September 7, 2017 By Ibrahim Tarawallie
Commissioners of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), including the Chairperson Mohamed Nfa Alie Conteh, yesterday failed to show up at a presser summoned by the commission to explain issues surrounding voter registration.
A bevy of journalists and representatives from civil society organisations had gathered at the NEC headquarters in Freetown to get first-hand information on the just concluded voters exhibition exercise and ask relevant questions, especially the readiness of the commission to make public the final voters register ahead of the deadline on 7 September (today).
However, none of the commissioners showed up. The commission’s Director of Media and External Relations, Albert Massaquoi, was at hand though to share a press release signed by the commission’s chairperson, but made no further comments as to the absence of the commissioners.
“I have been directed by the board of commissioners to share with you this press release,” he said tersely before he went out, refusing to take any questions from journalists.
The failure of the NEC commissioners to address issues germane to the smooth conduct of the March 7, 2018 multitier elections will raise further questions as to their preparedness to handle critical issues ahead of the crucial polls.
From August 22 to 28 this year, NEC opened exhibition centres countrywide for eligible voters to verify information provided during the biometric voter registration early in the year.
Names of thousands of voters who had registered are reportedly missing. This development has generated mix-feelings among the public, with civil society groups and political parties divided as to who bears the greatest responsibility for the data loss.
The Sierra Leone Elections Mega Observers (SL-EMO) has expressed grave concern that the data loss could significantly undermine the integrity of the electoral process, with a potential to undermine the credibility of the 2018 elections.
Their view seems to be supported by the ruling All Peoples Congress party. Deputy Minister of Information, Cornelius Deveaux, said on Radio Democracy this Tuesday that “NEC was negligent and incompetent.”
But the Executive Director of Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Ibrahim Tommy, said a day earlier on the same radio station that the electoral body needed financial and moral support from the government and citizenry respectively, and not a campaign of calumny to undermine the chairman.
Jacob Jusu Saffa of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party opined that someone might have tampered with the data in a bid to give NEC boss Nfa Ali Conteh, who is under pressure to quit by the APC and their supporters, a bad name. “This fault is manufactured by the APC,” as said and blamed the data loss, which he said was a concern to his party, on “rotten faulty machines bought by the National Registration Authority at US$13m.”
Meanwhile, NEC stated in a press release yesterday that they have completed the task of registering voters for the national elections schedule for March 2018.
The commission said the variety of issues raise during the exhibition and enquiry processes have been examined with manual reconciliation of their registration records performed.
“Before the exhibition, NEC knew that there were 3,735 records of voters in Kono and Western Urban Districts that were missing some elements of the voters’ data. Some of these voters have had their data recaptured during the exhibition period, which NEC will be downloading shortly,” the release stated.
Also, NEC said they have confirmed that there are 39,276 voters whose records exist and are complete but cannot upload these records into the server at present even though they are fully registered and can vote at the upcoming elections.
“As at 6 September 2017, there are three million, one hundred and seventy-eight thousand, six hundred and sixty-six (3, 178, 663) registered voters in Sierra Leone,” the release said.