By Sorie Fofana………………………………
While receiving the Final Review Report of the 1991 Constitution at State House on 24th January, 2017 President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma had this to say, “There is, no need for speculation and no need for unnecessary tension…The issue of the announcement of the date for the General Elections will be made in accordance with the Constitution. Let me assure all that the elections will go on as stipulated in the 1991 Constitution”.
On the day the CRC (Constitutional Review Committee) was to have officially presented their Final Review Report of the 1991 Constitution to the President at State House, two separate letters, written to the President by the NEC (National Electoral Commission) Chairman, Mohamed N’fa Alie Conteh were leaked to the press for publication. Both letters were published by several newspapers including, of course, the Global Times.
Nobody knows why, the leak of these letters, coincided with the day the CRC was to present their Final Review Report to His Excellency the President at State House.
According to newspaper reports, the source of the leak is being investigated at both State House and at the NEC headquarters.
Why The Leak Was So Important
The NEC Chairman, prior to that leak, had come under severe pressure from civil society activists, Politicians and some members of the Forth Estate to formally announce the exact dates for the conduct of Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections.
Those two letters (dated 18th November, 2016 and 16th December, 2016) clearly show that, the NEC Chairman had actually suggested dates for the conduct of those elections to His Excellency the President.
There are reports that, the NEC Chairman had even met with the President at State House on four occasions and had raised the issue of the announcement of the specific dates for the conduct of the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections with the President at those meetings.
The relevant sections in the Public Elections Act, 2012 relating to the declaration of election dates are quoted below:-
Section 43 (2)
The vacancy to be filled by a Presidential election shall be declared by the Electoral Commission by proclamation made after consultation with the President.
The time for a general election of the Ordinary Members of Parliament shall be appointed by proclamation made by the President after consultation with the electoral commission.
As can be seen from both letters addressed to His Excellency the President and follow-up meetings on those letters at State House, the NEC Chairman has absolved himself of any possible blame, if timely elections are not held in February 2018.
Who Is To Be Blamed?
If, as speculated, timely elections do not go ahead in February 2018, who will carry the can? Will people blame N’fa Conteh for acting like a spineless man? Will people blame the President for wanting to prolong his stay in office beyond his constitutional mandate?
All along, the President has always insisted that, he is a law-abiding man and a man who believes in democracy and the Rule of Law. Will the President give the green light for timely elections to be held in 2018?
It is fair to say that, the President has still not done anything to indicate that, he does not want to leave office when his mandate expires.
Preparations for timely elections in 2018 are still going on. The government agreed to single handedly fund the Biometric Civil Registration exercise after the donors refused to fund the project.
The Awoko Newspaper of Thursday 2nd February, 2017 quoted the Chairman of NEC, N’fa Conteh of alluding to the fact that, his Commission was in consultation with the President on the conduct of elections in 2018. “According to the provisions of the (1991) Constitution, we are on course. The law provides that we should do some consultations and that is what the Commission and the President have been doing”.
The Awoko Newspaper went on to state that, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph Kamara confirmed that, “Consultations have been held…I am chairing a committee responsible for holding the elections…What are the necessary features needed for the holding of an election? For example, the resources-do we have the money? If we don’t have the money, how do we get it? From where do we get it? What is the cost of holding an election? Is NEC ready and prepared for the task? What is the preparedness ahead of the voter registration process? The election date will be announced when the time is right”.
No Specific Date
The NEC Chairman, N’fa Conteh has finally informed the President that, his Commission was capable of conducting Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections on 17th February, 2018.
But, what will happen if, the Minister of Finance says that he does not have the money to conduct timely elections in February 2018? What will happen if the Minister of Internal Affairs says he would not be able to provide enough security for the conduct of timely elections in February 2018?
What will happen if the Government prevails on NEC to concede that enough preparations had not been made by them for the conduct of timely elections in February 2018? What will happen if NEC suggests to the President that, the date for the elections be deferred to next year or a year after that?
What is good about all of this is that, the NEC Chairman’s latest letter, dated 16th December, 2016 has already been published and has been widely circulated on several social media platforms.
If elections do not go ahead in February 2018, we know the person or group of persons to hold responsible for that major democratic disruption in our country.
May common sense prevail!