President Bio appoints new chief electoral commissioner amid controversy

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 July 2020:

Yesterday’s controversial announcement by State House in Freetown, that:  “It has pleased His Excellency the President-  Brig. Dr. Julius Maada Wonnie Bio to appoint Mr. Mohamed Kenewui Konneh as Chairman and Chief Electoral Commissioner of  National Electoral Commission (NEC), subject to the approval of Parliament” has triggered fierce debate about whether Mr Konneh is constutionally qualified for the job. Photo above: Mohamed Kenewui Konneh.

Konneh’s appointment comes after the incumbent Chief Electoral Commissioner – Mohamed N’Fa Allie Conteh, whose term in office ended in February 2020, was not renewed by the president.

But few had expected the president to renew Mohamed N’Fa Allie Conteh’s contract, after what many in Sierra Leone regard as his spectacular failure to oversee the 2018 general and presidential elections, dogged by accusations of electoral fraud, malpractices and several High Court petitions that are still ongoing, casting doubts on the results and outcome of those elections.

Given such controversy and its knock-on effect on the integrity of and confidence in Mohamed N’Fa Allie Conteh, politicians across the divide are breathing a sigh of relief that his contract has not been renewed by the president. Conteh was appointed by former President Ernest Bai Koroma.

But why is there a big debate about the president’s latest appointment?

Mohammed Kenewui Konneh is the current Director of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). He has an M.Phil. in Accounting and B.Sc. Economics (Honours) in Accounting from the University of Sierra Leone. He is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE); Member of the International Compliance Association (ICA) with an International Diploma in Financial Crime Prevention from ICA

According to his resume published on the FIU website, he attended several strategic professional development and management courses including: Fraud Investigation Management, Strategy &Techniques; Data analytics and Uncovering Fraud, using Financial Record Analysis; Planning and Conducting Vendor Audit and Contract and Procurement Fraud investigations; Institutional Risk Management: Monitory and Evaluation techniques; Money Laundering and Illicit Financial Flows and Financing Terrorism in Africa; Management and Leadership courses.

In terms of professional experience, Konneh has had over 18 years of extensive practical and strategic experience in financial crime investigation and promoting good governance in Sierra Leone and regional level.

He worked at the African Development Bank (AfDB) for 9 years, leading investigations into allegations of financial crimes in the implementation of the African Development Bank’s funded projects in Africa and in its internal operations; and credited for several successful investigations into financial crime, debarment of multilateral firms for sanctionable practices and implementation of compliance systems by the debarred firms, and improvement in the Bank’s internal processes.

Before joining the AfDB in 2009, Konneh worked in the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone for nine years as Investigation Officer, Senior Professional Standard Officer and Head of Asset Declaration Unit, where he is said to have ‘successfully’ managed the first public servants’ Assets Declaration process in Sierra Leone, and investigated many corruption cases that led to the imprisonment of public officials and improvement of good governance systems.

But despite these qualifications and work experience, many believe he is not qualified to be appointed as electoral commissioner. Why?

The argument put forward by critics is that: “According to Section 32(4a) Act No 6 of the 1991 constitution, a person shall not be qualified  for appointment as a member of the Electoral Commission if he is not qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament. And that according to Section 76(1b) Act No 6 of the 1991 Constitution, no person shall be qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament if he is a public officer unless he/she has resigned 12 months prior to the date on which he seeks to be elected to parliament.”

Critics argue that Mr Konneh is the current Director General (DG) of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit, and therefore cannot be qualified for appointment as Chief Electoral Commissioner, as he ought to have resigned his position as head of the FIU – at least 12 months prior to his appointment as Electoral Commissioner by the president.

Section 32(4) of the 1991 Constitution also says that: “The members of the Electoral Commission shall be a Chief Electoral Commissioner, who shall be the Chairman, and four other members who shall be known as Electoral Commissioners.” And that:

“The members of the Electoral Commission shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the leaders of all registered political parties and subject to the approval of Parliament.”

Yesterday, the main opposition APC party issued a strongly worded public statement, opposing the president’s decision to appoint a new Chief Electoral Commissioner without consultation with the political parties in the country as required by the constitution, and in contravention of Section 32(4a) Act No 6 of the 1991 constitution.

This is what the opposition APC said:

“The All Peoples Congress Political Party (hereinafter the APC) takes note of the Public Notice dated 20th July 2020 in which said notice it is announced that His Excellency President Bio has appointed Mr. Mohamed Konneh, the present head of the Financial Intelligence Unit, as his nominee to fill the vacant position of Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

We wish to inform the general public and in particular our faithful supporters that by letter dated 13th July 2020, the Secretary to the President, Dr. Julius Sandy, forwarded the Curriculum Vitae (CV) of Mr. Mohamed Konneh to the APC Secretary General and informing the APC that Mr. Konneh will be the proposed nominee of His Excellency the President to fill the vacant position of Chairman of NEC.

The APC replied by way of a letter dated 15th July 2020 acknowledging receipt of the CV of Mr Konneh and informing the Secretary to the President that the party will get back to His Excellency as soon as possible.

A day after forwarding this letter we followed it up with telephone calls including a text message to the Secretary to the President asking when it will be convenient for our party to submit its position on the issue to the President. We did not receive any reply.

After consultations within our party we forwarded a letter to the Secretary to the President on the 16 July 2020 informing His Excellency the President that after due consultation with the political and legal structures of the party, the APC is of the considered view that the proposed Commissioner of NEC, Mr. Mohamed Konneh, stands disqualified given that he did not meet the conditions precedent as set out in Section 32(4)(a)&(b) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone as he is a “Public Officer” and not on the Register of Electors.

Section 32(4) (a) & (b) is produced hereunder for clarity and the avoidance of any doubt:

32 (4) A person shall not be qualified—

  1. for appointment as a member of the Electoral Commission if he is not qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament, or
  2. to hold office as a member of the Electoral Commission if he is a Minister, a Deputy Minister, a Member of Parliament, or a public officer, or if he has attained the age of sixty-five years.

It is the position of the APC that Mr. Mohamed Konneh, the proposed Electoral Commissioner of NEC, stands disqualified on both limbs.

First, he is not qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament because his name is not on the register of electors as required by section 75 (b) of the 1991 Constitution. Equally, he is disqualified under section 76(b) from being elected as a Member of Parliament as he is a “public officer” currently in the employ of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) as its Director.

Similarly, Section 32(4) (b) of the 1991 Constitution prohibits public officers from being appointed as member of the Electoral Commission.

We have also taken due cognisant of section 171(4) of the constitution and we are satisfied that Mr. Mohamed Konneh doesn’t fall within the exemptions contemplated therein in view of the High Court rulings in election petition matters involving Suliama Marray Conteh as petitioner and Osman Abdal  Timbo as respondent before the Hon. Justice Komba Kamanda (J) and Emmanuel Sahr Gbeki and Hariyatu Ariana Bangura presided over by Justice Alhaji Momoh Jah Stevens (J). Until those judgments are overturned, they are the laws of the land.

The APC is surprised that instead of engaging the party further on the issues raised by our letter of the 16th July 2020 and do proper consultations pursuant to section 32 (3) of the 1991 Constitution, the President proceeded to appoint Mr. Mohamed Konneh as Commissioner of NEC.

Let there be no doubt that the position of the APC is that Mr. Mohamed Konneh is disqualified to be appointed Commissioner of NEC and further that the party stands ready to institute legal proceedings to enforce strict adherence to the provisions of the 1991 Constitution.

 “Signed: Amb. Dr Alhaji Osman Foday Yansaneh National Secretary General – APC”

READ THE FULL STATEMENT HERE:

APPOINTMENT OF NEC CHAIRMAN – APC STATEMENT – 20072020

4 Comments

  1. Mohamed Konneh is not qualified as per the dictates of the national constitution. But SL constitution is being bastardized day in day out by Paopa. Two, Mohamed Konneh is known to be a member of SLPP for over 16 years. Again SL Parliament has been thoroughly polluted!

  2. The APC party is up to their usual game of destroying the image of reputable people, that have spent decades to build their reputation. First they complained about Mr. N’fa Alie Conteh, and now after intense consultations by our beloved president with all the political parties in our country (APP), the destructive APC party is ready to throw a “ monkey wrench” in the parliamentary confirmation process, of Mr. Mohamed Konneh as the new NEC chairman in order to make him the scapegoat, because they have already realized that they will lose the 2023 presidential elections.

    With the rapid transforming that is sweeping the entire nation, President Bio will be guaranteed a landslide re-election. Finally, with the majority of SLPP parliamentarians combined with the other opposition parties, the confirmation of Mr. Konneh is already a done deal. Hopefully this time around, based on what just transpired in their stronghold city of Makeni, the destructive APC “ Ayampies” will think twice before orchestrating another riot.

  3. One takes the view, since the electoral commission and its head are meant to be independent, suffice to say before the appointment of its head, all stake holders or political parties have to agree. The office of the head of this commission should not only be seen to be competent, but independently competent – both to the parties and the general electorate as a whole.The reason is quiet simple. If there is a dispute, he should be able to have the confidence of the people that what ever he utters should be treated like gold dust.

    By imposing this leader not only on political parties and the voting public without much way of scrutiny, president Bio is once again saying tough luck to anyone that disagrees with him. More like either his way or the highway. This is no way of fostering good and reliable relationships with the chairman of the electoral commission and the opposition parties. It is dangerous, and it undermines confidence and future elections results. Even when we have clear cut winners, lets say the SLPP wins over the required threshold to form a government, the APC party will raise objection. So then it comes to the electoral commission to work out what went wrong.

    So in that kind of scenario, how will the commission convince the APC that the results were not cooked up. After all the head of the commission was appointed without the blessing of the APC. In the interest peace and stability the president should really learn to listen and not do things through dictat. We live in a democracy. May God bless Sierra Leone.

  4. Yeah. The APC is doing what any serious-minded, matured and experienced political party should do, with such a controversial political appointment in an institution that should be respected and remain neutral. The APC going out there and making such a powerful statement is the right thing in the winning direction. Anyway, the NEC is going to be irrelevant in the upcoming 2023 general elections in terms of the election results, because the APC is going to win the Presidential election by a considerable margin if they do the right thing. The NRM issue and the next party leadership issue, if handled properly, which I believe they will do, will kill the SLPP in areas such as Kono district, Bombali district, Koinadigu District, Kambia district and of course the Western Area. More importantly, the SLPP will be dented in the south and east by the PMDC. My advice to the APC leadership is to analyse the word “C4C” very carefully.

    It says, Coalition four change, BREAK; and the program will CONTINUE at some point. Again, the APC party, going out there making such a powerful statement tells me that they are not complacent and are not going to let anything that will make them lose the next election will go away without fighting back to put things right. What a fantastic and brilliant political strategic move there by the APC leadership! So, no cause for concern for this new CV qualified NEC chairman, but unqualified for the job according to what we are hearing. Again, as long as the APC leadership and members do the right thing and the SLPP party don’t change their candidate for the next presidential elections, then, the APC is going to win overwhelmingly and force the NEC and its chairman out of the election results equation.

    That is what is going to happen. Believe me. God bless our former Commander in Chief of the Republic of Sierra Leone armed forces, Cheif Sam Sumana, Dr Samura Kamara, Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyer, Dr Sylvia Blyden and of course the gallant Rtd Major Paolo Conteh the great. Long live Sierra Leone.

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