31 July 2012
Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commissioner – Christiana Thorpe is never too far away from controversy. If she is not being accused of rigging votes in favour of the ruling APC party as she was in 2007, she will be accused of administrative manipulation of the voter registration system to favour her pay masters.
But yesterday saw opposition politicians of all colours, reeling at the latest bombshell dropped by the Commissioner.
She has massively raised the registration fees for all candidates contesting the presidential and general elections in November. Is she playing politics, or is she demonstrating her sheer lack of business management skills?
“After having reviewed candidates’ nomination fees in accordance with statutory regulations as prescribed in sections 46(1), 60(5) of the Public Elections Act 2012, the National Electoral Commission has prescribed nomination fees for the 2012 Elections as follows:
“Councillors – Two Million Leones (Le2,000,000); Mayors / Chairpersons – Five Million Leones (Le5,000,000); Paramount Chief Members of Parliament – Twenty-five Million Leones (Le25,000,000); Ordinary Member of Parliament – Twenty-five Million Leones (Le25,000,000) and Presidential Candidates – 0ne Hundred Million Leones (Le100,000,000).”
That was the big clanger, dropped by the Electoral Commissioner at a press conference, held in the NEC head office in Freetown yesterday to the horror of cash strapped opposition parties.
This announcement comes just three months before the elections are held, and already the Commissioner is being accused of incompetence, poor planning and deliberate attempt to frustrate the oppositions’ chances of putting on an effective campaign against the government in November.
Commenting on the electoral price hike, the Secretary-General of the main opposition SLPP – Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie, said that; “The increment is ludicrous and an attempt to stifle the opposition and introduce one party rule through the back door.”
“As a party we are calling on other opposition parties to join us to resist any attempt to derail our democratic process by preventing people from aspiring to political office, which is a civic right; and which right should be encouraged,” he maintained.
Critics say that the NEC has spent the last two years planning for the 2012 elections and ought to have known about the increased cost of staging the elections.
She has had plenty of time to make this announcement, but chose to leave it so late.
It is very difficult to see how the Commissioner will defend this late decision and the accusation of incompetence and politicking.
The ruling APC is said to have the advantage of incumbency. It is alleged that the government has used its offices to collect over $100 Million in donation, bribery, and contract kickbacks paid by foreign companies operating in the country.
This NEC decision will prove to be counter-productive in the country’s fight against graft and corruption.
And as the debate intensifies regarding the accusation levied against the vice president – Sam Sumana, for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign businessmen under false pretences to pay for his 2007 electoral ambition, yesterday’s decision by the NEC can only fuel public’s suspicion of political corruption.
This level of electoral taxation will seriously encourage politicians to go to bed with unsavoury characters with money – promising procurement contracts and licences, in return for cash donations to pay the NEC election fees.
Just two months ago, the NEC Commissioner saw her salary increased by a huge margin by the president, without any question of affordability. The president was accused of bribing the Commissioner.
During the press conference yesterday, she informed that the 2012 elections will cost tax payers a whopping Eighty-eight Billion Leones, which is equivalent to $20 Million, making this year’s election the most expensive the country has ever staged.
The NEC has spent over a million dollars on Biometric machines, which for the first time have been used for the registration of voters.
But there are serious doubts as to the cost effectiveness of the machines, given the technical problems and human errors that have been experienced.
The reason for opting for biometric is to avoid the perennial problem of electoral malpractice. But critics of the use of the machines have described them as using a sledge hammer to crack a monkey nut.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average income per capita of less than $1. Yet the cost of democracy is far higher than the government’s budget allocation for much needed medicines and drugs that will save lives.
But can Sierra Leone really afford to spend $20 Million on elections, with rising abject poverty, rising child mortality, and falling standards of education?
Increasing the presidential fee from Le1 million to Le100 millon is indeed ridiculous and will not help the country’s fight against graft, clientelism and corruption.
Political parties were told yesterday by the Commissioner that they have two months to come up with the cash during nomination of candidates. Local council elections – 12th -23rd September 2012; paramount chiefs members of parliament – 29th September -1st October 2012 and presidential and parliamentary elections – 3rd-15th October 2012.
There is a strong call for political parties to mobilise and collectively refuse to pay the increased charges.