Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 October 2021:
The British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Lisa Chesney this week visited the country’s chief electoral commissioner – Mohamed Konneh to discuss plans and processes for the staging of local, parliamentary, and presidential elections in 2022 and 2023.
Writing on twitter after their meeting, Lisa Chesney said that “free, fair and credible elections are the foundation for democracy and societal development.”
There is little doubt those discussions would have also included allegations of vote rigging by National Electoral Commission (NEC) staff in favour of the ruling SLPP at the recent bye-elections held in Koinadugu.
These allegations and the seeming inability of the police to enforce law and order, and their complicity in voter fraud, have called into question the independence and impartiality of NEC management and staff in conducting free and fair elections.
Opposition political parties are calling for a swift review and restructuring of NEC ahead of 2022/2023 elections to avoid instability, widespread chaos and violence that could have dire consequences for the country’s democracy and economic development.
Two weeks ago, the Secretary General of the main opposition APC party said in a statement: “We wish to draw the attention of all to yet another instance of institutionalised electoral malpractice involving staff of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the manner in which that institution has conducted the bye-elections for the Koinadugu District Council Chairman and Ward 155 held on 2nd October, 2021. We note with great concern that during these elections our polling agents caught staff of NEC directly tampering with results and altering them in favour of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
“During the Tally process for the Councillor for Ward 155, the ICT Staff tampered with the results for Station (1), at the MCA Primary School in Fumbakoro in favour of the SLPP. Also, the correct scores which were 049 for SLPP and 083 for APC for that Station, signed by NEC officials, polling agents and observers, were fraudulently entered by a NEC staff as 149 for SLPP, leaving the APC votes the same. This was what criminally inflated the SLPP Candidate’s votes by an extra 100 and fraudulently affected the final outcome of the bye election for Councillor for Ward 155. The Reconciliation and Result Forms (RRF) clearly confirm the facts.
“We produced our copies of the RRF signed by NEC officers and polling agents which carried the same figures as those on the original copy in NEC’s custody, yet the presiding Commissioner, Edmond Alpha from the Southern Region who was sent to oversee elections in North refused to make the necessary correction before making the provisional announcement of the results.
“Rather, he asked the APC to raise objections with the Commission which we did in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Commission on 5th October 2021. Regrettably, the Chairman ignored the evidence we provided and went ahead on Wednesday, 6th October 2021 to confirm the fake results. This gives credence to the spate of institutionalized electoral fraud being perpetrated by a collusion of NEC officers and known SLPP operatives.”
“Sierra Leoneans and the international community have invested so much in trying to nurture and sustain democracy in Sierra Leone. A lot of resources and effort have also gone into reforming NEC to strengthen its capacity to conduct credible elections. Regrettably, what the Commission has demonstrated is the highest degree of electoral fraud that renders the entire electoral process irrelevant if NEC officials can change results with impunity. This will not only undermine confidence in the ability of NEC to conduct credible elections, it will also threaten the peace and stability of this country.
“We therefore demand that an immediate recount of the votes for Ward 155 based on the NEC certified RRFs be conducted with a view to making sure that they reflect the will of the Koinadugu electorate; identify and take appropriate actions against the NEC officials involved in the perpetration of electoral fraud; and getting the National Electoral Commission to respect the law and best international electoral practices. The APC will utilize all legal and reasonable means at our disposal to continue to seek redress.
“By this Press Statement we hope democratic state institutions, non-state actors, members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, our development partners, the international community and Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad are alive to yet another sad commission of recklessness, indiscipline and lawlessness by state officials. What we have witnessed since this government came to power is a speedy erosion of the country’s democratic credentials. The bye-elections at Constituency 110 and Tonkoh Limba and several other instances of electoral fraud are but a sad testimony to this fact.”
Last week, the popular and credible online US-based Africanist Press accused the government and ruling SLPP party of paying staff at the NEC to rig elections.
According to the Africanist Press, “recent salary increases for electoral staff in Sierra Leone cast new doubt over the independence and credibility of the country’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) and its ability to organize free and fair elections in a country whose political environment is now increasingly marred by electoral violence and renewed allegations of vote rigging. The new concerns over the electoral body’s independence and fairness have emerged after payroll documents show that the Ministry of Finance unilaterally raised the monthly wages of NEC staff in April 2021 without authority from parliament.”
“The new wage increases raise the salaries of NEC staff, including drivers and domestic staff of senior officials, by 40% to 75%. This action has been taken despite a cabinet position against the implementation of wage increases for staff of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), ahead of the inception of a Wages and Compensation Commission (WCC).”
Africanist Press says that: “Despite this freeze on salary increases, Finance Ministry officials implemented unilateral increases in salaries, allowances, and other benefits of all electoral staff, including NEC Commissioners and their ancillary employees. Analysis shows that the monthly gross pay of the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Mohamed K. Konneh, was raised from Le51,187,500 in FY2020 to Le83,434,250.00 in FY2021; a monthly increase of Le32,246,750.00 (or 61.3%).
“Likewise, the salaries of both Electoral Commissioners, Edmond Alpha and Marian S. Nyumah-Moijeuh, were also raised from a monthly gross pay of Le40,607,500.00 in FY2020 to Le71,572,575.00 in FY2021; an increase of Le30,965,075.00 (about 75%). The aggregate new annual pay of all three current NEC commissioners amounted to Le1,873,619,250.00; a yearly increase of Le771,944,250.00 in addition to the Wage Bill for the three top officials in NEC’s staff cadre.
“Africanist Press also aggregated the monthly gross pay of all 201 staff on NEC’s payroll, excluding the Commissioners’ salaries above, and found that the new salary increases for electoral staff have driven the monthly Wage Bill of NEC upwards to Le2,896,673,552.29, representing a monthly increase of Le696,993,899.60 on the national Wage Bill. Thus, the annual aggregate wages of all NEC staff, including drivers, office assistants, and domestic employees of NEC Commissioners on the payroll, now amounts to Le34,760,082,627.43; an increase of Le8,363,926,795.21 in national expenditure on wages.
“Africanist Press compared the new salaries of NEC staff with salaries of security sector workers, especially those in the military, police, and prison’s department. Current pay increases now put NEC staff among the most highly paid public sector workers in Sierra Leone. Findings indicate that, for the most part, even office assistants on the new NEC payroll now earn more than most non-commissioned officers and private ranks of the Sierra Leone military.
“For instance, the 27 office assistants on NEC’s new payroll are all receiving a uniform basic monthly salary of Le1,589,875.00, while staff sergeants in the Sierra Leone military receive a basic monthly pay of Le1,490,147.00. Similarly, senior drivers on NEC’s payroll are paid more than most junior officers in the army, including captains and lieutenants.
“For comparison, a captain in the Sierra Leone military currently receives a basic monthly salary of Le2,342,385.00, while the basic salary of a lieutenant is still Le2,004,334.00. Analysis by Africanist Press shows that three ancillary staff on NEC’s payroll – the senior driver, assistant senior deriver, and vehicle examiner – receive basic monthly wages of between Le3,094,819.67 and Le2,737,725.16. Similarly, each of the 26 Senior Electoral Officers or District Elections Managers on NEC’s payroll receive basic salaries of Le11,047,282.10, which is twice that of the monthly basic salaries of Colonels (Le5,952,304.00) and Lieutenant Colonels (Le4,405,589.00).
“Findings show a similar situation in which the 12 highest-paid members of the senior management cadre of the Sierra Leone Corrections Department, including the director general, deputy director general, director of corrections and 9 other assistant directors of corrections, all receive monthly wages of between Le10,019,614 and Le4,353,565.
“Thus, on average, the aggregate annual salaries of the three NEC Commissioners alone are equivalent to the combined annual salaries of over 500 junior officers and NCOs in the Sierra Leone military. Further, the annual gross salary of Mohamed K. Konneh, NEC’s Chairperson and Chief Electoral Commissioner (Le680,617,800.00), is almost six times higher than that of the director general of the Sierra Leone Correctional Services, Joseph Lamboi (Le120,235,368).
“The recent increases in salaries of NEC staff raise suspicions as to the impartiality of the country’s electoral commission, and calls into question the institution’s ability to organize free and fair elections in a country where the independence of democratic institutions has been consistently eroded over the last three years.
“In addition to these new pay increases, administrative records of the electoral commission accessed by the Africanist Press show that in March 2021, NEC officials implemented an institutional restructuring and promotions program designed to place alleged SLPP members and active supporters in strategic positions with higher salaries and decision-making abilities.
“New directorate positions were recently created and staffed by alleged ruling party sympathizers or supposed members. For example, Momoh Kanneh, former chief elections officer in the northern region, was promoted to director of voter education. Similarly, Mohamed Turay, chief elections officer in the northwest region, has been appointed director of NEC operations; and Henry Swaray, previously chief elections officer in charge of the Voters Roll, has been promoted to director of the Voters Roll.
“With their newly created directorate positions and appointments, all three elections officers have enjoyed a 70% increase in their monthly wages, and occupy strategic management positions. Swaray, for instance, is currently assigned to the National Civil Registration Authority to help consolidate voter records for the upcoming 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections.
“In other cases, Africanist Press found that NEC staff believed to be SLPP members were deployed or assigned to supposed opposition party strongholds, where they have been placed in strategic elections management positions. For example, Musa Kangbai, a NEC district elections officer from Kenema, has been appointed Assistant Director of Procurement.
“In this new position, Kangbai is now in charge of procuring ballot papers and other elections materials for the upcoming 2023 elections. The investigation discovered that Kangbai was among several individuals accused of tampering with ballot papers in polling areas across the Kenema district during the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections.
“A similar pattern exists with three other appointees: Umaru Fomba, Paul Simbo, and Ibrahim Kanneh. These are all alleged members or active supporters of the SLPP who have been strategically promoted to newly-created administrative positions. Fomba, for example, was promoted from district elections officer in Kambia to Assistant Director of the northwest region. Fomba was also accused of ballot stuffing during the Thonko Limba bye-elections in 2019. Paul Simbo was promoted, without any reference to his qualification and experience, from district elections officer in Bo to the position of Assistant Director of Ethics, a newly-created department under the supervision of the NEC chairperson.
“Ibrahim Kanneh was promoted from the position of Information and Technology officer in the northwest region to Assistant Director in charge of the Voter Roll and Data. Kanneh had served NEC for barely a year before his new appointment. Each of these district elections officers in these newly-created assistant director positions are receiving gross monthly pay of Le19,178,081.72, which represents a 58% salary increase from their previous monthly wages (Le11,809,163 in FY2020).
While all of NEC’s 204 staff, including drivers and domestic employees of commissioners, received new salary increases, NEC staff records and payroll documents show that only staff alleged or believed to be SLPP members were considered for promotion under the new restructuring and promotions program. At the district level, for example, assistant district elections officers who were promoted to district elections managers were mostly individuals believed to be members of the SLPP, or from areas considered SLPP strongholds.
“For instance, Baleyma Musa, a staff member believed to be an active SLPP supporter from Kenema, is now elections manager in Bo. Baleyma Musa was assistant to Musa Kangabai in Kenema when the alleged tampering of ballot papers was carried out during the 2018 elections. Likewise, Augustine Saffa who was transferred from Kambia as district elections officer, now holds the position of district elections manager in Kenema. Other promotions and postings include Augustine Mohamed (recently placed in charge of elections in Portloko), Henry Thompson (Moyamba), Charles Ensa (Karene), Usifu Kamara (Kono), Larry Fangawa (Western Urban), Louissa Gbassa (Western Rural), and Fatmata Jalloh (Pujehun).
“We have published on the Africanist Press website excerpts of relevant payroll documents to demonstrate the evidence upon which this report is based. For more details see: https://africanistpress.com/2021/10/10/sierra-leone-recent-salary-increases-for-electoral-commission-staff-cast-doubt-over-the-possibility-of-a-free-and-fair-election-in-2023/