By Amin Kef (Ranger)
In a letter dated the 5th December, 2022 written by the Executive Director of Legal Link, Lawyer Rashid Dumbuya, on behalf of entire Legal Link, and addressed to the Chief Electoral Commissioner & National Returning Officer Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone ( ECSL), Mohamed Kenuwai Konneh, he stated that they note with disdain and utter consternation that he has neither acknowledged receipt nor replied to their letter dated 28th November 2022 requesting ECSL to extend the voter exhibition and verification exercise and also transparently explain and show stakeholders how and why ECSL deleted about 250,000 registrants from the voters’ register.
He furthered that as a legal advocacy group they take the greatest exception to that kind of treatment of a valued partner and called for a more measured approach by the Commission in addressing vital issues raised by valued partners of ECSL in the future.
Lawyer Rashid continued that be that as it may, however, having perused his released statement on voter exhibition and verification few days ago as well as listening to a few policy statements from key stakeholders of ECSL, they are of the firm belief that ECSL is determined not to heed to their request for an extension of the voter exhibition and verification exercise beyond the 5 days scheduled by the Chief Electoral Commissioner for such a herculean process.
The Legal Link Executive Director stated that in the light of such blatant refusal, they are left with no option but to openly draw his attention and inform him that ECSL is in violation of Section 27(5) of the Public Elections Act of 2022 which requires the institution to do the voter exhibition and verification exercise for a period of 14 days.
He continued that for purposes of clarity and the avoidance of doubt, the said provision under Section 27 (5 ) of the Public Elections Act 2022 is quoted verbatim..27 (5)..” A provisional list of voters shall be exhibited for a period of 14 days”.
Lawyer Rashid Dumbuya stated that from the above it is clear as crystal that his voter exhibition and verification exercise which lasted only for 5 days does not conform with the expected period required for such exercise as stated under Section 27 (5) of the Public Elections Act 2022.
He continued that it would be safe to state that his institution has violated the mandatory provision of the Public Elections Act 2022 by his willful failure to extend the exhibition and verification exercise.
“Mr Chief Electoral Commissioner, you will also agree with us that the rationale for ECSL embarking on a voter exhibition and verification drive amongst other things is to afford those who participated in the voter registration process an opportunity to confirm, correct, include or make objections to their records on the provisional voter register so as to prevent possible disenfranchisement and/ or disruptions on polling day,” he stated.
He added that by their observation of the exhibition process and by his own admission in his released update statement on the exhibition and verification exercise, it is clear as crystal that his fundamental objective of the voter exhibition exercise was gravely undermined due to the shortness of the time frame allocated to complete the exercise.
Giving an example, he said he did admit in his update that about 50,000 registrants were photo-less while others complained of spelling mistakes and errors on the face of their records.
The Executive Director argued that the prevalence of all of these anomalies warrant a pause by ECSL to make room for additional time to fix them in a convincing and more appreciable way and not resort to quick fixes or abracadabra approaches like the much talked – about mobile app you have been trumpeting around.
“How many Sierra Leoneans can really afford a smart phone or can easily understand the complexities of operating such apps and devices?” he asked the Chief Electoral Commissioner.
The Lawyer also asked, “What benefit will it bring to ECSL in the long term if the institution is seen running with the electioneering process with such break neck speed and complexities but later end up in a big mess?” but answers that it will certainly not be good for the institution’s legacy and reputation in the future.
He said in light of the above and in the interest of transparency and integrity of the process, they urge that he allows for the 14 days period to elapse as required by law so that the mammoth of problems that eclipsed the voter exhibition and verification phase will be fully addressed and dealt with accordingly.
Lawyer Rashid said a rushed exhibition and verification phase may hurt supporters of all political parties in the future suggesting that it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to ensure a successful exhibition and verification process so that electorates are not disenfranchised down the line.
He stated that as one of their valued partners, they trust that he will do the needful and save them the burden of filing legal papers to have him compelled to follow his public duty under the law.
According to him, he said that there is already a great deal of public distrust for the ECSL institution and such distrust is increasing at a geometric progression as he continues to make erroneous decisions in the conduct of public elections in the country.
Executive Director of Legal Link said already the Chief Electoral Commissioner’s blatant refusal to carry out the boundary delimitation exercise, thus paving way for the forceful introduction of the PR system, is an issue that is still fresh in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans and hence, his refusal to extend the exhibition and verification exercise might just add more salt to injury.
He continued that in relation to his recent action of deleting over 250,000 registrants from the voter register, let them again remind him that such unilateral decision poses a clear and present danger to the nation’s body politic, security and democratic credentials.
Lawyer Rashid said hence, it may be prudent, just, fair and equitable in the given circumstances for ECSL to allow for an independent inquiry to be carried out over those huge number of deletions in a bid to ascertain whether in fact these registrants were actually guilty of double registration as alleged by his institution.
He added that they at LEGAL LINK hold the view that the right to vote and be voted for in periodic elections is a fundamental human right to be enjoyed by all eligible citizens in a democratic society as guaranteed under Section 31 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.
“Denying citizens therefore the enjoyment and / or exercise of such fundamental human rights without justifiable limitations constitute a violation of both domestic and international law,” he said maintaining that as they await his response to those burning concerns raised in the letter let him please accept the assurances of their highest regards.