Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP): Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 December 2021:
The general public and the international community will recall that on several occasions the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP) had warned the Government of Sierra Leone that it was imprudent, unwise and wasteful to embark on a census before the end of the usual ten years period in which censuses are normally held.
In spite of explanations from Statistics Sierra Leone (SSL) that the mid-term census was intended to be used exclusively for national development purposes, COPPP through some of its members advised Statistics Sierra Leone of our suspicion that the real reasons for this census was to create new Districts and Constituency boundaries that would influence the results of the next general elections.
When on the eve of the proposed start date for the census, the World Bank which was the largest donor supporting the census decided to pull out from the project, by withholding funds and technical resources, they were very clear why they did so:
“…several critical action points require further technical work to be satisfactorily addressed including evaluation of the pilot census, the field operation plan for the enumeration, and ensuring enumerators are adequately trained. All these outstanding actions are necessary and must be addressed prior to commencing data collection to minimize the risk of inadequate and poor data quality. There is insufficient time between now and December 10, 2021 to satisfactorily address all pending actions.” W.B.
When the Government decided to go ahead with the census against the expert advice quoted above, it confirmed COPPP’s suspicion that Government was not so keen on obtaining adequate and high quality data. It was becoming apparent that all they needed was for the exercise to go on to give the impression that whatever results they will announce at the end are authentic.
In these days when allegations are coming to the public of large scale forgery at the Office of the Presidency causing great humiliation to the nation of Sierra Leone, the possibility of having forged census results must not be discarded. Preliminary reports being received about the real conduct of the mid-term census which was supposed to have a national coverage are troubling.
The unpreparedness of SSL could be seen on the first few days of the census: issues of non-payment of trainee fees were all over the social media and caused anger and frustration among those who eventually were selected to continue. And the amount of confusion showed just how disorganized the process was.
Several enumerators have complained about inadequacies in the electronic devices used, most likely due to the fact that, as the World Bank had indicated, the training of enumerators was not adequate due to the haste of Government to implement its census willy-nilly.
Unsurprisingly, the enumerators across the country were definitely not in the least enthusiastic about the work. Most of them lost confidence in the process and concealed any identification they may have had making it difficult for them to be recognized.
COPPP is actively compiling its report on the conduct of the mid-term census, and we can safely say that out of an initial sample of 2,000 citizens evenly spread in the regions only 10% actually saw an enumerator.
Some citizens claimed that due to acute hunger and economic hardship in the country, as recently reported by the World Food Programme they were not interested and did not need prompting by any politician to decide on whether to take part or not.
The question we are asking now is whether SSL will be honest and professional enough to accept that this census was a botched exercise or whether they will go ahead to give us shameless statistics that have no bearing on reality. On this issue, one can sympathize with the Statistician General who now seems trapped between sacrificing his decades of reputation as a world expert to satisfy his employers or doing the honourable thing and rescue his name.
Ironically the mid-term census was dubbed “The People’s Census”. It is amazing how distant this is from the truth. Right from the beginning when the Census Bill was brought to Parliament on 19th April 2021, Opposition members who constitute nearly 50% of people’s representation in Parliament rejected it because this census was untimely and ill-intentioned.
The reaction of Government was typical. In order to bulldoze the Bill through the House, violence was unleashed on the floor of Parliament and the ever-ready Sierra Leone Police entered and tear-gassed everybody. This is the level of unpopularity the census had from MPs representing millions of citizens.
Little wonder then that the people themselves did not hide their opposition to this project which they did not consider their priority, in spite of the volume of resources spent on communication, information and education. Their various reactions and general attitude to the project when computed will certainly make interesting reading.
It is our view that Parliament needs to conduct an investigation into the mid-term census to examine the various factors affecting its implementation, part of which could be a random sampling of MPS, who were counted, not counted or who were never visited by an enumerator.
Already, Government’s refusal to follow expert advice and going ahead instead with the census will certainly cost the Country a lot of money and they should be ready to give account if or when it becomes obvious that the process has failed. Finally, COPPP wishes to provide two pieces of advice as follows
a) That forgery of census numbers will be a serious crime and will not be accepted
b) That Parliament must institute an investigation on the implementation of this mid-term census.
c) That Parliament must debate on the trend of intimidation, arrests and detention of senior political figures for simply expressing their opinion about the census.
NOW, THE AUDIT REPORT…
In the fast moving drama series of the Paopa Administration, there is now the report of the Auditor General on the finances of the State. There was an audit report authored by the prestigious and professional Auditor General, Mrs. Lara Taylor Pearce.
Just before she could present her report to Parliament, the Paopa Government, breaking all the rules and procedure suspended her and set up a tribunal to investigate on things that are still unclear. And any member of our country will likely tell you that she was suspended not because of any wrong doing but to prevent her from exposing misdeeds of highly placed members of Government, even at State House. With Lara out, Government has found a relatively junior member of staff to present an audit report.
It is our view at COPPP that Parliament cannot and should not consider or debate the Audit Report that is before it now, until it has ascertained that it is the same as the original report authored by Mrs. Taylor Peace. Mrs. Taylor Pearce is still the substantive head of the Department and has only been suspended under strange allegations by those who have power, for now.
If in studying the Report that has been tabled in Parliament, it is found out that there are any discrepancies or changes made to Lara’s version this will be tantamount to forgery. Again!!! And someone should be made to answer for it.
Some whistle-blowers have already categorically stated that whole portions have been removed because they do not reflect well on the casual and creative manner in which top Government officials are spending our money without accounting for it or possibly chopping it.
We therefore repeat that the nation insists on knowing the true contents of the Lara Taylor Pearce report and not any doctored or adulterated version. COPPP therefore calls on all Parliamentarians to live up to our expectations to safeguard the resources of this State and to refuse any connivance in something that will obviously go down in history as the greatest conspiracy to rob the State of Sierra Leone.
This trend of bad people using captured power to prosecute and harass good people will not be accepted, and so we renew our demand for Mrs. Taylor Pearce to be reinstated until the tribunal finds her wanting, if it does. This is what the law requires; Government cannot be seen to be breaking the law and jumping procedure every time to suit their own purposes: this will lead to disobedience and chaos which nobody needs now in Sierra Leone.
COPPP will withhold any further comments on the Audit Report until Parliament confirms which one is the right one.
COPPP would like to take this opportunity to wish the suffering people of Sierra Leone HOPE for the future, even if Christmas for them this year is bad and dry. We ask you to pray for those of us who have committed ourselves to speak truth to power and to challenge an increasingly repressive regime.
Even though we have maintained a posture of peace and respect for law and order, for us the next year, 2022, may most likely be a year of intimidation, arrests, detention or even deaths. We are proud however that if this is so we will not be persecuted for stealing public funds or forging receipts to steal or wrecking the country, but for exercising our rights of expression enshrined in the Constitution. We will proudly wear the badge of Prisoners of Conscience to the end.