By Amin Kef-Ranger
During the third Elections Steering Committee meeting held at the Bintumani Conference Hall in Freetown on Friday 22 July 2022, in which members of Diplomatic Corps and multilateral partners,
other Commissioners, representatives of Civil Society Organizations, public and private officials were present, the Commissioner of the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL), Mohamed Kenewui Konneh provided updates on the public elections to be held in 2023.
He appreciated the Office of the Chief Minister and the UN Resident Representative for coordinating the third meeting of the Elections Steering Committee saying especially when the ECSL has now activated operational mode for voter registration.
In terms of Voter Registration, the Chief Electoral Commissioner said
the Register of Voters will be updated for the conduct of Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections in accordance with Sections 12 to 40 of the Public Elections Act, 2012 and Section 25 of the National Civil Registration Act, 2016.
He disclosed that in March 2022, with reference to Section 22 of the Public Election Act, 2012, His Excellency the President by Proclamation declared the period 3rd September to 4th October 2022 as the period for all eligible Sierra Leoneans to present themselves for registration as voters.
According to him, the Electoral Commission increased the number of Voter Registration Centers (VRCS) by 10%, an increase from 3,300 to 3,630.
He continued that the spread of the new VRCs was even across the country with emphasis on the geographical distances between existing VRCs and the population density of localities.
“The Electoral Commission has concluded procurement of VR kits, development of the voter registration systems/software and 2,000 laptop computers and accessories for voter registration,” he also disclosed adding how delivery of equipment is expected end of July to early August 2022.
He intimated how the Electoral Commission is working with the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) on the inter-institutional arrangements for the extract of civil registration data and provision of civil registration staff and registration kits for the purpose of updating the Register of Voters.
On Boundary Delimitation, Mohamed Kenewui Konneh said with reference to Subsection 4 of Section 38 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, the Electoral Commission has the mandate to review the division of Sierra Leone into constituencies at intervals of not less than five (5) years and not more than seven (7) years.
He maintained how the Electoral Commission will use the 2,000 laptop computers in two registration cycles of fifteen (15) days each within the registration period 3rd September to 4th October 2022 saying in each registration cycle of 15 days, only half of the Voter registration centres will be opened in each district.
The elections conducting entity boss stated that the provisional results of the Mid-term Population and Household Census, 2022, indicate an increase in the total population and significant shifts in population at the district level in Sierra Leone.
He said for the purposes of the Boundary Delimitation, the Electoral Commission has done the following: Resolved to review the division of Sierra Leone into constituencies using the minimum interval of five (5) years, set up an internal Boundary Delimitation Committee to facilitate the review processes, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Statistics Sierra Leone for collaborative support in technical and logistical matters during the review process, that the Parliament of Sierra Leone has confirmed that the number of seats for Ordinary Members of Parliament will remain 132 seats for the next Parliament.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner furthered how they have submitted a budget to the Ministry of Finance for the conduct of the review of boundaries, that the Electoral Commission will use the results of the Mid-term Population and Household Census, 2022, for the purpose of conducting the review of boundaries and has requested Statistics Sierra Leone to provide the data.
He revealed that the timeline for the conclusion of the review of boundaries, including enactment of new boundaries is October 2022.
On Elections Funding and Inter-Institutional Collaboration, Mohamed Kenewui Konneh, said the Ministry of Finance has established the National Elections Sustainability Trust (NEST) Fund at the Bank of Sierra Leone from which the Ministry is financing the electoral programmes of the ECSL.
According to him, it is expected that other institutions would be funded from the NEST fund to implement their related electoral activities.
“The determination of the budget for the elections in 2023 is currently being discussed at Subcommittee on Elections Financing and subsequently at the Elections Steering Committee,” he intimated.
For Electoral Calendar he revealed the following:January 2023- Distribution of voter ID cards, February 2023 – Conduct of Village Head lections, March 2022 – Declaration of election dates, April 2023 – Nomination of candidates, May 2023 – Conduct of Paramount Chief Members of Parliament ,May/June 2023 – Campaigns, June Elections 2022- Mobilization of staff, logistics, voter registration systems and equipment, Boundary Delimitation preliminaries seats allocation, drafting constituency and ward boundaries, June 2023 – Conduct of Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections, July 2023 -Conduct of possible Presidential run-off election.
He said in August 2022 there will be Stakeholder engagements and drawing of final constituency and ward boundaries, September 2022 – there will be Voter registration-field data capture, October 2022 – Voter registration data processing, Enactment of final constituency and ward boundaries, October 2023 – Conduct of bye elections and paramount chieftaincy elections, November 2022 – Exhibition and Inquiry of the PVR, December 2022 – Finalization of the Voter Register, October 2023 – Conduct of bye elections and paramount chieftaincy elections and in
December 2023 there will be a Post-elections evaluation.
On challenges he mentioned transportation/vehicles for electoral operations.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner concluded by stating that the Commission remains committed to engage and collaborate with stakeholders as they move into proper operational mood.
He also assured all present and the public that the ECSL is poised to conduct free, fair, credible and acceptable elections.
In an exclusive interview with the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, Abdul M Fatoma, who happens to be the Team Lead for the Election Conflict Prevention and Mediation Group ,which comprise the Inter-Religious Council, Eminent Women etc stated that the meeting was timely and necessary.
He continued how that is so because governance is about inclusion and participation. Fatoma maintained that Civil Society Organizations actually have a direct relationship with communities serving as a bridge between Government and people.
He opined that Government opening up the space to getting civil society involved in such a high level meeting is good. He went forward to state that they have a Civil Society Inclusion Committee comprising various civil society groups that meet outside of the main Steering Committee to deliberate on important electoral issues.
Fatoma disclosed that since 2020, he had got involved into electoral conflict prevention issues and has worked with the Electoral Commission to organize twenty-two (22) Bye-Elections and none of those election results were petitioned. He said it is good that there is a platform where political parties discuss concerns.
On the part of the Chief Minister, Jacob Jusu Saffa, the meeting was geared towards steering the electoral process and discus some of the important aspects just to make sure that they facilitate and coordinate the election process. He said there are going to be similar meetings to reaffirm Government’s commitment to have free, fair and transparent elections. The Chief Minister said as a Government they firmly believe that one major source of conflict is electoral rigging maintaining how that is not part of their trajectory. He said one thing that is important is that all parties need to communicate properly and be very sincere in their communication.