By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The Voter Identification Card has now become the main focus of heated political discussion in homes, public transports, Ataya Bases and in political circles just 37 Days for Sierra Leoneans to go to the polls and cast their votes for who will become the next President of the nation, for Parliamentary Representatives, Mayors and Councillors.
June, 24, 2023 will indeed mark a watershed in the political history of Sierra Leone as multitier elections in the form of Presidential, Parliamentary and Municipal Elections will be held in which the main contenders amongst others, the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress (APC) Party will be seeking fresh legitimacy from the electorates to form a new Government that will comprise elected representatives of the people.
Charged with the responsibility to conduct free, fair and credible elections the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) is the only statutory mandated institution that has the duty of capturing specific data from the electorates which it then partly uses for the production of Voters Identification Cards which voters must present at Polling Stations to make them eligible to cast their votes.
That process of capturing voters’ information commenced in February, 2023 and was completed on the stipulated deadline that was announced but as a concern of inadequate time was raised the deadline date was extended in order to ensure that the process becomes very inclusive.
ECSL commenced the issuance of the Voter ID Cards on the 17th March, 2023 and ended on the 21st March, 2023 with an extension also given to collect those cards at various centres right across the country.
Lamentably, the ID Cards issued were criticized on the grounds that voters’ some photos were not easily identifiable and the security features were not real but fake.
In the midst of these concerns raised and as a way of piping down those concerns, ECSL, decided to issue out Voters’ slips containing the requisite information which the institution insisted could legitimize voters to be allowed to cast their votes on Polling Day.
Besides, the institution made an appeal to all affected Sierra Leoneans to rectify the anomalies with ECSL within a stipulated timeframe but whether that appeal was heeded to could not be ascertained at this moment.
Incomprehensibly though, it was learnt that up to this very moment there are many uncollected Voter ID Cards still in the possession of ECSL despite appeals made by the various political parties for supporters to pick them up.
As all these are going on, in an independent investigation that this medium conducted it was made to understand that the Voter ID Card is designed according to a Guilloche pattern by a high security software that cannot be duplicated. By that it means interwoven lines are applied to the surface of the front and back. The fine lines often form asymmetric patterns such as ellipses or circular paths.
It has a secured plastic foil layer that makes it is difficult to remove to make any alteration on the personal data of the holder of the card.
Besides, it has microprint features and a QR Code that are unique for and in/on every ID Card.
It also has hologram features with the Sierra Leone Coat of arms Logo stamped with hot temperature on the card and protected with the secured plastic foil.
Furthermore, it is a 3 D hologram that changes colours according to its angle looked at under the common light.
Demonstrable evidence has indeed proven that the unique features prevent the Voter ID Card from being forged or faked. The producer ensured that the plastic it has is such that any attempt by anyone to alter any embedded information will be impossible.
Besides, it has microprint features, 3d Hologram that changes colours and a QR Code which are said to be unique on each ID Card and is only visible under a certain degree of ultra violet special light.
Against this backdrop and barely less than two months when Sierra Leone decides, one of the main contenders has raised serious concerns about the Voter ID Card.
Interestingly or to say rather unexpectedly less than two months to the polls, the Secretary General of the APC Party, Lawyer Lansana Dumbuya Esq, in a Press Statement issued on the 11th March, 2023 has raised the concerns it initially mentioned but failed to act upon by taking many Sierra Leoneans by surprise when he made the following eleventh hour pronouncement:
“The cards need to be regularized, system sanitized, and political parties be allowed to audit the system in order to know how many cards were produced, the securitized measures taken, and the names and appropriate addresses of the owners of the cards produced be published.
“Finally, the APC strongly warn that the situation be ameliorated or redressed because the Party will never allow such unprotected cards to be used as the identity for eligibility in the forthcoming or any other elections in which the APC is a participant. So, in doing the amelioration, the APC entreat you to involve every political party throughout the process. The Commission is expected to be expeditious in redressing these concerns. The ECSL’s unresponsiveness to stakeholders concerns and the failure to address them has substantially undermined public trust in the entire electoral process.”
He went further to state: “The All Peoples Congress, having highlights the many concerns to be addressed in the next few days, wants to put the ECSL on notice that if the ECSL fail to address these issues within the time stated, the party will exercise its constitutional right to call for a nationwide peaceful protest to demonstrate its dissatisfaction.”
Many that this medium sought their views on this emerging development expressed the view that the timing of the APC is completely wrong.
They argued that it was from the onset that the APC should have persistently ensured that the ECSL swiftly rectify the anomalies not after going through ECSL nomination processes in filing candidates when elections are around the corner. In other words, they are saying if the concerns raised are done genuinely then the APC should have boycotted the nomination process to ensure that the ID Card rectification is done. They also claimed that for ECSL to reprint ID Cards is not only time consuming but has financial implications.
Besides, there is a school of thought , making reference to a previous AYV video clip that is on Social Media platforms depicting an interview in which the APC Presidential Flagbearer, Dr Samura Kamara, was publicly praising the Voter ID Card saying it is better than the previous one issued prior to the 2018 General Elections adding that during that period he registered at Kamalo but his name fell at a Polling Post at Brookfields but he was allowed to vote saying that was clearly an endorsement or acceptance of the Voter ID Card.
Besides, they say Dr Samura Kamara’s running mate, Hon Chernor Bah and other big wigs of the party are on record for enjoining their supporters to go and collect their ID Cards.
Taking the argument further the School of thought maintained that it is inevitable for mistakes to occur originating from the registration process which could not be the fault of ECSL agents but the some ill-meaning people who deliberately presented false information.
However, the bottom line is that many Sierra Leoneans that this medium came in contact with stated that whether their photos are not recognizable as long as ECSL devices a way of making them eligible to vote they will settle for that as the main thing they want to see transpire are peaceful elections.
As the situation now stands it is a wait and see situation as to what will be the reaction of ECSL to the seemingly ultimatum or threat it has been given by the APC Party.