Gamato explained that he has decided to move the recount for Kandep to Port Moresby due to security reasons, based on experience from the 2009 Kandep by-election and again in the 2016 Kandep judicial recount.
“To conduct the Kandep judicial recount anywhere in the Highlands is not safe as the counting venue is easily accessible by disgruntled supporters,” he stressed.
“The Electoral Commission wants a free and safe recount; therefore, I’m using my powers as Commissioner to move the Kandep Open ballot boxes to Port Moresby.”
He pointed out that under the National Constitution, the Electoral Commission is the only mandated authority to do (judicial) recounts.
“Candidates can express their views but the Electoral Commissioner and the Electoral Commission have the final say.
“Therefore, I appeal to both candidates, petitioner Don Polye and incumbent MP Alfred Manase, to cooperate with PNGEC and respect the electoral process and allow it to be completed.”
Gamato’s comments follow a letter dated 10 July, 2019, written to him by the petitioner Don Polye objecting to Port Moresby as ideal venue for the Kandep recount and accusing him of siding with the incumbent MP.
The Electoral Commissioner has consulted PNGEC lawyers and is filing contempt of court proceedings against Polye on accusations contained in his letter, which was also copied to Prime Minister James Marape and Acting Commissioner of Police, Francis Tokura.
Kandep Open has less than 10 ballot boxes which contain about 57,500 ballot papers. The ballot boxes will be flown to Port Moresby from Wapenamanda airport under heavy police escort at the cost of about K30,000.
Hela Provincial seat has about 12 ballot boxes containing about 167,000 ballot papers and the recount will be done in the provincial capital, Tari.
Electronic verification system (EVS) will be used in both judicial recounts as it is a very open and transparent system to verify ballot papers as done it previous recounts.
Kandep Open judicial recount will cost K3 million while the Hela Provincial judicial recount will cost K4.5 million, totaling K7.5 million for both recounts.
Gamato has revoked the appointment of NCD Election Manager Terence Hetinu as Returning Officer for the Hela Provincial recount and has appointed Election Manager for Chimbu, Rev. Tom Siune.
He said all counting officials in the 2017 count will not be engaged in the judicial recount for Hela Provincial seat, adding that completely new counting officials, mostly public servants, will be recruited.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Gamato is calling on the National Government and the departments of Treasury and Finance to quickly identify necessary funds to enable the Electoral Commission to conduct the two judicial recounts.
“While time is against us, we want the government to appropriate funds quickly as the two judicial recounts are legal and time bound,” he stated.
“Any failure by the National Government and relevant departments in providing necessary funding will be deemed as contempt and those responsible will be held accountable.”
Gamato pointed out that the Commission wanted to start both Kandep Open and Hela Provincial judicial recounts as soon as practicable but substantial delays in identifying and appropriating necessary funding were the cause of the delay.
He further stated that although reviews in the Supreme Court have been filed, there are no stay orders to stop the two recounts from being conducted. Therefore, the Electoral Commission will continue to prepare to conduct both recounts.
In response to claims that the budgets for the recounts were unreasonable, Gamato clarified that the counting costs were drawn from the 2017 counting budget.
“It’s not a new thing.
“Legal fees are for our lawyers for defending the respective election petition matters in court. No lawyers will be involved in the recounts.”
Gamato also clarified that rates for all allowances for election officials and security personnel were prescribed and approved by the Department of Personnel Management and not the Electoral Commission.
He added that the Electoral Commission only pays according to days and hours worked by election officials and security personnel.