Voting equipment for Democratic Republic of Congo’s election is stranded abroad and costs are spiralling, according to documents and officials, threatening to delay a poll that is due at the end of November.
Opposition politicians have already accused President Joseph Kabila of trying to rig his re-election in the vast, mineral-rich country’s second vote since its 1998-2003 war.
Congo still relies heavily on foreign donors and United Nations peacekeepers but unlike the last poll in 2006, Kinshasa’s government is leading the process and international organisations are due to take a back seat and provide less cash.
With just under three months to go until the polls are due to take place, Laurent Ndaye, a senior member of the country’s independent electoral commission (CENI), said equipment such as ballot boxes and voting booths were not yet in the country.
“We’ve proceeded to order the electoral hardware, we’ve paid for more than 70 percent. What’s posing the problem now is to transport all this material (to the Congo),” he said, adding that the kit was in China, South Africa, Germany and Lebanon.
The delays meant that materials will have to be flown in but the U.N. has refused to help so private firms would have to be contracted, raising the costs, he said.
A spokesman for the U.N. said that the peacekeeping mission, as required by its mandate, would only help ship kit once it arrived in the country, which is as large as Western Europe but lacks roads, and warned against further delays.
“The longer we wait the tighter the programme will be to dispatch (the material) to the different electoral hubs,” U.N. spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai said.
In a meeting with international partners last week Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, the head of the election commission, dismissed U.N. concerns that deployments originally due to take three months will now have to be done in 10 days, according to an international official who attended the discussion.
But the official said plans were running anything from 15 days to two months late and a diplomat, who asked not to be named, said a postponement was increasingly likely.
“These logistical delays could lead to an inevitable postponement of the elections,” the diplomat said.
International officials are reluctant to speak openly about the election process as the polls are due to be Congolese-run.
The cost for the electoral cycle, including local elections due in 2013, has risen to US$1.2 billion from US$700 million, according to a revised budget issued by Mulunda to international partners earlier this month and seen by Reuters.
The cost for holding the November election alone has risen to over US$700 million, the document showed.
CENI’s Ndaye acknowledged that the cost had gone up but said the commission was currently discussing the exact figure.
In 2006, donors funded virtually the entire process, as the country tried to recover from decades of violence which left millions dead. This time around, 70 percent of the costs are being met by the Congolese government, which has a budget of US$6 billion, with around half coming from donors.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said payments were being made on time and funded by mining deals, without giving details.
“We have these new agreements from the Chinese and Indians, the money (for the elections) is coming from the signature bonuses, this has been decided by the government,” he said, without giving further details.
Sales of state mining assets have been linked to election funding, though no details have been provided.
Kabila remains favourite to win the vote, despite an increasingly unified opposition, many of whom are backing veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi.