Independent Electoral Commission
COMMITTEE ON REVIEW OF STATE INSTITUTIONS SUPPORTING CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
28 February 2007
INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION
Chairperson: Prof K Asmal (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Independent Electoral Commission Response document
Terms of reference
Electoral Commission Act 59-1996
IEC Annual Report 2005/06 (available at www.elections.org.za)
Audio Recording of
the Meeting Part 1 and Part 2
The Electoral Commission was the eighth institution to appear before the Committee. The addition of the adjective independent to the Commission’s official name was discussed early on and its appropriateness agreed upon. While most of the Commission’s processes appeared to be in order, the Committee was concerned that it failed to adhere to the legislation related to conflicts of interest. Matters related to the Commission’s international activities, budgeting process, research activities and internal mechanisms for dealing with conflict were also raised.
Prof Asmal’s opening remarks
Prof Asmal welcomed the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) delegation, which consisted of Dr Brigalia Bam (Chairperson), Adv Panzi Tlakula (CEO), Mr Zolise Mafuga (CFO), Mr M Moepya (Commissioner), Mr Norman Du Plessis (Commissioner), Mr F van der Merwe (Commissioner), Ms T Mpumlwana (Commissioner) and Mr Courtney Samson (Western Cape Provincial Electoral Officer). Prof Asmal explained that the Committee’s interactions with the bodies under review should not be seen as an inquest but rather as an attempt by the National Assembly to evaluate the efficiency, efficacy and relevance of the institutions. He said that almost all bodies were different from each other but pointed out that the Auditor General, Public Protector and IEC had special functions. The IEC, which came into being very early on, was not a supervisory body but had executive and administrative functions, which were very important. As made clear by the Stilbaai case [Independent Electoral Commission v The Langeberg Municipality (as successor to the Stilbaai Municipality)] the Commission was not an organ of state, nor did it, as pointed out by the Constitutional Court, form part of the cooperative governance structure.
Prof Asmal said that everyone knew that the foundation of democratic order depended on the nature and the fairness, openness and efficiency of the election process. He was surprised that the Commission’s Annual Report made no reference to the praise all parties involved in the last elections had had for the efficiency and independence with which the Commission had performed.
The Committee had tried to send all commissions the same questionnaire. Prof Asmal complimented the Commission on the quality of their response, the material that accompanied it, and particularly the candidness of their 2005/6 Annual Report.
Prof Asmal noted that nowhere in the Constitution or enabling legislation was the Commission referred to as the independent electoral commission and wondered why the Commission had added the adjective.
Dr Bam explained that the Commission’s response was a joint exercise that had been extremely useful, because it assisted them in their own review of the Electoral Commission. She explained that when the Commission met after the 1994 elections they felt that independence was a very popular slogan that had branded well and from which the Commission had benefited. There had also been much enthusiasm about the establishment of a commission that was independent and political parties liked the emphasis on independence. Judge Kriegler, who chaired the commission at the time, felt that the Commission should remain the Electoral Commission, but that they would use independent electoral commission for branding purposes as well as for giving people confidence in their independence. She said that since then many electoral commission especially in Africa, referred to themselves as independent. The commission tried to stick to Electoral Commission in many of their documents, but she pointed out that Independent Electoral Commission was the more popular name.
Prof Asmal said that the Committee would discuss the matter and would note that at the first opportunity the description should be changed to the more popular Independent Electoral Commission.
Adv Tlakula pointed out that on all the Commission’s official documents it used Electoral Commission, and that Independent Electoral Commission was used for branding purposes.
Prof Asmal said that it was very important that the proper adjective be used. It had been an oversight that in the many amendments to the Constitution, there had been the adjective had not been added.
Ms J Matsomela (ANC) noted that Section 5 of the Electoral Commission’s Act explained the Commission’s duties and functions. One of them was to undertake and promote research in electoral matters. She wondered what key electoral matters had required research since the Commission’s inception and what had been learnt from such research.
Mr Moepya responded that the Commission had commissioned a few research projects. The Commission had published the ones he would refer to. In 2002 the IEC commissioned the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) to investigate the potential impact of supplementary voting in the elections. They looked at how they could maintain and perhaps increase voter participation.
In 2005 the registration and participation of young people was identified as a challenge. The Commission then commissioned Millwood Brown and associates who worked with youth organisations to find out what opportunities would best serve them as they prepared for registration. This was perhaps the research that had been the most useful in terms of increasing the registration among young people. All the research was published.
In almost every election they had undertaken work with the HSRC. Well before voting ti understand voters’ expectations and how they perceived
Prof Asmal wondered what kind of research the R4, 79 million spent on research in 2006, had been used for. He knew that the HSRC was an expensive body, but he found that R4,79 million was a huge amount to spend on research when others were doing much associated research.
Mr Moepya said that the 2006 research was conducted on Election Day. They were looking at how satisfied voters were with the election process. In that kind of research representivity was important. The research had been costly.
Ms Matsomela wondered what possibility there was of the Commission setting up its own research unit. She also asked them to explain what the Centre for Elections and Learning did and whether there would be a connection between that and a research unit.
Mr Moepya said that the Centre had been established in 2005. It would increasingly be doing research. There may be opportunities to collaborate with other research institutions. It was a new project and was a work in progress. It had been identified as an area that would need resources so that it could undertake more research.
Prof Asmal wondered whether there was any possibility of developing relationships with the Electoral Institute of South Africa (EISA) especially in terms of training.
Dr Bam responded that that the Commission was fascinated by the Nigerian model and was looking at it very closely. Their department was attached to three universities and they trained people throughout the year. Those universities assisted with research also. This seemed to be something they might consider as they conduct their organisational review, and strengthened the centre. Research was not the Commission’s strong point at the moment and they were looking at strengthening it.
Adv Tlakula said that the Commission worked very closely with EISA in some of the projects it did. The Centre for Election Learning was operational. She explained that for the 2006 election the Commission had introduced e-learning that enabled people to go through a test of all the elections processes. She herself had done it and felt that it was a training method that could also be shared with its sister organisations across Africa.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) wondered whether people would be able to access lessons anywhere in the country.
Ad Tlakula said that the Commission was minimising contact learning which was very expensive particularly during an election year.
Referring to the Commission’s mandate to develop and promote electoral expertise and technology in all spheres of government, Ms Matsomela asked what further activities beyond mere voter education had been undertaken.
Adv Tlakula responded that this might be one of the areas the Commission still had to work on. It had developed electoral expertise in other spheres of government. It worked with the Department of Education in conducting elections; most of the presiding officers and deputy presiding officers were teachers and principals of schools. The Commission had professionalised its training of electoral officials and had registered nine unit standards in election management. They had thus developed a pool of election management specialists. This expertise was developed at local government level too, because elections were conducted in conjunction with local governments. Municipal electoral officers were mostly recruited from among municipal managers. The Commission was small and had few full time officials and had always been aware that they had to run elections in collaboration with others in the public service. The Commission also worked very closely with the Department of Home Affairs in compiling its voters’ roll.
Ms D Smuts (DA) wondered whether it would be accurate to deduce that the Commission had not yet explored the idea of electronic voting.
Dr Bam responded said that the Commission had investigated how these systems were used in other countries. Two representatives had gone to India where electronic voting had been used for a long time. At that time the Commission was trying to develop its own systems, and had had particular problems around how to handle its registration problems, as well as problems with delimitation and boundaries. Later she had been part of a team that visited the United States to investigate the same electronic system. It became clear that South Africa would have to coin its own electronic system, which would have implications for the delimitation process. The Commission would, in the process of its own review, consider this matter much more closely.
She added that there been hopes that by 2007 most of South Africa would be electrified, which would have reduced the need to use battery operated technology in the rural areas. The Commission might now revisit the notion and try to develop a system that was suitable to the South Africa situation particularly in relation to electricity.
Mr Moepya said that the Commission had considered electronic voting in 2002 when studying the potential impact of supplementary voting. At the time broad issues of trust, reliability and access to electricity had not made the project feasible and they had undertaken to reconsider it five years from then.
Prof Asmal commented that in Ireland some civil servants had induced the Minister of Local Government to order an electronic voting system costing ε 25 million. After having already spent that money, they took one look at the system and decided that it was not feasible.
Ms Matsomela asked how effective the Commission’s internal project evaluation system, called the ‘Project Charter System’ (PCS) was.
Adv Tlakula explained that as the name indicated the system was used to evaluate the Commission’s projects. The Commission developed its strategic objectives, which had clear indicators and measurable outcomes. All projects were captured in the system, which was available to all staff. The Public Service Commission helped the commission to monitor the implementation of every project at every stage and to monitor whether each department spent the money allocated for a particular project. Managers reported on their progress once a month. The system worked very well, and benefited the organisation.
Prof Asmal noted that the Commission assisted with the elections of other organisations (student representative councils, taxi organisations) and provided technical, managerial and logistical assistance to electoral commissions in other countries. He said that although this was very laudable work, the Committee had to consider the efficient use of money as well. He wondered what the legal basis for these other activities was and whether the legislation should be amended to accommodate these additional activities.
Adv Tlakula responded that there was no legal basis supporting those activities. The law required them to manage elections at local, provincial and national level. However their mandate required them to also promote electoral democracy. The Commission thus interpreted that mandate broadly and assisted organisations with deepening democracy within their structures.
Ms C Johnson (ANC) noted that at the Commission’s new academy, the Centre for Elections and Learning, many election officers from other countries were being trained. She asked if this meant that the Commission saw its role and function in Africa increasing.
Dr Bam responded that the Commission never realised or planned that it would become so involved within the African continent. Many of the requests came directly from electoral commissions themselves. Many, related to South Africa’s foreign policy, came from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) itself. The Commission had been looking at how it could strengthen the legality of the work it did outside of South Africa. This was necessary due to the increase in the number of such requests.
She added that while the money that had been used for the assistance given, for instance in the Comoros and the Democratic Republic of the Condo (DRC), came from the DFA, the Commission still had to make its own staff available to do this work overseas. At a meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs the matter of accounting for the money received to do the work, had also been raised. She pointed out that there were also differences as far as the United Nations’ and their own policies in terms of remuneration and protection of officials.
Prof Asmal wondered whether there was an agreement with the DFA that covered insurance, death and compensation. The Irish had given much money to the DRC because of the South Africa electoral commission’s involvement. He said that confidence could not be misplaced. It was important, in order to assess efficient conduct of the Commission’s business, to determine whether there was an agreement with DFA, as well as what discretion the Commission had to turn down requests. He added that everyone wanted to help fellow African countries, but he wondered what the memoranda of understanding contained.
Mr Moepya explained that there was an agreement between the DFA and the Commission. It covered issues on how staff would be treated, whether they had diplomatic or United Nations status, as well as all the benefits that were entitled to them.
Prof Asmal requested that the Committee be provided with a copy of those agreements. There were a number of other things such as repatriation, medical attention etc that needed to be provided for. He assumed that there was no overall agreement as far as the Commission’s discretion in responding to requests for assistance.
Ms Matsomela noted that in the Commission’s evaluation of the success with which it carried out its functions, they referred to the debriefing of staff at local, provincial and national level and the value of the HSRC survey of voter needs and attitudes which the Commission used when developing its strategic plan. She wondered whether the Commission could isolate the key challenges that had, through these mechanisms, been identified.
Dr Bam explained that there was no provision catering for special votes within local governments. This made it impossible to cater for voters that had special needs. To access the Commission’s material, which was also translated, one needed to be able to read. Reaching illiterate voters and communities, as well as rural communities still posed a challenge. Infrastructure also presented a big challenge - 65% of the voting stations were schools. Many schools still had no running water or sanitation and were in very poor condition. This was not ideal considering that people often had to wait in line for a long time before being able to cast their votes. The long distances some people had to travel to get to voting stations also remained a challenge. General understanding of the electoral laws, even by political parties, also was poor. Intra-party tensions still presented a big challenge.
Prof Asmal said that voter registration spoke to the Commission’s efficiency. The Commission had indicated that registered voters had increased by almost 2 million since 2000. Had there been an increase in the percentage of voters vis a vis the total number of eligible voters.
Mr Du Plessis responded that one had to consider the debate around how many people there were in South Africa. There was much disagreement within government on this matter. The death rate and the addition of new voters had more or less remained the same. The Commission had conducted a door-to-door survey in all the areas where less than 50% of eligible voters were registered. The Commission estimated that at the moment about 83% of eligible voters were registered. Census statistics indicated that there were about 100 000 non South African adults in the country. This might also play a role. He pointed out that a registered voter did not necessarily vote. South Africa compared more than favourably to other countries and he felt that the registration methodology had contributed to that success.
Prof Asmal commented that he had wondered why voter registration occurred only every two or three years, and he had been told that those three or four days spent actively campaigning for registration garnered more registration than the municipal IEC offices that were open all year. Two major political parties had confirmed this.
Adv Tlakula agreed and said that that was precisely why the Commission invested much time and energy into that particular methodology.
Prof Asmal asked why the Commission was not far more aggressive in reporting that South African democracy worked by emphasising that the number of registered voters there far exceeded the number in mature democracies, and that the 70,5% voting percentage was greater than those in most democracies. Newspapers were negligent in reporting on this, because they did not know what happened in other countries.
Adv Tlakula quipped that the fact that this success had not been published could be ascribed to African modesty.
Prof Asmal responded that there was a place for modesty. He noted that the media had already left the meeting and said that that was part of the problem: the media did not want to publicise good news stories.
Mr J van der Merwe (IFP) denied that that was the case. Everyone wanted to hear good news stories.
Prof Asmal said that the successes he had mentioned earlier were good news, which they did not want to publish.
Ms Smuts asked if the registration figures for young people had been disappointing.
Adv Tlakula responded it was “a huge success”. 53% of new registered voters were young people between the ages of 18 and 35. She felt that was due to the power of the campaign, which had been developed and led by young people.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) wondered whether the delegation would agree that the National Youth Commission (NYC) had complemented the Commission’s efforts in that campaign. Prof Asmal added that the South African National Youth Council was also mentioned in the report and asked the Commission to give greater clarification around these collaborative efforts.
Adv Tlakula confirmed that the Commission worked very closely with the NYC who had in fact initiated the interaction before the election to find out what contribution they could make to ensure that young people registered. The Commission had first met with the NYC only, and thereafter with both the NYC and the Youth Council. A seminar had been held with all the youth formations organisations within the country to brainstorm how they would encourage the youth to participate in the election process as both voters and electoral staff.
Ms Matsomela noted that the Commission had stated that it interacted with several portfolio committees (Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Provincial and Local Government) as well as the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA). It had also identified some challenges in Parliament’s oversight mechanism saying that portfolio committees lacked a holistic understanding of Chapter Nine institutions. It had proposed an oversight mechanism that would facilitate greater integration of Chapter Nine institutions’ reporting. She asked the Commission to explain what it meant by “greater integration”. She wondered whether the integration referred to common points of enquiry from the portfolio committee or to commonalities between the different Chapter Nine institutions.
Dr Bam replied that at present the Commission reported to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, which had many other public entities reporting to it too. She realised that Chapter Nine institutions had different mandates and functions but they all had a particular responsibility and had to act independently. The Commission would find it useful if it could report to a committee that had an understanding of the issues Chapter Nine institutions had to deal with. At present the institutions reported to their supervising committee once a year. In addition to budgetary issues, matters such as democracy and electoral systems, needed to be discussed and debated. They did not expect Parliament to create a committee for each institution, but thought that some form of specialised focus would be of assistance. She suggested that there could perhaps be one Chapter Nine committee comprising of experts in all the necessary areas.
Prof Asmal agreed that there were no simple answers. He appreciated the honesty with which Dr Bam had answered the question. He agreed that there had been a lack of focus on the Commission’s work.
He had noted that the response document indicated that when the Commission suggested changes to legislation, those changes were not really considered. He wondered if this was perhaps a sign that the National Assembly was not fulfilling its oversight role. He urged the delegation to respond to this question candidly.
Adv Tlakula did not think that that was the case. Normally the Commission’s amendments were accompanied by a memorandum detailing why they made certain proposals. Usually Parliament agreed with them.
Prof Asmal asked if it would be useful to submit an annual report that reflected which proposals had been accepted and which had not. It would assist in asserting their independence.
Ms Matsomela asked the delegation to elaborate on their response to Question 11 where they referred to the challenges faced by independent statutory bodies to further concretise the collaborative vision of the Forum of Independent Statutory Bodies (FISB).
Prof Asmal asked if the FISB was now defunct. The IEC was the first body to refer to the FISB, which was a first attempt at having some kind of organised collaboration. Membership was voluntary and some bodies had since fallen by the wayside. Was there any formal collaboration?
Ms Mpumlwana explained that the FISB had been a South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) initiative. The SAHRC had invited the bodies to join. It operated at two levels – the secretariat and the commission. The IEC, SAHRC, Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) and the Commission on Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights still continued in the tradition of FISB. They met to talk about matters of mutual interest and joint projects. One of the major challenges was budget as commissions did not all have the same budgets and some were thus unable to join in the realisation projects they had conceptualised jointly.
Prof Asmal wondered how the budget interfered with the ability to collaborate.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that some of the projects needed to be funded and when they conceptualised a joint project, it was difficult for some of these bodies to get funding half way through the year in order to participate. One such project was the recognition of those who had contributed to the culture of human rights, gender equality and electoral democracy through an awards ceremony. Joint research and newsletters had been anticipated but those were not possible. Although not ideal, the institutions did continue sharing internal newsletters via email.
Ms Matsomela asked if the FISB would continue operating and if the Commission thought that it was adding any value.
Ms Mpumlwana said that the Commission thought that FISB was adding value. The Commission would like South Africans to see Chapter Nines as a national joint project. They continued with the FISB despite the struggle, because they believed in it and wanted it to work.
Prof Asmal wondered whether the engagements were now informal.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that the engagements were informal because there were no formal agreements.
Prof Asmal noted that there were no formal agreements and thus no deliverable outcomes. Referring to the Commission’s indication that there was no overlap between it and other bodies, he pointed out that the vote, which was contained in the Bill of Rights, surely had to form part of the CGE and the SAHRC’s mandates. The right to vote was the basis of everything people had fought for and was but one example of such overlap. There was interrelationship on a range of issues and he had been surprised to read that the Commission did not think that there were overlaps with other bodies.
Adv Tlakula responded that perhaps the Commission had not phrased the response clearly. The Commission felt that there were no overlaps as far as the management of elections.
Ms Matsomela noted that the Commission had identified a gap between the legal prescriptions in the relationship between the Commission and the CEO, the Commission and administrative staff and, the CEO and the administrative staff. She wondered why the Commission had made these distinctions. It appeared as though clear lines of authority had been drawn but that in practice they became blurred.
Dr Bam explained that the full-time commissioners, appointed by the National Assembly were policy makers and monitored, supervised and advised the Commission’s activities. The administration of the Commission’s operations and finances was the responsibility of the CEO who was appointed by the Commissioners. Problems arose when full-time commissioners, understandably, wanted to “move into areas of activity” such as projects, instead of sticking to only policymaking. The administrative staff felt that these commissioners were interfering in their work, when they should be giving policy direction only.
Dr Bam explained that it was impractical to expect that commissioners should be kept busy with developing and monitoring policy the entire time. Ideas came from the commissioners while the administration was involved in realising them. Tensions arose when commissioners continued wanting to give inputs and be involved in the planning and realisation phase too. Staff sometimes became very irritated when commissioners gave them instructions, while they were supposed to take instruction from the CEO. The delegation of power from the Commission to the CEO and from the CEO to the provincial offices also had to be taken into account.
She said that many of these tensions were often also related to personality clashes, opposing attitudes and individuals’ problems with power and authority. The law was clear about the delineation of functions, but in practice other factors needed to be taken into account. There was also a tension between the part-time and full-time commissioners. Sometimes enthusiasm and impatience as far as projects were concerned, impacted on working relationships.
Dr Bam concluded by saying that the problem with elections was that one could not separate policy from operations. Elections were about operations. Things had to move and could not merely be debated and intellectualised.
Prof Asmal commented that that was the most candid response on internal conflict that the Committee had so far received.
Mr Dithebe said that he was becoming more and more convinced that organisations that used the emotional intelligence instrument to maintain cohesion within their organisations, rather than just relying on ability, might have the right idea. He wondered what measures were being put in place to ensure that these tensions were well managed.
Prof Asmal asked why after eight years, these measures had not yet been put in place.
Dr Bam replied that the main reason for not having put measures in place for resolving these tensions was that the Commission had developed a tradition and a way of working that was very much related to leadership styles. She had succeeded Judge Kriegler and was working with a different CEO. Dr Bam and Judge Kriegler had had very different experiences, leadership styles and came from different disciplines. She pointed out that in her position one did not always follow the legislation but used one’s own experiences for guidance.
The addition of new teams and the relationship between full-time and part-time commissioners could also cause further challenges. She added that one's interest in the task one had to perform made a big difference. The Commission had at some point requested Judge King to intervene because they had never run a Chapter Nine institution. She assured the Committee that the Commission continued to work on their internal relationships and that they had, in the light of their own review, decided to evaluate the area again and see if they were now ready to formally put down details of what the roles of full-time and part-time commissioners should be.
Ms Smuts agreed that maturity and aspects of personality played a great role. Although the law was clear as far as the delineation of powers and authority, in practice things became hazy. Another institution had indicated that although the CEO, under the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) reported directly to National Treasury, the Commission was still held accountable if things went wrong. They felt that this was a structural conflict between its enabling legislation and the PFMA. The Commission clearly did not see such a problem.
Prof Asmal wondered whether the law was in fact very clear.
Adv Tlakula responded that the Commission was in a more favourable position than the other Chapter Nine institutions that had laws that said the CEO, who would be the head of administration and finance, should be appointed by the commission. The Commission had in addition to that legal provision, a provision that said that there should also be a chief electoral officer to whom specific statutory functions were assigned. When it came to electoral operations for instance the functions of the chief electoral officer and the Commission were clearly indicated. Other Chapter Nines did not necessarily have their functions clearly spelt out, but were delegated by the Commission. The Commission did not have problems as far as how the functions of the chief electoral officer related to those of the Commission. Their problems was more to do with the functions of the chief electoral officer as the CEO.
These challenges were not insurmountable, and they had ideas on how the commission could function in a way that would assist the administration in setting policy and strategy. The administration needed the Commission’s input on issues of operations such as compilation and maintenance of a voters’ roll. If they could find a balance, they could move forward.
Prof Asmal said that there were a number of other questions on the direct interrelationship between the functions of chief electoral officer and the Commission. He quipped that the fact that women held the two most important positions might have helped in avoiding serious conflict up until then. He urged the Commission and the administration to “get their act together” so that measures were in place to deal with conflict that might arise.
Ms Matsomela wondered how the Commission balanced its local responsibilities with the development of its African and international relations.
Dr Bam responded that the only time the Commission had to seriously consider how they would balance their responsibilities with their international involvement was in the case of the DRC elections, which had been a huge undertaking. After taking all administrative implications into consideration, they assigned certain members of staff to the task.
The Comoros had been slightly different: the IEC and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had run those elections on their own. The Commission had been asked to assist in the elections but on arrival on the island, realised that they needed to get additional staff to assist. The fact that the Commission had no policies in place complicated matters. She added that demand for international assistance was growing and the Commission was looking at strengthening their international relations unit. The visits the IEC got were also increasing. This had never been planned for within their international relations unit. They now had to discuss with the DFA how they would best work together. She assured the Committee that the Commission would not tamper with the timeframes for its South African responsibilities. Although the Commission was committed to assisting other African countries, South Africa was its priority.
Prof Asmal noted that the Commission had not indicated if mechanisms had been put in place to deal with conflict between the CEO and the Commission or between the commissioners.
Dr Bam responded that the small size of the Commission was helpful. There were only three full-time commissioners, which was better than having a large number. The administration thus had to deal with the stress of only three commissioners interfering with their work, or wanting to have a hands-on approach. She said that commissioners did disagree amongst themselves and they had developed a tradition of reaching a consensus, which was easy to do since the Commission was so small. They all came from backgrounds that assisted in mediation, and did not need a disciplinary committee.
The Commissioners and the CEO all sit in the same commission meetings. Everyone had a chance to speak. The CEO had equal access to the commissioners through the commission meeting. She can then bring what she wishes to be discussed to that meeting. Dr Bam said that as the Committee could imagine, there were big debates around staff bonuses and performance appraisals.
Prof Asmal said that he had raised the question more in relation to Section 82 (5) which stated that the CEO had to make appointments in consultation with the Commission. He asked if this was not an area where the lines between the Commission and the CEO were blurred – the Commission could not apply their minds to scores of people being appointed.
Dr Bam said that the Commission had many examples where agreements around appointments had been reached. Sometimes certain shortlisted candidates were turned down after a series of discussions. There was much consultation on the appointment of senior staff.
Adv Tlakula added that the Commission had developed appointment systems. At a policy level the Commission had taken a decision that the IEC would not appoint election officials who were not registered voters. Once they had a list of people that qualified, they took the names to the Commission so that appointments could be made. Appointments were dealt with systematically.
Ms Matsomela asked whether the Commission had a code of conduct.
Dr Bam responded that the Commission had a code of conduct for both the staff and the commissioners.
Ms S Rajbally (MF) commented that at every election, people were turned away from voting stations because they were not registered to vote in those areas. She wondered how the Commission would address this problem in future elections.
Mr Du Plessis replied that the biggest difficulty was election officials “ability to follow an alphabet”. Things such as people getting married, and not remembering to change their name on the voters roll when the names on their IDs changed, also contributed to the problem. The Commission had now decided to keep the voters roll for a particular district on the registration scanner. The scanner then read the ID and the person’s location on the voters roll was identified and the voter could then be directed to the correct station. This did not solve all the problems, but 75% of the problems appeared to have been dealt with through the use of the so called “zip-zip machine”.
Mr S Simmons (UDSA) asked if it had ever been necessary in terms of the code of conduct, to take action against staff members. Prof Asmal added that the Annual Report had made reference to some “fiscal shenanigans”.
Adv Tlakula replied that although the amounts involved appeared to be insignificant, they felt that there was a need to take action and to recover the finds, precisely because the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) required that action be taken.
Prof Asmal noted that Commissioners had to seek authorisation from the President if they wished to have any activities outside their normal role. Where could one find out if commissioners had had been granted authorisation for external interests such as large shareholdings or company directorships. The Annual Report indicated that one of the functions of the Commission was to promote small business development and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). 339 of the 441 (to the value of R60 million) contracts awarded were awarded to BEE companies. He wondered how one could find out that there was no conflict of interests in the awarding of the contracts.
Dr Bam responded that the Commission had never actually sought written authorisation from the President. The Commissioners disclosed their interests in a register that was kept at their offices. Certain offers were simply turned down because the Commission realised that it would be impossible for them to be involved. As far as serving on various boards in South Africa, the Commissioners took the decisions themselves.
Prof Asmal pointed out that Section 9 of the Act was very clear in that it required presidential authorisation for the holding of any other office. The Committee needed clarity on why the Commission did not comply with this requirement.
Dr Bam responded that the Commission probably defaulted in this regard because of the new requests for them to serve on BEE company boards, which had never before been made. Many agreed to serve on these boards and did not seek permission from the President.
Prof Asmal pointed out that conflict of interests could arise. The Commission disposed of a fair amount of money through contacts. The Committee would consider if such matters should be included in the Annual Report. He felt that disclosure should be public and that the register should be kept with the CEO and not within the human resource department. The Public Service Commission kept the register for all civil servants. Under the freedom of information legislation, which the Committee would also carefully consider, there was absolutely no reason that that information should not be available. In many of the Chapter Nine institutions the information was completely inaccessible. It was an essential part of democracy that the commercial links of those who made the system work, had to be transparent. All commissioners’ interests should be disclosed. He reiterated that the information, which should be updated annually, be kept with the CEO, so that those who want the information could access it.
Mr van der Merwe added that the IEC could look at the disclosure forms that Parliament used.
Prof Asmal agreed and said that the Committee would discuss the matter and would probably come to a fairly quick decision as far as the Commission’s disclosure of interest was concerned.
Ms Matsomela noted the amount of work the Commission did to ensure that communities, especially the special focus groups, were aware of the elections. She wondered then what caused the steady decline in voters from election to election.
Mr Moepya responded that declining voter participation was not unique to South Africa. Initially everyone took part in the elections, but as the democracy matured, numbers declined. The Commission had undertaken interventions among special focus groups, and addressed potential areas of improvement via research. It was not necessarily the case that people were not given the opportunity to vote. The Commission made an effort to mitigate the declining interest.
Prof Asmal asked if two or three times a year the Commission should not perhaps invest in radio broadcasts that would remind people to register or update their details if necessary. The radio would reach most people. This would also raise consciousness. He said that for democracy to work one needed people to be actively involved despite the fact that politicians did not necessarily want that. Consciousness-raising should be a permanent endeavour and not something undertaken every four years.
Ms Rajbally agreed that voter education should be done annually. She suggested that pamphlets be issued and that free community newspapers as well as shops and other businesses be approached to assist.
Ms Matsomela asked what the Commission did to follow up on complaints made by the public and Prof Asmal asked if they kept a record of complaints.
Dr Bam replied that most complaints were related to operations and came from political parties.
Prof Asmal said that there was a process for dealing with complaints from political parties. He asked about the process for dealing with complaints from the public such as those who felt that they had been robbed of their vote.
Dr Bam responded that many such complaints were received particularly after elections. After the 2006 elections especially, many independent candidates complained about all kinds of things. Some people went to the Commission’s offices and the Commission tried to respond to the best of their ability. She said that the most useful complaints came from the political parties. The process for dealing with these complaints was much more systematised. The public normally complained through letters or lodged complaints at provincial offices.
Prof Asmal suggested that the figures for informal complaints were reported in the Annual Report so that one could see whether there was an increase. A breakdown of the nature of the complaints might also be useful.
Prof Asmal then steered the questioning to the relationship between the Head Office and the nine provincial offices. He wondered how information was shared, how the budgeting worked, and who ultimately had authority over these offices.
Adv Tlakula responded that there were nine provincial offices, all reporting to the chief electoral officer. They submitted monthly reports that detailed their implementation of projects as well as how they were spending their budgets. Their performance was also evaluated. Budgetary allocations were made per province as well as per project – this meant that there was a budget for delimitation and voter registration, which was divided amongst the provinces. Though the system appeared to be working, there was room for improvement.
Mr Dithebe noted that the HSRC had prepared a very useful report with regard to voter trends. The report indicated that 96,3% of the respondents had the green bar-coded identity document. Those who did not have the IDs cited inaccessibility and expense as major stumbling blocks. He asked if such information was shared with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), so that the IEC could make a fair assessment of how many people registered between elections.
Adv Tlakula confirmed that the Commission shared such research information with DHA. The initiative to issue free IDs resulted from such research. Towards elections the Commission registered people wherever IDs were issued.
Mr Du Plessis added that although registration facilities were available at all municipal levels, the rate of registration was low – about 5000 to 6000 registrations every month. At present the death rate stood at 40 000 a month which meant that the Commission had a net loss of 30 to 35 000 voters monthly. The Commission had on previous occasions tried a newspaper campaign outside of the election period but that had not been too successful. However, due to funding limitations, it had not explored systematic campaigning that would allow them to establish a rhythm. This was an avenue that could be explored.
Ms Matsomela pointed out that, unlike many of the other bodies, the Commission had a direct link to the National Treasury. What recommendations about budget proposals could the Commission make for bodies that were not in their position?
Dr Bam replied that the Commission’s direct link to National Treasury had a long history attached to it. It was not automatic and had even involved a court case. She would share her opinion on the matter at a later stage.
Prof Asmal requested the Commission to explain their budget process in detail.
Mr Mafuga explained that each project in the project charter system was costed. It included the administration expenditure of the provincial offices. It then went to the CEO for evaluation, and from her to the Commission for approval. Once approved, this three-year budget was taken to the National Treasury where the budget was extensively discussed. After these discussions the budget went through the normal budgetary process.
He suggested that other Chapter Nine bodies also advocate for a direct line to National Treasury. In the Commission’s experience, the support received from the home departments was not as strong as it should be.
Prof Asmal pointed out that National Treasury’s stance now was that there should be no home departments and that Parliament should fix the budgets of Chapter Nine bodies. He asked if the delegation felt that that Parliament, Parliament through a committee or Parliament following the approach the Commission already had in place, should fix the budgets.
Adv Tlakula responded that so far the direct approach had worked well for the Commission.
Ms Smuts said that she hoped that other institutions would also be able to follow the Commission’s approach. She noted that in their protocol for their relationship with the Executive, they stated that they would not be prescribed to. The submission indicated however that the Commission would pursue a cooperative and supporting relationship with independent state institutions and government. They then continued to quote the principles of cooperative governance as contained in the Constitution.
Prof Asmal pointed out that there was a reference to the fact that the Commission would provide appropriate guidelines in all sort of situations. This did not appear to be particularly irksome.
Mr F van der Merwe said that the statements should be read in the context of the entire Chapter. The Commission wanted to point out that the three spheres of Government were independent of each other, and that the Constitution made provision for additional independent bodies. Although these bodies were independent from each other and could not influence each other irregularly, they served under the same Constitution and should thus support each other in the governance of the country. International interaction should thus, for instance, be conducted in consultation with the government and should not transgress international policy.
Prof Asmal said that there were many different views about how public bodies should exist. He added that cooperation was different from cooperative governance.
Returning to the budget, Prof Asmal noted that the Commission claimed that they had managed to contain growth in the budget over the last six years and that costs in real terms had dropped. However, the Annual Report stated that from 2001 to 2006 expenditure had increased from R251 million to R923 million.
Mr Mafuga replied that it was necessary to be aware of the cyclical nature of the Commission’s operations and therefore its budget. Comparisons ought to be of equivalent years. Such a comparison would reflect that the expenditure had indeed decreased.
Prof Asmal said that since he was a layman he would have to consult on the issue. Moving to the next question he noted that the Commission received sponsorships. He asked who the sponsors were and asked if accepting sponsorships did not impact on the Commission’s independence.
Adv Tlakula replied that the Commission had an international donor agency, which sponsored its voter education only. The Commission had taken a conscious policy decision that they would not accept sponsorship of their operations. At elections, commercial companies could buy advertising space next to the leader board at election centres.
Prof Asmal asked if it was a good idea for the central democratic event to be sponsored commercially. He left the Commission to ponder this question.
He noted that in both 2005 and 2006 the Commission had spent R10 million on computer equipment and asked if the Commission was not perhaps too “technologically evolved” for a developmental state.
Adv Tlakula explained that each staff member had a computer because in their business one would not survive without one. In 2003 the Commission changed their hardware because it was five years old. With the introduction of the new Microsoft software (Vista), they would have to upgrade their hardware again in 2008.
Ms Smuts asked if open source would not be an option.
Mr Du Plessis responded that open source had not been an option at the time of their establishment. Having developed so many home-grown systems within a particular medium, redoing them in open source would cost more than replacing the hardware.
Prof Asmal commented that COSATU had said that the Commission was too technologically invested which was why he had asked the question.
He asked whether it was true that the Commission had spent R216 million on consultants in 2006, and R109 million in 2005. The Public Service Commission had carried out an investigation on consultants. He wondered if these consultants added value to the Commission.
Adv Tlakula pointed out that 2006 was an election year and that the Commission being a small institution expanded during these times when they needed additional IT and finance assistance. In 2005 additional assistance was needed during the registration weekends.
Prof Asmal thought it necessary that the Commission give a breakdown of what the consultants did in the Annual Report so that people could understand that most of the money had gone towards payment for services related to the elections.
Prof Asmal then moved to the R640 000 spent on remunerative allowances and R4,8 million on gratuities in 2006. He asked if these payments were bonuses. He asked if the benefits mentioned in the Annual Report were for part-time or full-time commissioners.
Mr Mafuga explained that R641 000 was spent on overtime payments for permanent and temporary staff. The gratuities were paid when people left the Commission.
Prof Asmal asked to what the allowances mentioned on page 23 of the Annual Report referred.
Mr Moepya explained that the allowances referred to the moneys paid to election officials who during election periods had to be relocated to areas where they were needed.
Prof Asmal noted that R960 000 had been spent on benefits to commissioners.
Adv Tlakula explained that the commissioners received a basic salary equal to those of judges as well as benefits equal to those of directors general.
Ms Smuts noted that Section 219 of the Constitution said that a framework had to be set up to look at the salaries of judges and all independent commissioners. The Commission benchmarked its salaries correctly and she was of the opinion that the many court cases the Commission had been involved in, and their judgements, had contributed to their budgeting processes working correctly. She felt that other bodies could perhaps follow the Commission’s appointment process.
Prof Asmal said that there was a great divergence amongst bodies and it led to enormous problems in the bodies. In the end these divergences proved to be subversive.
Dr Bam added that a panel of their peers interviewed candidates for IEC commissioner positions. A Constitutional Court judge chaired the panel.
Prof Asmal said that the Committee would consider the idea of their peers appointing commissioners. He thought it necessary to remember that many of the systems were put in place during the “first flight of enthusiasm”.
Ms Smuts explained that an NGO had at the time suggested that the IEC commissioner appointment panel consist of their peers and a constitutional court judge. It had worked well.
Prof Asmal said that the Committee would note this point. He thanked the Commission for the frankness of the responses. If the Commission wanted to add anything to the submission, they could do so. Unlike some of the bodies that had been looked at, the Commission was working towards achieving democracy. The Committee would report to Parliament on the areas that needed strengthening and might require statutory change. He assured the delegation that Parliament invested much hope and aspiration in the Electoral Commission.
The meeting was adjourned.