Alan Luke: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 April 2023:
Concerns about the quality of the Voter ID Card have dominated national and social media, since it emerged that a significant proportion of Voter ID Cards for the 2023 Elections are defective in some way, either with the wrong photo or no photo; with cards being printed in black and white, instead of in colour, with poor resolution and not laminated, with essential security features missing.
These concerns have attracted international attention, with Election Observers from ECOWAS, AU and EU all weighing in. The popular Nigerian social media host – Pararan, has also mocked the quality of the Voter ID Cards on his Mock News.
Concerns have also been raised that voter registration may be continuing in the southeast, as the ruling party seeks to bolster the number of voters in its heartland by bussing people from Guinea and Liberia into the country to gain electoral advantage.
There has been a significant discrepancy between the number of registered voters and the resident population recorded during the discredited Mid-Term Census, conducted by Statistics Sierra Leone, which may likely impact on the SLPP being returned to power.
Any such registration of voters is illegal and will further undermine the credibility of the outcome of the elections.
There are also growing calls for the manual counting of votes, as well as for an interim body to conduct the elections, as the ECSL is seen to be completely discredited and compromised.
Despite widespread concerns by the public and international partners, one body, the Committee on Public and Political Affairs in the House of Parliament, which is chaired by Kandeh Yumkella MP, has not shown any interest about the concerns raised by the public.
The Parliamentary Committee on Public and Political Affairs is tasked with the oversight of the Political Parties Registration Committee (PPRC), the Electoral Commission Sierra Leone (ECSL) and the Ministry of Political Affairs. Both PPRC and ECSL are critical players in ensuring political pluralism and a level playing field for all parties as the nation decides in 2023.
(Photo: In the last twelve months Dr Yumkella’s focus and energy have been on building his political alliance with President Bio’s SLPP, than concentrating on what really matters to the people of Sierra Leone).
With only a few days left before Parliament adjourns, the public would expect Yumkella, as Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Public and Political Affairs to convene his Committee to discuss the public’s concerns and to bring these issues to the attention of the ECSL for which it has oversight responsibility.
There also concerns about the uneven handed behaviour of the PPRC. The PPRC issued a ban on political rallies. However, it is evident that the ruling SLPP party has been able to flout this ban, with no action being taken against them by the PPRC or the Police. On the other hand, opposition parties have been prevented from organising rallies.
This unfairness in the application of the ban is another issue which the Committee, with oversight responsibility for the PPRC should investigate, if it was not in dereliction of its duties, but the public has seen no action taken by the Committee.
Instead, Yumkella has prioritised a policy paper on Fake Degrees, which neither the government, nor Parliament took any notice off. In the policy paper, Yumkella was at pains to explain that only 1,300 public servants, out of 18,000 who were supposed to provide their certification for verification did so.
The lack of action by the Committee Chair, to investigate the concerns of about the Voter ID Card, the likelihood that voter registration was on-going in the southeast and the uneven application of the ban on political rallies, is a disservice to the people of Sierra Leone and undermines our fragile democracy and cohesion.
It flies in the face of Yumkella’s claims that his party, the National Grand Coalition’s desire for an alliance with the SLPP, is to Save Sierra Leone.
How can Yumkella MP save Sierra Leone, after failing spectacularly in performing his role as Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Public and Political Affairs, by failing to bring the ECSL and PPRC Commissioners in front of his committee to address these concerns that the public have, ahead of the 2023 elections which are likely to be very contentious.