IEC budget cuts a threat to our democracy – MVC

This is a long-term threat towards efforts to strengthen transparency and accountability

Budget cuts to the Electoral Commission is a threat to our democracy

10 May 2022

My Vote Counts is deeply concerned by the revelation that the Electoral Commission (IEC) is facing budget cuts of almost R800 million (before taking inflation into account) over the next three years. This will undermine the IEC’s ability to carry out its mandate and is a threat to our democracy. 

On 3 May 2022, the IEC presented its Annual Performance Plan to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs. The Committee provides an oversight role to ensure the IEC delivers on its mandate. The presentation covered a wide range of issues, but central to this were concerns raised against the proposal in National Treasury’s 2021 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) to cut the Commission’s budget by almost R800 million (before taking inflation into account, meaning the amount will be even greater in real terms) over the next three years. According to the Portfolio Committee, these cuts will directly impact the ability of the IEC to hold free and fair elections. 

Additionally, the specific areas that will be impacted by the budget cuts according to the IEC include: 

Second weekend for voter registration for the 2024 provincial and national elections will be cancelled. This will impact the number of people who can register to vote and will almost certainly affect voter turnout. 

Voter education and outreach will not be adequately funded. Given the low voter turnout in the last election and the declining trust in institutions and democracy, it is essential that the IEC is able to fund the initiatives required to encourage participation. In the current budget, the IEC has stated that the programme for Democracy Education Fieldworkers, who are essential to the IEC’s voter education work, has been cancelled. 

Implementation of the Electoral Amendment Act will be jeopardised. The Act is expected to come into effect before the 2024 national and provincial elections and it will require considerable funding to implement any electoral reform. 

Expansion of staff cannot happen. There will be a shortage of staff for the IEC and its Political Party Funding Unit. It is currently only funded for 90% of permanent posts. The budget cuts will also affect funding for skills development. 

Electronic voting is underfunded. Plans to introduce an e-voting pilot project, towards ensuring elections are free and fair, is now underfunded.  

The IEC is a Chapter 9 institution established by the South African Constitution to guard our democracy. Primarily, it administers our elections as well as the newly instituted Political Party Funding Act.  The cut to the IEC’s budget is a long-term threat towards efforts to strengthen transparency and accountability, renew our electoral system and sustain our democracy. 

Let’s be clear; we recognise that these cuts do not exist in isolation and are part of the government’s broader commitment to austerity budgeting. This commitment undermines the government’s ability to carry out its constitutional duties to deliver education, health and social services and cannot be justified. As we call for a strengthening of the IEC, we also call for an end to austerity measures.  

We fully support the call made by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs for the funding to the IEC to be reconsidered and strengthened. We simply cannot be weakening institutions that are so pivotal to the maintenance of our democratic dispensation.   

Issued by Sheilan Clarke, Head of Communications and Stakeholder Management, My Voice Counts, 10 May 2022