The INEC chairman said the major funding challenges confronting the commission is the envelope system of budgeting.
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega, has said the solution to recurring gaps in election funding is for Nigeria to treat elections as a cycle, and not as events.
He said this would allow for consistency and even funding of the Election Management Body, EMB, over the years in-between elections, rather than provision of quantum sums in the election year as is presently the practice.
He explained that this is necessary because election funding has been politicised by many Nigerians, such that the huge sums provided to the EMB in election years are viewed with suspicion.
Mr. Jega stated this at a meeting with the House of Representatives Committee on Reform of Government Institutions on Monday.
He noted that if elections were funded as a cycle, essential requirements for the electoral process would be met on a progressive and incremental basis in a way that would ensure the operational efficiency of INEC, enhance its independence and guarantee the integrity of elections.
The INEC Chairman, in a prepared presentation, said there were many reforms introduced by the present Commission to raise the integrity of Nigerian elections.
“These reforms accounted for some milestones that we have achieved in 2011, and we have really come a long way since that time,” he said.
Mr. Jega identified funding as one of the challenges facing the Commission as it prepares for the 2015 general election.
He listed other challenges to include the security situation in some parts of the country, and the low level of citizens’ enlightenment.
Citing an instance of how funding gaps hamper the Commission’s operations, Mr. Jega noted that the inadequacy of storage facility available for INEC’s Direct Data Capture, DDC, machines contributed to the malfunctioning of some of the machines being lately deployed for Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, across the country.
He said: “There were cases of equipment failure in some polling units, and that fuelled anxiety and disappointment among many people who wanted to register. But we had appropriate intervention measures.
“Where equipment failed, we were able to replace…Some people were angry with us because of the challenges we faced; but I must say that some of these challenges are inevitable.
“We purchased the equipment in 2010 for the 2011 registration, and we have not purchased any equipment since then. And it is a function of funding. Of course, we have enough equipment; we procured 132,000 pieces of equipment for the registration in 2011. The major challenge was storage. For the last three years, every time we prepared our budget, we requested funding to create facility in order to appropriately store these equipment.
“Regrettably, we never had this funding requirement met, and the way the equipment were stored really left much to be desired. A lot of the challenges we faced had to do with the fact that you are dealing with equipment that are more than four years old; and anyone who uses a laptop knows that even with the best of storage, its functionality reduces over time. How much more if there are challenges of storage!
““We’ve been trying to manage what we have. Luckily for us, the quantity of the equipment is large; and therefore if there are failures, we are able to quickly replace. But many people would have been disappointed, having waited on the queue before we are able to replace the failed equipment. So, we have been doing our best under very difficult circumstances. There are challenges, but these challenges have not undermined the credibility of the process.”
On funding gap, Mr. Jega said INEC enjoyed substantial autonomy deriving from being on first line charge; such that once funds are appropriated by the National Assembly for the Commission, they are released by the presidency.
The challenge, he explained, is that given the envelope system of budgeting that the country presently employs, what INEC requires is often not what is appropriated.
“It is an appropriation challenge. But we are having useful discussions with the Presidency and the National Assembly, and I know that both President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the National Assembly are doing their best to see how the funding gap can be effectively addressed,” he added.
The INEC Chairman also rebuffed the common notion that the Commission is populated with dishonest persons who perpetuate fraud during elections.
He said: “When we came on board at the Commission, we made it clear that it was not going to be business as usual. We told them that we will not break any law and would not encourage anyone to do so; therefore, anyone who is caught breaking the law will have himself or herself to blame.
“We have since discovered that, from our own assessment, the overwhelming majority of the staff in INEC are honest, decent people who are doing their best under difficult circumstances. Frankly, the evidence does not support the notion that INEC staff are generally bad.
“But as you would find in every organisation, there are a few bad eggs who create a negative image for everybody in the Commission. We are dealing with such people within the provisions of the law and with strict regard for due process. The challenge for us is to institutionalise a process that would readily isolate such people and prevent them from thriving in the organisation.”