr. Remi observed, “often give rise to accusations of foreign intervention and influence in the selection of our leaders. For this reason, the time has come to pause and reflect on viable ways of self financing our elections without jeopardizing the financial stability and independence of the electoral system of the commissions as well”.
He stated that the study under review presents an opportunity to highlight the key and fundamental elements of election budgets and provide tools for realistic budgeting for EMBs and also for national authorities.
He added: “the study we are here to review and validate will expand the body of knowledge on the reasons for variations in the cost of elections across the ECOWAS region, elicit discussion among election stakeholders in financing elections in ECOWAS member states and equip ECONEC with empirical advocacy tool for the timely provision of adequate election funding for the benefit of member states”.