Building capacity in Papua New Guinea
AEC officers are regularly posted to PNG as part of the Twinning Program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The goal of the program is capacity building – helping local electoral officers develop skills and expertise in order to strengthen electoral administration and democratic processes.
In 2014, AEC officer Sukanthan Aravindan completed a five-month posting at the PNG Electoral Commission (PNGEC) as part of the Twinning Program. His work involved assisting PNGEC staff to design and implement a series of pilot projects to improve the integrity of the PNG electoral roll.
‘The AEC is not the only electoral body using new technology to improve roll management,’ Sukanthan said. ‘The PNGEC pilot projects used tablets to capture electors’ enrolment details (including photographs), and were trialled in different Wards across PNG.’
The Wards chosen for the pilots reflected the many different environments of PNG – a coastal village, an urban settlement, a remote island and a rural Ward in the Highlands. The PNGEC hopes that the tablet-based enrolment model can provide a more accurate method for updating the electoral roll ahead of the 2017 National Election.
During his time in PNG, Sukanthan worked as part of a broader AEC team and was joined by a number of other AEC officers on various short term assignments. Led by Thelma Oberdorf AEC officers Cate Thompson, Meredith Hawke and Andy Wilson, spent time assisting the PNGEC to develop training manuals, shape an evaluation framework, and deliver training.
Sukanthan explained that a highlight of his posting was forming close working relationships with various counterparts from the PNGEC. ‘We would meet on a daily basis and I would assist with drafting project documents, electoral roll analysis, and gazettal of approved forms. The most challenging part of the role was ensuring I helped them develop skills and expertise and not just do the job myself,’ Sukanthan said.
In his time at the PNGEC , Sukanthan also gained an appreciation for the difficult conditions faced by the staff. ‘Poverty, lack of security, and a host of social issues are facts of life in PNG and make electoral administration a challenging business to be in,’ he said.
‘In the end it was enormously rewarding to help build the capacity of PNG colleagues and play a small part in making a positive difference.’