Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 June 2022:
Leader of Sierra Leone’s opposition parties in parliament – Chernor R. M. Bah MP (Photo above), has written a letter to the country’s Chief Electoral Commissioner – Mr. Mohamed Kenewui Konneh, warning him not to use the much-discredited provisional 2021 census data to manipulate election results, so as to give political advantage to the ruling SLPP party.
This is what Chernor R. M. Bah said in his letter:
Dear Mr. Konneh,
Use Of 2021 Mid –Term Housing And Population Census Data And Introduction Of Proportional Representation System for The June 2023 Elections Will Not Be In The National Interest.
I write to you as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and on behalf of the membership and constituents of the main opposition All Peoples Congress, to share with you and the entire Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, our concerns relating to the use of data from the disputed 2021 Mid –Term Housing and Population Census and also the planned introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system during the June 2023 multi- tier elections.
Mr Chief Electoral Commissioner, since your appointment to this delicate position, you have conducted a good number of elections at chiefdom; ward and constituency levels and you have seen firsthand the level of mistrust and anger that characterizes our national politics and how all of this impact negatively on national peace, cohesion and security. It is undeniable that the undertone for the prevailing political tension in the country is a result of the glaring mistrust the populace has over government institutions.
In the past four years we have recorded many incidents that transformed the civic business of elections and governance into political gaslighting thereby creating a fragile and vulnerable environment for the outbreak of violence as was witnessed in Constituency 110 in the Western Area, in Ward 155 Constituency 046 in Koinadugu district, and recently in Constituency 056 in the Tonkolili district.
From the removal of ten (10) duly elected Opposition Members of Parliament who were replaced with defeated ruling party candidates; to the selection of electoral commissioners without consulting with opposition parties as stipulated by law; to the unprecedented Mid-Term Housing and Population Census which was fraught with several problems, including the withdrawal of funding by major funders; strike actions by enumerators; breakdown of iPads used for capturing data and the widespread boycott of the census; our political environment has been subjected to so much fragility that its electoral and other governance structures are tottering.
It is against this background that I draw your attention to the fact that your conduct as Chief Electoral Commissioner is crucial to the success of our democracy, stability and in pulling the country away from this unfortunate situation it finds itself in. A huge responsibility is upon your shoulders as the due processes and fair outcome of the June 2023 Presidential and General Elections depend on your neutrality relating to any decisions and actions you and the Electoral Commission take now and going forward.
On Tuesday 31st May 2022, the Government announced incredulous Census figures as the country’s total population and population distribution. These very flawed figures, and the haste with which they were put together and announced, in total disregard for national and international technically sound advice given as to timelines and other pertinent criteria, further validated concerns that the central objective of the census exercise is for political rather than national development imperatives.
In addition, we are also aware of the planned introduction of a proportional system that would very likely take the incredulous figures as the basis for allocation of electoral districts and other distributional processes.
Mr Chief Electoral Commissioner, we are hereby again drawing your attention to the fact that these two activities are illegal and not in the national interest of the citizens of this country.
On the legality of the Census, firstly, the instrument was not properly laid in Parliament and even after opposition MPs objected to its impropriety, the Government merely reintroduced the instrument without following the established procedures for it to become legally binding, resulting in the World Bank’s withdrawal of technical and financial support to that process. Secondly, owing to its overtly political objectives, the process was widely rejected by the main opposition APC, several other political parties and a substantial number of members of the public.
As you can see from the strange figures announced on Tuesday, we have been told that our nation’s capital city and its environs is far less populated than the number of voters in this same capital in 2018; that it is smaller than its 2004 census conducted by the SLPP Government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, and that it is smaller than it was in 2015.
This brazenness, arrogance and fakery fly in the face of other projections, surveys and visible evidence of the population of Freetown and its environs. It is indeed a feat of magical proportion that the only regions that grew their population were the South and Eastern Provinces. You would agree with me, Mr. Chief Electoral Commissioner; that such brazen manipulation of critical statistics could constitute considerable risk to national development, peace and security.
Regarding the planned introduction of the PR system, as a lawyer of about two decades of practice and a lawmaker for fifteen years, allow me to explain why like the Mid –Term Census, this too is illegal.
Mr. Commissioner, changes to any part of our 1991 Constitution requires no less than a 2/3 majority because the entire constitution is regarded as an entrenched document. Section 108 only highlights the sections which require a referendum or plebiscite before they could be amended. As a matter of precedent, our Constitution has been amended twice. The first time it was amended was in 2001 for the introduction of the PR system since some parts of the country were still inaccessible. The most recent was in 2013, regarding the election of the Speaker of Parliament. Both amendments were unanimous (all voting in favour), no dissenting voice.
The PR system itself has been tried twice in Sierra Leone in 1996 and in 2002 and on both occasions, it failed because it is incongruous with the Sierra Leone political exposure. With the PR system, MPs are removed from the electorates because under the District Block System, they are chosen by the political parties. Apart from the fact that it takes away the relationship between the people and their representatives, and by extension political accountability of the representative to the constituents; it also further conflicts with the Public Elections Act 2012 in terms of how to deal with petitions relating to quasi criminal offences.
Additionally, such a dramatic change to the electoral system just as major elections are around the corner portends ineffective public participation in the election of especially their parliamentary representatives and undermines the efficacy of democracy in the country.
Of concern also, is our understanding that there is a plan to use the Public Elections Act to introduce a PR system. Any attempt to do so is unconstitutional as there is no way legally to introduce an amendment to the Constitution without it going through the Constitutional Amendment procedure. Please be guided that Acts of Parliament may be used to give effect to the Constitution but not amend it.
Essentially, the PR system will be a disaster for democracy in our beloved nation. It is thus suspicious why the Government would insist on introducing a system that has failed twice especially when Section 38 of the Sierra Leone 1991 Constitution is very clear on the circumstances under which the PR system could be used.
I therefore beseech you to use your good offices and good conscience to refrain from being a part of any attempt to undermine democracy through the use of discredited data from a disputed census; as well as the imposition of an electoral system that has already been twice proven to be inappropriate for our country. At this very critical moment when political tensions are so high, political dialogue and consensus building have become non-existent; the onus is on you to employ tact, caution, fairness and neutrality.
In the discharge of this great responsibility, let your decisions and actions burnish your integrity, highlight your patriotism and position you prominently on the positive side of history.
Hon. Chernor R. M. Bah, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament
1. The Resident Coordinator, United Nations
2.The British High Commissioner
3. The United States Ambassador
4. The Head of Delegation – European Union
5. The Irish Ambassador
6.The German Ambassador
7. The Nigerian High Commissioner
8. The Chairman, PPRC