By Sylvester Samba…………………………
The main opposition party, Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) has urged the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to use biometric voter verification on polling day.
At an emergency press conference held yesterday at the party’s National Headquarters in Freetown, the SLPP said they want it to be done so that there will be a level playing field for all political parties contesting the 2018 general elections on 7th March.
“Biometric verification greatly reduces direct human control and influence in the voter identification process…We are calling on the government and development partners to provide the needed resources for this purpose”.
2017 BIOMETRIC VOTER REGISTRATION
Freetown, March 14, 2017: The SLPP is at an advanced stage of planning for voter registration. The Party has participated in a few meetings convened by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) at both the national and district levels. The Party has also held internal discussions on the process at constituency and district levels. While the Party appreciates the work of NEC under the circumstances, there are nevertheless a few areas of concern.
First, it is imperative that the integrity of the electoral process is protected. This is that only eligible voters must register, a voter can only vote once and only registered voters can vote. To this end, the SLPP is concerned that contrary to the assurance given by NEC to the public in the 2012 electoral cycle relating to biometric voting, only biometric registration will be used in the forthcoming registration and Voter Verification will only be paper-based. The SLPP strongly believes that among the merits of using biometric verification on polling day are (i) the high degree of certainty in voter identification which means that the final decision is not entirely left to the judgment of NEC officials; (ii) eliminates cost and logistics with paper ballots; and (iii) improves voter identification mechanisms compared to manual traditional methods of voter identification. Traditional methods of voter identification are labour intensive as electoral officials are faced with the laborious task of manually verifying hundreds of voters in the voter register while party agents are deprived of the opportunity to participate in the voter verification. It is expected that the error rate in voter identification increases as officials get tired. Biometric verification on the other hand greatly reduces direct human control and influence in the voter identification process. Accordingly, the SLPP urges NEC to fulfill the promise made to the nation and use Biometric Voter Verification on polling day. It also calls on Government and development partners to provide the needed resources for this purpose.
Second, the Party is concerned about long distances between polling centres and communities. This is further exacerbated by the removal of registration centres from highly populated communities. Reports from various districts across the country estimate that some polling centres are up to 8-10 miles away from some communities. Below are only examples from four districts:
- The Registration Centre 02110 in Kpetema in Malegun Chiefdom, Constituency 14 in Kenema district is 7 miles away from Benduma Town which is the sectional headquarters.
- Njagoh which is 8 miles away from the nearest Registration Centre in Panguma, Lower Bambara Chiefdom, Constituency 44 in Kenema District
- Saahun, Ngeboya and Panguwama communities in Gorama Mende Chiefdom in Constituency 18 are all about 12 miles away from Modema.
- In Lei Chiefdom, Kainsay Section, Constituency 22, there is only one Registration Centre in Bandadu with Centre Code No. 03017 which is far away from most communities. Some communities are away by nearly 10 miles.
- In Selokoma Section in Gorama Chiefdom, Constituency 27, there are two centres; one in Torkpombu with Centre Code 3132 and Vaama with Centre Code 3133. The two Centres are much closed to each other and far away from some communities.
- Also, in Kasunko chiefdom, Constituency 48,
- In Fanima, Manyeh Section, Wonde Chiefdom, Constituency 81, Registered Centre No.09083 is not only far off but 10 villages need to cross a river to access the centre.
- In Makump, in Dibia chiefdom, Constituency 062 with Centre Code 07188, some communities like Maputa are over 5 miles away from the Centre. Also, in Gbinti in the same Constituency, some communities like Maboi are over 6 miles away to the Registration Centre No. 7185.
This unfavourable situation demotivates many persons to come forward to register and to vote. The SLPP is disturbed by the fact that political parties who have thorough local knowledge of the communities are never involved in the identification of these registration centres. The Party also considers this as a major element in creating unfairness in the electoral process. The SLPP therefore calls on the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to revisit the location of registration centres with the participation of political parties with a view to reducing the distances to registration and polling centres.
Third, the SLPP is disturbed to learn that to date, the Boundary Delimitation is yet to receive parliamentary approval. Usually, voter registration follows parliamentary enactment of Boundary Delimitation. This delay in enactment of the Boundary Delimitation has onerous implications for persons intending to contest in local council elections who are required by law to register in wards where they intend to contest. Also, the SLPP holds the view that this delay is caused by the APC Government wanting to factor in the outcome of the chiefdom de-amalgamation and creation of new districts in the Boundary Delimitation. The SLPP has taken the position that for the present purposes, the Government focuses on the election and postpones the implementation of chiefdom de-amalgamation and creation of new district until after next general election. Any attempt to implement this policy now will have huge cost and time implications for the electoral timetable. The SLPP therefore calls on the Office of the Attorney General and the Legislature to immediately approve the Boundary Delimitation as presented by NEC to avoid further unwarranted delays.
Fourth, the SLPP has learned with great reservation that the Director, Media and Outreach of NEC on Radio Democracy FM 98.1 that pilot registration has already taken place without the participation of political parties despite the promise by NEC at the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC) meeting of March 1, 2017. The Party considers the exclusion of the SLPP from the pilot as deliberate and improper. Therefore, the Party will continue to have reservations about the efficiency and integrity of the biometric machines. The Party urges the Commission to conduct another pilot to give an opportunity to the political parties to see how these machines work.
Fifth, the Party would like to note that the public education on voter registration is limited to only a few areas and to persons with access to radio. The vast majority of people in remote areas where access to even radio is challenging have not been informed about the voter registration. Also, the Party is concerned that local authorities have not been involved in the process and NEC has neither used traditional structures such as Town Criers nor Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to sensitise the public. This dismal situation can only be to the advantage of the incumbent APC Government which has access to state resources and facilities to convene town hall meetings to the disadvantage of less resourced opposition parties. The Party therefore views this as not creating a level field for political parties but as yet another attempt to skew the process in favour of the incumbent.
Sixth, the Party is reliably informed that the APC has embarked on massive issue of fake birth certificates to under 18 persons in their strongholds with a view to increasing voter registration in these areas. This practice is fraudulent and the SLPP has therefore instructed all its agents to vehemently resist the use of any fake birth certificates as evidence of proof of eligibility.
Finally, the Party wishes to implore NEC to continue its consultative engagement with political parties and ensure the involvement of parties at all stages of the electoral cycle.
Amabssador Ali Badara Kamara
National Secretary General