• September 30, 2022

VR Fraud Depicts More Dangerous Episodes

VR Fraud Depicts More Dangerous Episodes
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The voter registration exercise is at advanced stage in its second phase. And it is expected to end next week, precisely on 4 October, as scheduled by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL).But incidences of what continue to emerge from the exercise are bewildering, to say the least.

While the first phase of the exercise that took place between 3 and 17 September 2022 was marred with so many challenges and irregularities, despite the fact that it ended peacefully, the ongoing second phase of the exercise has been emitting some odd happenings that are dangerous and may jeopardize the whole electioneering process.

A little over a week into the second phase of the exercise, vulgar situations of brawl, confusion and malpractices have reared up in some centres across the country that are worth noted. These include the brouhaha between the deputy trade minister Haja Isata Abdulai Kamara, and a lady named Mariama Lowe Bangura of the main opposition All Peoples Congress party, at a registration centre in the North Western region of the country. Social media footages of the altercation between the two ladies was said to have emanated from the use of a generator machine that was given by someone or the community to provide electricity to power the equipment and tools being used in the centre. The incident led to accusation and counter accusation of someone wanting to disrupt and bring to a halt the registration process at the very centre.

There are also complaints of bottlenecks created around birth certificates to prevent especially first-time voters from registering in some centres in the north, northwest and Western Areas or Freetown.

A recent case in point was advanced by the Chairperson of the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (CoPPP), Femi Claudius Cole of the Unity Party, after she witnessed on Monday 26 September 2022 at Regent Road in Lumley cases of several first-time registrants who were rejected or refused the right to register to obtain the voter ID cards, merely on the altar of not having birth certificates, when there are other clear indicators that they are 18 years of age and above.

She says: “In this registration exercise, there is a mission of voter suppression ongoing. The Chairman of ECSL himself had told me that the law says that new registrants must have birth certificates before they are registered, which is against the law. I think what is going on now in Sierra Leone is a clear case of voter registration suppression. What is being done is against our human rights. Hence this is a violation of human rights. This level of voter suppression cannot, will not and should not continue. This is human rights violation.”

Mrs Claudius Cole contends that the present happenings in the VR exercise is beyond just lack of training of ECSL staff and logistical constraints. “It is purely orders from above with a purpose of voter registration suppression,” she adds.

Furthermore, vehicles load of people including citizens and non-citizens are being ferried to Sierra Leone from neighbouring countries to get registered for the purposes of casting vote.

And the most bizarre of all the incidences of malpractices and irregularities, according to reports, is the allegation of ECSL registration officers leaving the shores of Sierra Leone to set up centres in neighbouring border towns like Foya in Liberia to register non-Sierra Leoneans including underage children for the upcoming multi-tier elections on 24 June 2023. According to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foya_District, Foya District is one of six districts located in Lofa County, Liberia. Foya District is the most populous district in Lofa County, with a population of 73,312 people as of the 2008 census. Foya is predominantly occupied by the Kissi tribe. Foya is about 450 km from Monrovia.

Excerpts of such VR malpractices as reported by such media establishments as Standard Times are as follows:

Underage registration in the South-eastern part of Sierra Leone is reportedly ongoing by the National Electoral Commission. Mr Mohammed Konneh, according to inside sources, is deliberately turning blind eyes to the illegal activities and opening his eyes to those allegedly taking place in the North and North West of Sierra Leone….Deliberately he has demonstrated his bias and partiality to a number of illegal activities in the region that has relationship with national electoral process in the country…. Confidence reposed on him, when he assumed the office of Chief Returning Officer is beginning to fade away and the general conclusion reached by majority of Sierra Leoneans seeing the daylight electoral fraud taking place to his knowledge and awareness and unable to put a halt or tries to remedy them through the application of stringent measures is that he lacks the capacity and competence to conduct a transparent credible, fair and free elections. Mr Konneh’s vigilance and capacity to put a halt to most of the electoral fraud orchestrated in the South-East of the country such as the importation of Liberians and other foreign nationals as reported that are loaded in buses and ferried to Sierra Leone and underage registration of children that are far below the age of 18 years among others have since been compromised, sources to NEC remarked….The NEC [ECSL] staff allegedly crossed over the Sierra Leone border to Foya town, Dama Road, behind the Centre High School in Liberia to register only SLPP supporters secretly.”

Another point of note are the concerns raised by the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Hon. Chernor Ramada Maju Bah, as regards the malpractices taking place also in the second phase of the voter registration exercise. In a letter he wrote few days ago to ECSL Chief Commissioner Mohamed Konneh, he states: “Unfortunately, Mr Chief Electoral Commissioner, while some of the initial challenges still persist, new ones are also emerging. They include the Commission’s failure to publish by centers, the figures from the ongoing exercise; political interference with the process at various centers; and intimidation of opposition representatives, community leaders and First Time Voters. The latter is being done by declaring the identification documents of some of the First Time Voters as fake, seizure of such documents, and threatening the owners with police arrest.”

It is clear that the ongoing voter registration exercise in Sierra Leone is festered with pus, which has cast doubt on the sincerity of the ECSL to give Sierra Leoneans free, fair and credible elections in June 2023.

And high level suspicion of electoral fraud may have dangerous ramifications for the country and people of Sierra Leone. ECSL should therefore refrain from going down the path of excessive mistrust and work towards ensuring a free, fair and credible electioneering process leading to the upcoming elections in the country.

Having all eligible Sierra Leoneans register must be the primary objective of the ECSL and all institutions promoting democracy and human rights in Sierra Leone. It is an objective which, when achieved, will bring about the fulfilment of the aspirations of the Sierra Leonean people home and abroad. It will at the same time restore the confidence of the people on the work and activities of the ECSL and increase the nation’s respect for the commission and its Chairman Mohamed Kenewui Konneh.

Wrapping up this piece, Forum would like to say, as US’s Thomas Jefferson once stated, that the care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.

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