• December 22, 2022

As Citizens Call For New ECSL Chair… KONNEH STRUGGLES FOR PUBLIC TRUST

As Citizens Call For New ECSL Chair… KONNEH STRUGGLES FOR PUBLIC TRUST
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Ground works ahead of the 24 June 2023 multi-tier elections have come under serious credibility, public trust and confidence glitches, which are not new under the current leadership of the elections commission. And as a result of that Sierra Leoneans at home and in the Diaspora are calling for the replacement of the Chief Electoral Commissioner, and the National Returning Officer of the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL), Mohamed Kenuwai Konneh.

They want an independent person with the required capacity to handle the situation without hesitations or favour.

Since the unilateral selection of Konneh as the ECSL Chairman designate by President Julius Maada Bio, and later approved by the House of Parliament, there have always been dozens of critical provocative issues of mistrust and the very lack of public confidence in Konneh and the ECSL’s handling of the electoral situation.

Konneh‘s lack of trust has gone far beyond boarders, to an extent that lawmakers of the House of Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have since the August 10 2022 protest called on their leadership to send a fact finding mission to Sierra Leone to get firsthand information about challenges militating against the growth and development of Sierra Leone’s democracy.

ECOWAS MP’s from the Republic of Liberia, the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Senegal collectively expressed their fervent belief that Sierra Leone is not at peace with its democratic dispensation. They said they must voice out critical suggestions about the misrules under the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) few months to elections, in that if anything wrong happens in the country ECOWAS too will be blamed.

They therefore called on the House to deploy a fact finding mission to Sierra Leone. This also lends credence to the facts that the international community and development partners do not trust the elections commission in Sierra Leone; a trending situation which recent media report described as: ‘2023 Elections under Siege’. Indeed it is a restricted electoral situation leading to the approaching elections wherein only few people including the ruling SLPP party, Bio and Konneh are included in terms of consultations.

The main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party at a press conference hosted on Friday 16 December 2022 at its national secretariat on 11 Old Railway Line in Freetown, highlighted sequence of challenges faced by the party in the continuing electoral process which the ECSL is yet to respond or attempt to address as legitimate concerns from the main opposition political party in the contest of ideas.

Owing to ECSL’s inconsistencies recently discovered by the APC party in the concluded voter registration process and the voter verification ranging from incorrectness, omission of photographs from the register, incomplete data of registrants among others, they clearly indicate that the ECSL and its Chairman, Mohamed K. Konneh lack the required competence to conduct free, peaceful and credible elections.

The APC party’s interim secretary, Hon Abdul Kargbo said their concerns raised regarding irregularities uncovered during the voter registration and verification processes and brought to the attention of the Elections Management Bodies, have not been given due attention, as if the APC party is not part of the democratic desperation. That also noticeably exposed ECSL’s complete disregard for the law. Hon Kargbo said Konneh’s behaviour and performances exactly six months to the elections have greater tendencies of him conducting a chaotic election which has serious threats to the peace and security of Sierra Leone.

It is highly hoped that the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion is taking notes of the early warning signs and will do the needful to mitigate conflict.

Further cataloguing the commission’s deliberate flaws in the process aimed at rigging the elections, Hon Kargbo said: ‘ECSL violated its own rules of ineligibility identification criteria,’ quoting Part IV of the Public Elections Act which says qualified voters should use their birth certificates or naturalisation certificate of declaration, a national identity card or a declaration given by a Counsellor of the area of birth to register.

He said the very measures were ignored by the ECSL as the commission didn’t allow first time voters to register. Hon Kargbo said the poorly handled voter registration process lacks transparency and inclusiveness which has also dented the integrity of both the voter registration and voter verification processes.

He informed that the process also compromised the provisional voter list, adding that ECSL’s failure to respond to concerns raised by the APC party among other political actors has undermine public trust and confidence in the entire electoral process as well as the Chairman of the ECSL, Konneh.

‘We believe that these setbacks could result in significant voter apathy,’ observed Hon Kargbo.

After last month’s (November 2022) forceful imposition of the Proportional Representation and District Block electoral system on Sierra Leoneans six months ahead of the elections by the House of Parliament on the orders of president Bio, critical questions and concerns about free, fair, credible and peaceful elections keep emerging from all corners of the country.

These, backed by fears being sincerely expressed by civic and political actors in the democratic dispensation, are that the ECSL under the selective and controversial leaderships of Mohamed K. Konneh and Bio will certainly influence the outcome of the 24 June 2023 multi-tier elections in favour of the ruling SLPP party and Bio.

That the ECSL Chairman Konneh and other top staff of the elections commission who were unilaterally recruited by Bio without consultation with opposition political parties and forcefully approved by the House of Parliament against the wishes of the people have vowed to do whatever they could to earn the SLPP and Bio a smooth win come 24 June 2023.

This, however, keeps giving the impression of foul play by the Bio-led administration and the ECSL even far ahead of the elections and during the process; all in furtherance to please the SLPP and their pay master.

The conduct of ECSL in recent past parliamentary and local council by-elections has also raised eyebrows about ECSL’s tendencies of conducting the 2023 elections along with heaps of deliberate irregularities, which have already started with the recently concluded flawed voter registration and verification processes that were characterised by premeditated failures aimed at disenfranchising considerable number of voters in some parts of the country come 24 June 2023. Such headstrong inconsistencies being surreptitiously perpetuated by the widely condemned ECSL and Konneh have cast huge doubts over the credibility of next year’s election under the leadership of the aforementioned chair of the elections commission.

Being fully aware of the commission’s credibility troubles ahead of elections, the ECSL Chairman, Mohamed K. Konneh, and Bio look very much worried about the coming event. Konneh is edgy about his reputation locally and internationally during and after the whole electoral process, his complete lack of trust and confidence of the people, especially for the conduct of the June 2023 multi-tier elections are no longer secrets. He’s also aware of that fact that meddling in the elections will only cost him mistrust but also damage his reputation. Though he was appointed by Bio, Konneh should bear in mind that he is not working for just one person but Sierra Leoneans, hence he is expected to serve all equally without bias.

The people, development partners and opposition political parties therefore no longer have confidence in the ECSL Chairman, Mohamed K. Konneh, and have on several occasions called for his urgent replacement with a more competent, neutral Chief Electoral Commission and a National Returning Officer, who is armed with the requisite capacity, public trust and confidence to conduct in a free, fairly credible and peaceful elections in the interest of stability and national unity.

These qualities can be hardly found in Konneh since day one; and by the look of things, Konneh’s due to even do worse than he is doing now. So all should prepare themselves for coming events, as Konneh is on record bragging to top SLPP party members and supporters at countless quarters that, he and his team at the ECSL do not even care about noisy complaints emanating from political parties, especially the APC, except from the SLPP party. So for Konneh, no matter how rigidly monitored the 24 June  023 electoral process will be, he will do all he can to ensure that Bio is re-elected at the first ballot and earn a second term.

Is Konneh the calibre of public personality to be entrusted with the task of conducting a critical national election like the 24 June 2023 election? Certainly not! He’s currently struggling for public trust and confidence. Konneh therefore deserves an urgent replacement before the June elections.

A testament to Konneh’s electoral manipulative tendencies which have resulted to his lack of public confidence and trust of the people are evident in a series of concerns earlier projected by the APC prior, during and shortly after the widely condemned voter registration and verification. His credibility drought has triggered more questions than answers, more so on the largely flawed processes, for which the ECSL has not allowed the principles of democratic accountability and transparency to prevail from the start to finish of the process; another situation that certain sections of the Civil Society Organisations have keep a sealed lips on at the detriment of the entire democratic dispensation that is rapidly transforming into a dictatorship under the Bio-SLPP hegemony.

The FORUM therefore humbly suggests that the Chairman and National Returning Officer, ECSL, Mohamed Kenuwai Konneh conducts the 24 June multi-tier elections in accordance with the country’s electoral laws, restore his battered reputation and allow peace to reign in Sierra Leone.

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