South Africa

2024 elections: Longer ballot, budget cuts putting financial pressure on IEC


The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is facing financial pressures ahead of the 2024 general elections as a result of budget cuts.

South Africans will head to the polls on 29 May, with the commission being allocated R2.3bn for the 2024/2025 financial year to ensure that the commission delivers free and fair elections.

However, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana cut R30m from the IEC’s budget as part of government’s austerity measures.

An additional R200m has been earmarked for political party funding.

Budget

Briefing Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, IEC’s chief financial officer (CFO) Dawn Mbatha noted that the R30m reduction comes in addition to a R251m budget cut from the preceding medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) cycle.

“We have absorbed R281m in terms of cuts including the current R30m that has been cut by National Assembly,” she said on Tuesday.

Mbatha told MPs that the “huge impact” in the commission’s budget came from amendments to the Electoral Act.

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The CFO said most of the commission’s budget would go towards the electoral operations programme, which was R1.29bn.

She revealed that the IEC had two targets in its electoral operations – including to manage free and fair elections in accordance with the applicable electoral timetables as well as maintaining a credible national voters’ roll.

The other programmes included administration, outreach and party funding, with R911.6m, R236.9m and R25m being budgeted for each respectively.

Surplus funds

Although the electoral operations programme was not ” fully funded”, Mbatha pointed out that the commission would use additional funds from the 2023/2024 financial year to cover it.

“We have accumulated enough surpluses to fund all anticipated shortfalls and the main contribution of this surplus we have retained is the manner in which we budget as the IEC.

“We have got what we called a straight-line budgeting which then allows us to save up through that election period.”

She explained, however, that the approval to retain surplus funds was considered by the National Treasury only after annual financial statements are finalised in July, which is two months after the elections.

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“What is key about the retention of the surplus [funds] is that we need to secure the retention for the 2023/2024 election period.

“This is dependent on the National Treasury’s processes of us submitting final numbers in terms of financial statements which will only be done on the 31st of July.

“That’s when the [auditor-general] will the issue an audit opinion for us to then submit to the National Treasury to get the retention of surplus [funds].”

The commission will reprioritise its budget to fund election related shortfalls in order to mitigate the risk, according to the CFO.

Watch the meeting below:

Electoral Amendment Act impact

Mbatha further said another shortfall was due to budget cuts in relation to expansion and electoral staff required to successfully execute elections.

Going into detail about the financial implications of the Electoral Amendment Act, the IEC official said the fact that not only political parties will contest the elections meant that there would be an increase in the number of ballot papers to be printed and other electoral material.

“The projected length of the ballot paper is longer [than] it is for the first time and this will have financial impact. Also the impact of the increased ballot paper on the electoral material such as ballot boxes, security seals as well as ballot booths… all of those has a ripple effect on other components,” the IEC CFO continued.

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There’s also a possibility the the commission would need to employ more staff to count ballot papers before election results are announced.

Mbatha added that a budget cut of R299.2m has been projected for the 2025/2026 financial year, and R308m for the following year.

“This has resulted in 2026 local government elections not being fully funded,” Mbatha concluded.