Three consultants commissioned by the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) to conduct a study on the Cost of Elections in West Africa presented their findings to the on-going Abuja International Conference on Wednesday, with the Lead Consultant Prof. Adele Jinadu advocating that elections should be considered as an investment with social benefits that will engender democracy and economic development.
In his presentation covering findings on Nigeria and Liberia, Jinadu, a professor of political science and former Commissioner of Nigeria's Electoral Commission, also suggested that as beneficiaries of political stability that promotes business, the private sector, especially the multinationals, have a duty to contribute to meeting the cost of elections in their host countries.
His recommendation for electoral cost reduction includes constitutional and legal reforms where necessary and the insulation of electoral procurement from the bureaucratic red-tape, without compromising integrity.
The second consultant, Mr Jose Sanches, whose work covered Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, examined the effects of conflict as a factor that raises electoral cost; tangible and invisible costs, the need for modernisation of electoral systems and harmonisation of procedures towards cost reduction.
Mr. Francis Laleye, who conducted his study on Benin Republic and Senegal, identified challenges such as the multiplicity of institutions involved in election management, the attitude of countries to acceptance of foreign aid for elections, and difficulty in the sourcing of information on cost of elections, which is considered "sensitive" by the authorities.
His recommendations include harmonisation of electoral processes and legal frameworks, adding that cost reduction "is complex" and should be handled with caution so as not to sacrifice integrity.
During the launch of the study on 1 February, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, President of ECONEC governing board and Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Nigeria, noted that "Elections are not only very expensive to run, but have also become a source of avoidable political conflicts in our region."
For this reason, he said: "ECONEC is taking steps to address these challenges in a proactive manner."
After validation, the findings of the study supported by ECONEC key partner, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), will provide a strong advocacy tool for the sensitisation and mobilisation of stakeholders on the need to scale down the spiraling cost of election administration.
However, it will also encourage the pooling of resources by EMBs, and strengthening of transparency and prudent use of resources, to make democracy more cost-effective, participatory and inclusive.
Meanwhile, on the side-lines of the Abuja Conference on Tuesday, ECONEC held an extra-ordinary General Assembly, which among other decisions, agreed on the payment of annual dues by the 15 members to boost the financial position of the Network.
Presided over by Prof. Yakubu, the meeting also agreed to intensify advocacy for the mobilisation of funds to enable ECONEC prosecute of programmes and activities.
The meeting also acknowledged the positive results of ECONEC's Needs Assessment and Solidarity Missions to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire last year.
Pursuant to its mandate of strengthening support to its members, through peer-learning and experience sharing towards the promotion of credible elections in the region, ECONEC is to undertake similar missions to Mali and Guinea Bissau, which are planning major elections.