LG polls, with several firsts | Sunday Observer

LG polls, with several firsts

T he upcoming local government elections, eagerly awaited by politicians, rather than the general masses, justifiably due to the heavy costs that are to be incurred by the tax payer to maintain these institutions, is scheduled to be held in the first two weeks of February.

This election will see the appointment of over 8,300 new members to the smallest unit of governance in the country. The LG election is deemed the most complicated and the most expensive election of all –as against the Presidential, Parliamentary and Provincial Council polls. But, with the new mixed electoral system combining the First-Past-the -Post and Proportional Representation which was adopted early this year, the LG polls is expected to be less complicated.

There will be no preferential votes, hence, the ballot paper will contain only the names of political parties and independent groups that are in the fray.

The Election Commission last week announced that this will be the largest election ever to be held in the country and the first time that the polls in all LG bodies are held on a single day, a welcome factor that would contribute to somewhat lessen poll related costs incurred by the Election Commission.

A senior official said, over 8,300 members will be appointed to the local government bodies at the upcoming election, this is an increase of about 4,000 members.

Rs.4 billion

The Elections Department has estimated that the conduct of polls in February 2018 would cost them nearly Rs.4 billion. The figure would not have exceeded Rs.3.5billion if the election was held in June 2017 as planned earlier. He said an entire 50% of the election expenses will cover payments to the nearly 300,000 staff deployed to conduct the polls, including public servants, police and the postal department workers. It has been estimated that a whopping Rs.1.75 billion will be incurred to cover overtime, salaries and transport, and other allowances of this contingent.

The Salaries and Cadre Commission has issued a new circular to increase the rate of overtime and other payments to public servants. The circular is to come into effect from January next year. “The anticipated increase in the polls expenditure is more or less linked to this revision,” the official clarified.

Of the total costs, there is an allocation of Rs.400 million for the Police Department and Rs. 300 million for the Postal Department to cover their election duty payments.

The next biggest cost will be for printing polls related material – 341 different types of ballot papers, household notices that inform the voters of all registered political parties and independent groups in the fray and poll cards for 15 million voters, etc. This is estimated to gobble up Rs.275 million.

“Printing of ballot papers will cost us more too. It would have to be done according to a new design,” the officer said.

The expenditures for water and telephone bills will be Rs.250 M followed by another Rs.250 M for hiring vehicles and Rs.200 M for welfare facilities. For electricity alone the Commission expects to set aside Rs.150 M and as fuel costs an additional Rs.160 million.

To remove illegal campaign material, the Commission would have to spend an estimated Rs.60 million. This includes payments for police officers and Election Commission officers.”The police sometimes do not carry out the complete task of removing these material, hence we have to deploy our men to oversee the job, which would cost us double,” the senior official said.

Fresh court case

He added that they do not expect anything untoward, which could contribute to stay the election further, despite a fresh court case filed by an ex-LG member. “If it comes to that the courts might stay the polls to the particular LG body instead of postponing the entire election,” he said, when asked whether the holding of the election hung in the balance once again because of the petition filed by a former LG member. The February election is presumed to be relatively peaceful since intra party rivalry over preferential votes would be absent. The Election Commission Chairman said, they expect to release results earlier than usual as they have to count only the number of votes received by each political party or independent group.

Local Elections Monitor, PAFFREL’s, Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said, the parties have a bigger responsibility to field capable and honest candidates for the upcoming election since the voters have been deprived of this choice under the new system of election introduced from this year.

Maintenance

The maintenance of local bodies will be an additional burden on the tax payer with the increase of members by nearly 4,000. “Unless there is some sort of visible return by way of more development in their respective areas, the people are bound to revolt against these ‘white elephants’,” he cautioned.

The Local Government and Provincial Councils Ministry has been allocated Rs.31 billion to run the LG bodies under the 2018 Budget. The funds will cover capital as well as recurrent expenditures for a period of 12 months. This election will have several firsts of its kind. It will be the first election after scrapping the much detested preferential system, the first LG election to be held on a single day, and the first election under the new mixed electoral system that will be applied to all elections in the future. The LG elections are repeated every four years. 

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