He made the remark following recent statements by Member for Sinesine-Yongomugl, Kerengu Kua, Opposition Leader and Aitape-Lumi MP Patrick Pruaitch and Northern Governor Gary Juffa in the daily papers on election issues.
“Firstly, let me advise the respective leaders that some of these matters are in court as election petitions, therefore, we must all respect the judicial process and refrain from making public statements until the Courts have dealt with the election petitions,” said Gamato in an 11-page statement.
“I have been careful in responding to earlier statements because of that reason. But now I’m compelled by Mr. Kua’s repeated statements to categorically respond and inform the public on the relevant subject matters.
“The following is my detailed response.”
2017 National General Election Report
After the 2017 National Election, the PNG Electoral Commission finalised its report on the 2017 national general election for Parliament in February 2018.
This report is now with the National Executive Council for its deliberations.
After NEC deliberates on the report, NEC will then table the election report in Parliament for debate by Members of Parliament.
A lot of these issues and concerns raised, including local and international observations, are in the election report to Parliament.
2017 Election Petitions
There were also issues on the 2017 election petitions. By record, 105 election petitions were filed after the 2012 national general election.
However, there was a reduction after the conduct of the 2017 national general election. Only 79 election petitions were filed and, so far, over 60 percent of the election petitions have been dismissed.
Out of those dismissed, no by-election was ordered by the courts except six judicial recounts - two of which have been appealed to the Supreme Court and four completed while the Goroka Open petition is pending but will start on July 6, 2018, as ordered by Court.
Staff engaged in election work
Election is a massive exercise and we (PNGEC) have fully committed ourselves as Papua New Guineans to run our election with support and advice from our development partners such as the Australian Election Commission, New Zealand Electoral Commission and the International Foundation for Electoral Service (IFES).
We have engaged up to 35,000 temporary election workers (TEWs) and our own permanent staff to work during 2017 national election.
Credit should be given to all Papua New Guineans who were involved in the electoral process, especially those in the remote areas that sacrificed their lives, time and efforts in conducting the 2017 national general election.
Any criticism leveled against me as Electoral Commissioner or the PNG Electoral Commission also criticises a lot of good efforts by all those Papua New Guineans in by providing the electoral services for our people to vote in their leaders to Parliament including all service providers and security personnel.
When I took over the rein as new Electoral Commissioner, there were still some inherent problems within the PNG Electoral Commission due to lack of support and funding in the past.
Our immediate challenge was funding to work on the roll before the 2017 national general election.
One of the first decisions I made as Electoral Commissioner was to decentralize the updating of the electoral roll to the provinces and we did that before the election.
Currently, we are installing provincial applications so that rolls can be updated at the provincial level.
In 2016, the year before the election, we were only allocated K10 million in the national budget to update the roll and prepare for the election.
Funds were not released until July 2016 and we went out to the provinces very late to do roll updating exercise. Towards end of 2016 some more funds were given to us and we continued on updating the roll.
We used 2012 Roll as the Base Roll to update the 2017 roll for the national general election.
The roll updating process involves enrolment agents going out to enroll voters, updating in the database, display and objection processes.
This process required eligible voters to come forward and see the preliminary roll (based on 2012 roll), object if their names were on or not. If not, before the final roll can be finalized, the voter must object.
Many voters did not come forward during objection period to object the roll.
Objection means voters can come and see the preliminary roll which is displayed at certain places, and if their names are not on the roll, they can ask the enrolment agent or the Returning Officer to include their names on the roll by filling in an enrolment form.
This is a critical point where a lot of eligible voters did not understand and did not take time to object (check names on the roll) to the roll before the election although a lot of awareness on roll updating was conducted.
Then the final roll is printed and approved by the Electoral Commissioner for use in the electorates during election.
As Electoral Commissioner, I had to allow the eligible voters whose names were on the preliminary roll but not on final roll to vote.
That was necessary because their names were already on the preliminary roll and they had their right to vote.
Cost and printing of 2017 Ballot Papers
This matter was adequately addressed during the 2017 national general election, even in the media.
But for the sake of our leaders and for the public to appreciate, for the printing of ballot papers for 2017 national general election, the Government Printer charged PNG Electoral Commission K12 million to print the ballot papers in the country.
Given the high cost of printing, I asked other local printers to bid for the same job and a local company bid and won the tender to print the ballot papers for K6.6 million.
This definitely saved K 5.4 million in election costs.
The bids went through a proper approval process and the Central Supply and Tenders Board awarded the contract a local company, namely Treid Pacific Limited, at the cost of K6.6 million.
Due to public complaints, the Ombudsman Commission requested information on the printing of the ballot papers for the 2017 national general election and we provided all the necessary information to the Ombudsman and they cleared the issues.
We printed 10 million ballot papers because 5 million ballot papers were for Open seats and 5 million for Provincial/Regional seats, total 10 million on one A4 size paper in book-fast copies to make it easier with voters.
The ballot papers were printed based on the enrolment figures with 3 percent growth rate over the five-year period (2012-2017).
The 2017 election ballot papers had more security features (15) than the previous ones and they arrived in the country one-and-half months before polling.
The ballot papers were guarded 24/7 by both a police mobile squad and army at a secured location in Port Moresby.
Cost of 2017 National Election
PNGEC has managed and delivered the 2017 national general election on a reduced cost.
The National Government allocated K400 million in the 2017 Budget for the conduct of the national general election. Of the K400 million, K121 million was allocated to the security forces for election security operations and K279 million for the actual election operations.
By December 31, 2017, we committed K222 million to conduct the election with the balance of K57 million yet to be received from the National Government.
We still have outstanding claims of K26 million yet to pay.
If the National Government gave us the K57 million remaining balance, we would have paid all our outstanding bills and still have some savings.
SHP Provincial/Regional Seat and Gumine Open Seat
With Southern Highlands Provincial/Regional seat and Gumine Open seat, the matters are before the courts, therefore, I will not comment.
However, for the return of writ for the Gumine open seat, only one writ was returned to the Head of State, not two.
However, an extra person entered the Parliament chambers when Parliament convened. And that was a matter which the Clerk of Parliament should have checked and dealt with accordingly with the actual writs returned and received on hand on that day of Parliament.
In the meantime, these two matters are still in Court and we all should respect and allow the court process to continue and make their findings.
If the leaders are not happy then I urge them to join in the court process, which is the right forum, and join as an interested party to the cases instead of arguing outside the court process.
New Improvements and Initiatives
After the election, we (PNGEC) have initiated new measures and improvements in the electoral management and process.
We have developed a new five-year Corporate Plan (2018-2022) that will be launched soon with seven strategic goals as our initiatives for improvements.
We are confident the new 2018-2022 plan will better position us and steer us to deliver the 2022 national general election better than 2017.
New Corporate Plan and its Strategic Designs
Our new Corporate Plan addresses seven strategic areas. These areas include the legal framework, election management, voter enrolment, voter awareness and civic education, gender equality and social inclusion, restructure and decentralization, organizational capacity and financial management
Legislative Changes to Organic Law on National Elections (OLNE)
We have proposed new legislative changes based on the difficulties and challenges that we have faced to effectively deliver the 2017 national general election.
We are not sitting around doing nothing. We want to be proactive and provide better and efficient electoral services to the people of PNG.
In our endeavor to do so, we are now proposing 22 new legal changes to the Constitutional Law Reform Commission (CLRC) and it will conduct an independent inquiry into the Organic Law on National and LLG Elections.
The Prime Minister launched the inquiry last month at Holiday Inn Hotel in Port Moresby and the CLRC was given 18 months to complete the review and advise the National Government on their findings.
The proposed legislative changes include:
- Online registration
- Election managers appointed as registrar of roll
- Electoral systems
- Postal voting
- Establishment of permanent polling places and schedules
- Electoral boundaries review
- Quota for women’s seat in Parliament
- Nomination fees
- Eligibility of candidates to stand
- Election petitions and period of filing election petitions
- Voter identification
- Separation of LLG election from national election
- Electoral offenses
- Powers and functions of electoral commissioner
- Election steering committees, and
- Other matters relevant to improve the electoral process and systems.
This is a positive approach by PNG Electoral Commission directly under my leadership.
Proposed Organizational Structure
Key to the PNG Electoral Commission is its organizational structure like any public organization.
An outdated structure cannot be fitting to confront new challenges and business practices.
PNG Electoral Commission needs more staff to take up duties and responsibilities, not just at the headquarters but at the provincial level as the country’s population grows and demands for electoral services.
The electoral process does not end after an election event. No. We have to make improvements and plan how best to deliver the next election.
There are judicial recounts, by-elections, roll updating exercises and LLG elections that we have to conduct in between the national election events.
The National Government is planning for separate LLG Elections from the National Election. And if that happens, the election calendar will be busy for us.
In the meantime, work of the Electoral Boundaries Review is also another important task that we have to undertake and manage as well as aligning LLG ward boundaries before any new LLG election event.
As the workload increases, we are now planning for a Board of three Commissioners and a secretariat to be headed by a Chief Election Officer to manage the new initiatives that we are proposing.
This will be undertaken once approvals are given by relevant agencies for the structure and budget.
2018 LLG Election
There were calls by ward members and presidents of LLGs for their outstanding allowances are reported in the media recently.
PNG Electoral Commission does not handle payment of salaries and allowances for the ward members and presidents of the LLGs.
The appropriate authority is the Department of Provincial Affairs which will address their grievances.
LLG presidents and ward members/councilors should raise their issues with the Department of Provincial Affairs.
I must make it clear here that the issues of outstanding salaries and allowances will not stop the PNG Electoral Commission from conducting the 2018 LLG Election.
An election is a constitution process and will be made available to all citizens to stand and run for public office.
If LLG presidents and ward members are aggrieved by non-payment of their salaries and allowances and do not want to stand for election then it is their choice.
But that will not stop PNG Electoral Commission from running the 2018 LLG Election.
Meanwhile, there were also calls made by three Presidents of LLGs in Morobe Province about contributions by provinces and LLGs to fund the LLG election.
While their call has some merits, I must advise the leaders that PNG Electoral Commission was allocated only K100 million to conduct the 2018 LLG election. This is insufficient compared to the K279 million allocated for the conduct of the 2017 national general election.
We still have challenges confronting us in conducting the 2018 LLG election. And these are issues such as logistics, geography and communication that prevent to us from effectively and efficiently delivering elections.
I urge all levels of government especially, provinces, districts and LLGs as well as Members of Parliament to assist PNGEC through their PSIP and DSIP program funds to in conducting LLG elections.
That is why we are signing MOUs to share costs with those different agencies of government. After all, this is for the good of public interest and policy.
Welcome Any Investigation
Finally, all records on how the 2017 national general election was conducted are visible and available and we (PNGEC) have nothing to hide.
We are a constitutional office and we did our best in running the 2017 national general election.
Let me say that we do not support any political party or for that matter, PNC and its current ruling coalition in Government.
People of PNG have spoken through the ballot papers to elect their leaders so if the leaders want Ombudsman Commission to investigate all the process and procedures then we are ready and willing to support any investigations.