January 12, 2018 By Patrick Jaiah Kamara
After six hours of argument and counter argument yesterday, the High Court of Sierra Leone will today decide whether the mayoral candidates of the ruling All Peoples Congress and the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party are qualified to contest the March 7 election as their eligibility is yet to be determined.
The duo were turned down by the National Electoral Commission earlier this week when they went for nominations at the electoral body’s head office at Tower Hill on the grounds that they were not registered voters in the Western Area Urban.
APC’s Yvonne Aki Sawyer was turned down last Saturday whilst her opponent, SLPP’s Raymond De Souza George’s candidacy was also rejected Wednesday.
Madam Aki Sawyer, with a low haircut and clad in an Africana dress dominated with red, sat quietly behind her lawyers, whilst Mr. De Souza George sat at the gallery in a brown ‘gara’ suit. He shook his head slowly in agreement as his lawyers made their submission in court.
Both candidates, prior to the litigation, had applied to NEC to change their addresses as stipulated in the Public Election Act of 2012, but the Commission only acknowledged receipt of their letters without acting on it.
Lawyer Drucil Talyor started off his argument by objecting to the representation of Sulaiman Kabba Koroma as counsel for Ms. Sawyer on the grounds that he is currently serving as executive officer in a parastatal, but Judge Abdul Rahman Mansaray overruled the objection after hearing the response from the latter side.
Taylor said they were coming by Notice of Motion dated 10th January 2018, supported by an affidavit sworn to on the same date, and with five exhibits attached thereto.
He told the court that plaintiff’s applicants’ action was premature as they did not wait for the decision of the electoral body but instead rushed to seek judicial protection.
He argued that Aki Sawyer’s lawyer made the application for a change of address to the Registration Officer in Ward 442, whose office is now obsolete and that the applicant should have waited on NEC rather than rushed to court. “The plaintiff made an application to move from Ward 369 to 442 but failed to wait and hear from the respondent. My Lord I apply that you strike out this application,” he submitted.
“My Lord, at no point the plaintiff referred to any decision of the defendants herein. This is right because there was no decision at that time. The application was made prematurely.”
He argued that the effects of the application, if granted, would effectively substitute the powers given to the Registration Officer as stated in Section 40 of the Public Election Act of 2012, with the High Court usurping the powers of the commission.
After a thirty minutes stand down of the proceeding, lawyer Musa Mewa applied for the consolidation of the files on the basis that they crave a similar outcome, which the judge didn’t decline.
Lawyer Africanus Sorie Sesay, representing Ms. Sawyer, commenced his argument by highlighting eleven points in the affidavit filed in support of their motion.
He submitted that Section 40 of the Public Election Act of 2012, which directs the transfer of voters’ registration, does not contemplate a situation that a transfer of registration should be sent to the Board of Commissioners.
“We submit that Section 40 of the Public Election Act of 2012 contemplates continuous existence of the office of the registrar and section 41 of the same Act is saying that the office should be in existence. It is a very important office. My Lord, the communication of NEC clearly threatens my client’s natural right to vote and be voted for,” he said.
He told the court that the application of the defendants is of no moment as their action leaves his client in a quagmire which only the court could remedy.
“My Lord, 14th of this month is the final day for nomination. We pray that the court compel the defendants to comply with the court order of January 5 2018.”
On his part, the SLPP’s Musa Mewa adopted the submission of APC’s Africanus Sesay, as their respective clients share the same fate.
In response, lawyer Taylor stated that the two mayoral candidates would have alerted the commission about the registration transfer since June 2017.
“The application by the plaintiff was pre-emptive because the applicant failed to wait and exercise patient. Mind you the Section 40(2) states that the registration office has to be satisfied that the applicant is now an ordinary residence in the ward he or she claims to be part of,” he added.
Meanwhile, Justice Abdul Rahaman Mansaray adjourned the matter to today for a ruling as to whether Raymond De Souza George and Yvonne Aki Sawyer should contest as mayoral candidates in Freetown for their respective political parties in the March 7 election.