SLPP update on biometric voter registration in Sierra Leone

Ali Badara Kamara – SLPP National Secretary General

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 March 2017

Since March 20, 2017 when registration started, the SLPP has monitored the process throughout the country with agents in all 3,300 registration centres across the country. Overall, the Party has several concerns about both the process and technology. Below are some of the key concerns.

1) The SLPP is disturbed by the slow pace of the registration. Field reports indicate an average time of 25 minutes to register a person. Since registration started on March 20, 2017, we have not received report from any centre able to meet the daily minimum registration target of 80. The long time spent to register a person is primarily due to the fact that the voter registration has been merged with the civil registration which has no legal basis in spite of the fact that the SLPP and many Civil Society Organisations had repeatedly called for separation of the two processes.

The fusion of the two processes has created the ugly situation wherein information requested from a registrant for civil registration is so much and completely unwarranted for voter registration.

There is also the low capacity of the registration staff, particularly the machine operators. This low capacity can only be due to the skewed staff recruitment process.

This long time spent is discouraging many people from coming forward for registration. There is evidence of people who have been to registration centres for hours and in some cases even days without being registered. Some of these people may have been discouraged to come forward again for registration. The consequence of this is that total registration will be lower than target in most wards or constituencies or districts.

The SLPP proposes that information requested at this stage be restricted to those required only for voter registration. All additional information can be made available by the time registered voters come forward to collect their voter ID cards.

2) The SLPP is also worried that in several registration centres, particularly in Kailahun, Pujehun, Bonthe and Bombali districts, the machines have not been functional since registration started. Where machines have started working, there are reports of breakdown of machines due to battery problem even though the National Electoral Commission (NEC) had informed political parties that the solar panels can provide power for the machines for at least 10 hours a day and therefore no generator would be required. It is now abundantly clear that battery failure is a key obstacle to uninterrupted registration.

In the light of this, the SLPP proposes that stand-by generators be provided to the district offices or wards to ensure smooth and uninterrupted registration.

3) The long distances to registration centres continue to be another challenge. As stated in the Press Statement on March 14, 2017, several communities are over five miles away from registration centres. Such long distances surely demotivate voters to come forward for registration. Political parties therefore have the additional burden of transporting people to registration centres. Obviously, the ruling APC with access to state resources including government vehicles will be at an advantage.

The SLPP proposes that the NEC considers rotating the registration kits within wards in consultation with political parties and local authorities to highly populated communities or areas equidistant to communities where there are presently no centre.

4) The SLPP would like to reiterate its earlier concern about the Boundary Delimitation which is yet to receive parliamentary approval and restate that this delay is caused by the APC Government wanting to factor in the outcome of the chiefdom de-amalgamation and creation of new districts in the Boundary Delimitation.

The SLPP has taken the position that for the present purposes, the Government focuses on the election and postpones the implementation of chiefdom de-amalgamation and creation of new districts until after the next general election. Any attempt to implement this policy now will have huge cost and time implications for the electoral timetable. The Party again urges the NEC to explain the status of the Boundary Delimitation to the general public.

5) The SLPP is reliably informed that despite huge budgetary allocation (non-salary recurrent) of Le 209.534 billion in the 2017 budget, not more than Le 10 billion has so far been disbursed to the NEC. This has constrained the NEC to intensify its sensitisation campaign, deploy back-up when machines breakdown at registration centres, make available stand-by generators to power the cheap batteries provided to registration teams and provide all the wherewithal for smooth registration.

Perhaps even more serious is that NEC staff are starved in the field because the Commission did not provide anything for feeding of the staff. Meanwhile, there are media reports of huge donations by Government ministers and other public officials from unknown sources to the ruling APC. Such huge donations is indicative of growing public outcry of unexplained wealth which should be subject of investigation if the Anti-Corruption Commission is that responsible and effective in the discharge of its duties.

Whilst the SLPP is not oblivious of the funding position of Government caused largely by huge and often unbudgeted spending, it considers the failure of the APC Government to disburse funds committed to election as deliberate and part of its calculated ploy to create a bad image of the NEC so that it can use it as an alibi to interrupt the electoral timetable.

The SLPP despises such ploy by the ruling APC Government and urges it to provide necessary funding. The Party continues to urge Government to postpone the implementation of its de-amalgamation plan which will surely warrant revisiting the boundary delimitation and the planned referendum on the revised national constitution and instead direct funding to the election process. The SLPP also calls on development partners to make available now part of the funding they have pledged to ensure smooth registration and thus the quality of the elections.

6) The SLPP participated in the mock registration conducted by NEC on March 16, 2017. Since there was no platform to discuss after the mock registration, the SLPP had done a letter to NEC seeking answers to the following questions but is yet to hear from them:

i) How many machines were imported for this process?

ii) Can you make available to political parties the serial numbers of the machines by district?

iii) What is the distribution of backup machines per district?

iv)Are the machines distributed serially by district? Can that be shared with the political parties?

v) Is it possible to retrieve data from the machines?

vi) Who are the manufacturers of the machines and server?

vii) How is the data collation done? Is it centralized or decentralised? If decentralised, will it be carried out at district or region level?

viii) How frequently will collation of data be done?

ix) What is the capacity of each machine or literally, how many persons can it accommodate? Are the capacity of all machines the same?

x) How secure is the data?

xi) Where is the server located?

xii) Is it true that the data will be transmitted to the server at the National Civil Registration Authority as the registration progresses?

xiii) If no in xii, when will the data be provided to NCRA?

xiv) When will matching be done? How many political party agents would you require for matching?

The SLPP urges the NEC to respond to these questions at its earliest convenience to avoid unnecessary suspicions that would taint the credibility of the process

Finally, the SLPP would like to remind NEC, Government, donors and the public about its earlier position on the use Biometric Voter Verification on polling day. The Party will continue to engage the necessary stakeholders on this and calls on Government and development partners to provide the needed resources for this purpose.

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