Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 February 2020:
Speaker of Sierra Leone’s Parliament – Dr. Abass Bundu has summoned the Director General of the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) – Mr. Mohamed Massaquoi to appear before members of parliament to justify his public notice published last week, threatening citizens to register with the NCRA or lose the right to vote at public elections.
This threat by the NCRA Director General has now caused a major row between the ruling SLPP and opposition parties, prompting the All People’s Congress (APC) and the National Grand Coalition (NGC) yesterday to hold separate press conference on the issue and its threat to the country’s democracy.
Tension in Sierra Leone’s parliament was very high yesterday, during debate in which Dr. Mark Mahmoud Kalokoh, the MP for Constituency 032 in the Bombali District had heated exchanges with ruling SLPP Parliamentarians – Matthew S. Nyuma and Hindolo M. Gevao over the issue, which is being described by the APC as treasonous.
Mahmoud Kalokoh MP told parliament that the NCRA is cloaking itself with powers that it lacks. He said NCRA has no such powers to determine or validate who should vote or be voted for.
“Their responsibility is to make valid identification cards for citizens or to register births, deaths, marriages, adoptions in civil process. They don’t have any mandate to interview people and register them as voters. It is only National Electoral Commission (NEC) that has the constitutional blessing to validate voters and only NEC has the mandate to decide who votes when they conduct public or general elections,” Kalokoh said.
He told MPs that he was speaking up under Section 33 of Sierra Leone’s 1991 Constitution which defines what NEC is supposed to do in terms of voter registration. According to the Bombali MP, the public notice published by the NCRA has undermined the integrity of the NEC.
Objecting to the APC member of parliament’s accusation, SLPP’s Gevao – MP for Kailahun, asked the APC MP to first state the Parliamentary Standing Order upon which he stood to speak on the issue; to which the APC Leader in Parliament – Chernor Ramadan Bah interjected, saying that the National Constitution supersedes Parliamentary Standing Orders.
As the exchanges became intense, Speaker Dr Bundu clarified that MPs are entitled to speak on a constitutional clause or provision, and called on the four APC and SLPP parliamentarians to approach his seat for a quiet chat to calm nerves.
Speaker Abass Bundu then announced to the House that all MPs should remain calm and put the controversial issue on hold until the NCRA DG – Mr. Mohamed Massaquoi meets with MPs in parliament to answer to questions in Committee Room No. 1 next week Thursday.
Outside the heated debate in the well of parliament yesterday, both the APC and NGC held their separate press conference on the issue, following which, the National General Secretary of the APC – Dr Osman Yansaneh, sent a letter to President Julius Maada Bio, advising him about what the APC describes as the treasonous behaviour of the NCRA DG – Mr. Mohamed Massaquoi. This is what the letter says:
ALL PEOPLES CONGRESS (APC) – MOTTO: ACTION PROGRESS COMMITMENT
Headquarters & Western Region: We Yone House
11A Old Railway Line, Freetown.
His Excellency, Dr. Julius Maada Bio President of the Republic of Sierra Leone
Office of the President – State House, Freetown
USURPATION OF PRESIDENTIAL MANDATES AND ATTEMPT TO BREACH THE NATIONAL CONSTITUTION BY THE NCRA.
It is an honour for me to present my compliments of high esteem on behalf of the All Peoples Congress (APC) and to express the hope this letter meets you in good health.
Your Excellency, I have been mandated by the APC to bring to your gracious attention, serious usurpation of constitutional and presidential mandates by the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA).
Your Excellency will be familiar with Section 22 of the Public Elections Act (Act No. 4 of 2012 under the rubric “Notice of intention to compile Register of Voters”. For ease of reference, I here produce the full text of that section:
Section 22: Upon notification by the Electoral Commission, the President may, from time to time, by statutory instrument, make orders –
(a) declaring the intention of the Electoral Commission either generally or in such wards as he may specify in the order to have new Registers of Voters prepared; and
(b) specifying a date for the publication of notices inviting claims from eligible voters under section 23; but any order already in existence, if issued not more than two years earlier, shall be sufficient for the purposes of this section.
Your Excellency will agree with us that as of this moment, you are the ONLY person with the sole mandate to declare for the registration of new Voters or verification of old Voters. Similarly sir, you cannot just make a declaration orally (viva voce) but it has to be done through Statutory Instruments that first need to be laid in Parliament procedurally and with specific legal timeframes within which such declarations can mature and become functional.
However, in a Public Notice dated 20th February 2020, the Director General of the NCRA, Mr. Mohamed M. Massaquoi is purporting to have the powers to make an announcement that only YOU, as the President of Sierra Leone, are empowered to make. Mr. Massaquoi, after purporting to cloak himself with presidential powers to announce a notice of intention to compile Register of Voters for 2022 Elections went further to state that he “wishes to inform the general public that only those whose details are in the Permanent Civil Register will be eligible to obtain Biometric National Identification Cards and to vote in all public elections beginning with the 2022 Local Council Elections”. This was all done under an NCRA press release entitled “Confirmation of Personal Details of Registrants and the Registration of the Unregistered Population (Citizens and Non-Citizens Resident in Sierra Leone)”.
Your Excellency, in addition to cloaking himself with presidential powers which he does not have, the NCRA Director General has also usurped what are the powers of NEC under Section 33 of the Sierra Leone Constitution. By purporting to have such powers under the NCRA Act, his action is in breach of Section 108(7) of the Sierra Leone Constitution which action in accordance with the provisions of Section 108(8) should be considered an act of Treason.
Your Excellency, the APC is bringing these unfortunate developments to your gracious attention in your capacity as Guardian of the Constitution for you to protect the Constitution and also protect our country’s presidential mandate.
Your Excellency, Sections 33 and 108 of the sacred Constitution are quite clear and I here reference them with emphasis placed where pertinent: 1991 Constitution: Section 33: Functions of the Electoral Commission.
33. Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Commission shall be responsible for the conduct and supervision of the registration of voters for, and of, all public elections and referenda; and for that purpose shall have power to make regulations by statutory instrument for the registration of voters, the conduct of Presidential, Parliamentary or Local Government elections and referenda, and other matters connected therewith, including regulations for voting by proxy.
1991 Constitution: Section 32 (ii) In the exercise of any function vested in it by this Constitution the Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the directive and control of any person or authority.
1991 Constitution: Section 108: Alteration of this Constitution.
108.(7) No Act of Parliament shall be deemed to amend, add to or repeal or in any way alter any of the provisions of this Constitution unless it does so in express terms. 108.(8) Any suspension, alteration, or repeal of this Constitution other than on the authority of Parliament shall be deemed to be an act of Treason.
108(9) In this section; a) references to this Constitution include references to any law that amends or replaces any of the provisions of this Constitution; and b) references to the alteration of this Constitution or of any Chapter or section of this Constitution include references to the amendment, modification or re- enactment, with or without amendment or modification, of any provision for the time being contained in this Constitution or Chapter or section thereof, the suspension or repeal of any such provision, the making of different provision in lieu of such provision and the addition of new provisions to this Constitution or Chapter or section thereof, and references to the alteration of any particular provision of this Constitution shall be construed likewise.
Your Excellency, clearly, from the face of the Press Release of the NCRA, it has not taken into consideration, critical and essential steps involved in the Registration of Voters such as outlined in the Public Elections Act (Act No 4 of 2012) and which are considered as international best practice.
For example under the Public Elections Act 2012, Registration Officers in charge of registering citizens for the creation of the “National Register of Voters” are special positions requiring specialised supervision; in order for them to determine whether a Sierra Leone citizen is qualified or not qualified to be a Voter.
Furthermore, “National Register of Voters” itself is sub-divided into Wards and a Voter is qualified/disqualified based on which Ward he/she is ‘ordinarily resident’ and such determination as well as other determination of who is a legitimate voter, require specialised supervision by professionals of NEC.
Your Excellency, by Sierra Leone Law and International Best Practice, there should also be conducted a period of Exhibition of Voters List by Ward so as to enable bonafide residents of such Wards to be able to make challenges to any such name freshly registered in that Ward.
Whilst we recognise that NEC may choose to work with NCRA in extracting data to assist them to compile a National Register of Voters, we in the APC are very concerned that the NCRA is so boldly usurping powers of not only NEC but even the statutory powers of the President of Sierra Leone.
Your Excellency, it is now over two years since your predecessor and brother, H.E. Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma made a declaration, through a Statutory Instrument, for the Registration and Verification of Citizens during the 2017 exercise.
By Law, after two years, such a declaration by your predecessor has lapsed and currently, NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU AS THE SITTING PRESIDENT OF SIERRA LEONE can now make such a fresh declaration to your Citizens calling on them to go and register as Voters.
By Law, under Section 170 (7) of the 1991 Constitution, such a declaration should be sent by you to Parliament for a specified number of days before it can take effect.
Your Excellency, the APC has mandated me to write and bring these serious issues of usurpation of Constitutional Dictates and other Laws to your gracious attention in order to have you take swift executive steps to rectify the ongoing usurpations.
Your Excellency, let me end by extending the kind sentiments of our highest esteem for you and your office.
Amb. Dr. Alhaji Osman Foday Yansaneh – National Secretary General, APC.
CC: Speaker of the House of Parliament
CC: PPRC Chairman
CC: NEC Chairman
CC: Diplomatic Community through the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps CC: Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone
CC: Citizens of Sierra Leone through the Media CC: Chairman & Leader – APC
CC: All Political Parties Association
CC: Leaders of All Registered Political Parties
CC: The Director General NCRA