National Grand Coalition Party: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 September 2022
The National Grand Coalition party (NGC) has been monitoring the conduct of the registration of voters by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) since the exercise started on 3rd September 2022 and supporting the process through sensitization and massive mobilization of potential voters in towns, chiefdoms, villages and communities.
After five days of registration, the NGC has been able to compile the following observations based on which our party will make some recommendations:
1) The ECSL has informed us that it has only 2000 computers to service over 3,600 registration centres. This is grossly inadequate and has caused a whole lot of complications that are confusing people who want to register. Firstly, because they do not have enough computers for all the centres, the ECSL declared registration to be done in two phases, first two weeks in one centre and the next two weeks in another.
The choice of registering now or waiting for second phase registration has become quite confusing and difficult for the ordinary citizens who do not have a clear understanding of, or may not even trust this two-speed system.
2) In addition to the extremely inadequate quantity of equipment available, there are several technical problems which need urgent attention and if not corrected could lead to a total failure and general public rejection of the registration exercise. These include faulty computers, faulty cameras, faulty thumb print scanners and centre code mismatches. Power source for operating the machines have been unreliable due to time-wasting power outages or faulty generators.
3) The NGC is concerned about the recurring technical inadequacies that seem to define critical national engagements in Sierra Leone. We recall that Government had to beg for used machines from Kenya to conduct its controversial 2021 mid-term census some of which were scrap; and now, for an exercise as serious as voter registration we are yet again facing the reality of malfunctioning equipment. If Government can spend so much money on pointless travels and other frivolities it is indeed baffling that they cannot support our Electoral Commission with machines that function properly.
4) As could be expected some of the staff trained are still not confident or conversant with their duties. This fact added to the technical issues mentioned earlier has contributed to the very slow pace of the registration process so far. In some centres where hundreds of people turn up for registration the numbers registered could be as low as 89. The damage caused by this slow pace of registration is enormous.
Some traders, housewives and workers have expressed their frustration and anger at the sluggishness of the process and may have to face a choice between waiting for long hours to register or going about their daily business. There is therefore a distinct possibility of demotivation and subsequent withdrawal by many potential registrants who simply cannot afford to spend too much time in the queue.
5) It has been observed that these technical and other difficulties that have been slowing down registration tend to be more prevalent in the Northern and Western regions whereas Eastern and Southern regions appear to be facing less problems. This is causing speculations that there may be a methodical effort to churn out figures that will rhyme with the disputed mid-term census results; they shockingly indicated higher population figures for some cities in the South and East than for the country’s capital. If there is sufficient evidence to support this claim of deliberate manipulation, then it is the ECSL that will bear responsibility.
6) Special mention must be made of young voters who will be voting for the first time. This first experience of participation in the democratic process for many of them unfortunately is turning out to be a nightmare: in some cases, their documentation including school examination results and birth certificates have been rejected, stakeholders such as pastors, imams were given a limit to the number of registrants that they could identify, councillors were debarred from identifying community dwellers, and there were not enough entry registers for potential first-time voters. These issues certainly have extremely negative mental and psychological effects on first time voters and can permanently and completely shut down their interest and participation in the democratic process.
7) Some centres start operations as late as 9.30 am or close down as early as 4 pm. This must be discouraged because it is another demotivating factor for people wanting to register.
8) The NGC believes that citizens however poor or deprived must be treated with respect at all times. Our monitoring team has been receiving complaints from people queueing to register regarding preferential treatment given to Big Men who are made to jump the queue. The ECSL must ensure that this matter is addressed so that it does not become a source of anger conflict and violence at the registration centres.
9) The NGC applauds the transparency of the process so far and congratulates the ECSL for not concealing its challenges and shortcomings (such as insufficient equipment and staff), for freely providing accreditation to political parties and other observers, for controlling security agents’ involvement with the process and for the briefing given to political parties at the extraordinary meeting of the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC) meeting held on Friday 2nd September 2022.
10) The NGC also observes the great public interest and enthusiasm for this voter registration and commends the sensitization efforts of political parties, civil society organizations and government agencies with diverse support from international partners. We look forward to a very successful voter registration process that will be satisfactory to all parties concerned.
To this end we would like to make the following recommendations:
- That without any delay ECSL should give clear and unambiguous instructions to its staff on the ground and information to the general public about documentation and stakeholder-based verification of registrants so that everyone shall have a clear understanding of the correct procedures, staff do not have to rely on their discretion and especially first-time voters are not treated unfairly.
- ECSL must create conditions and apply measures that make the registration process more friendly to first-time voters.
- ECSL must come out with a clear statement about its technical challenges and request immediately from Government the supply of functioning computers and other relevant equipment that will ease the burden it now carries in executing a problematic double-phase registration exercise.
- The ECSL must adopt a No voter left behind policy and consequently assure citizens that no eligible voter willing to register shall be excluded from registration because of the technical and other challenges it is facing, and that if need be the voter registration period will be extended in support of that policy.
- The NGC recommends that for the purpose of transparency and accountability, sharing observations, experiences, criticisms and recommendations that will help ECSL to improve on its performance, a special consultative meeting of the PPLC should be convened before the start of Phase II of the registration exercise.
- The NGC also uses this opportunity to congratulate the citizens of Sierra Leone for their enthusiasm and also encourage them to make any sacrifice necessary and do everything in their power to register to vote. No citizen must allow another person to choose his/her leader. It is your right given by the Constitution and blessed by Allah/God. You will lose that right if you do not register.
- SIERRA LEONEANS! PLEASE MAKE TIME TO REGISTER FOR THE HISTORIC ELECTIONS IN 2023!
Signed: Dr. Dennis Bright, National Chairman and Leader, NGC
14 NAIMBANA STREET, FREETOWN. Tel: +23276542046