By: Winstanley. R. Bankole. Johnson
With the benefit of hindsight it is now appearing that the recruitments of the former Statistics Sierra Leone (SSL) Commissioner Prof. Osman Sankoh as well as that of the Electoral Commissioner Sierra Leone (ECSL) Mohammed K Konneh to supervise processes leading unto conduct of both the last Mid-Term Census and the June 24th 2023 elections respectively, are not yielding the much expected results. Those entire processes outcomes are now seeming suspect and devoid of integrity as if they were working in tandem, straight from “answers to sum” with one single avowed intent: To provide both a Mid-Term Census Database and a National Voter Register the combined effect of which will engender systemic gerrymandering for the sitting government. Whether both the SSL and ECSL were under strict instructions to ensure same could not be ascertained, it is just that as could be seen from their separate results the impacts are having ominous portends for the country. In reality and with benefits of further hindsight however, I do not think their separate or joint enterprises would have succeeded without the surreptitious support of all the Members of Parliament who failed to have done due diligence as our elected gatekeepers of accountability and transparency.
For starters up to this day, the final disaggregated census figures per District/Regions cannot be sighted, nor have those for the Voter Registration Exercises been published. All we were told was that for the Mid-Term Census, Kenema and Kailahun Districts combined recorded higher population figures than the entire Western Unban Areas. That was where the audacity to scam us the electorate within the Western Regions began and it stuck. So whether by divine or designed coincidence the ECSL was afforded an enticing leverage to (if they had wished) manipulate their voter registration figures countrywide to fit into the overall SSL population paradigms. And that they would appear to have succeeded in doing through the creation of systemic bottlenecks that would correspondingly lower the voter registration figures within the Western Regions in particular, by the disproportional distribution of lesser Voter Registration Machines to the latter areas.
For the amount alleged to have been spent on procuring those Voters Registration Machines (US$10Million), their quality was sub-standard. For starters far fewer Registration Machines than were alleged to have been procured arrived into the country. Distribution of those machines between the South-East and North-Western Regions was alarmingly disproportionate with the former areas benefitting more. Over 25% of what was deployed to the North-West either malfunctioned or were out rightly dysfunctional, leading to incessant calls on the ECSL for their replacements and or additions, but all of which calls were largely ignored. It was as if their deliberate intentions were to frustrate registrants within the Western Regions to the advantage of the South-East Regions that as strongholds of the incumbent government were provided with more Voter Registration Machines than was necessary. But even at that, by the second registration phase the SLPP hierarchy (Ministers, Mayors/District Chairpersons and Councillors) was so disappointed with the interim outcomes, that they declared moratorium on all livelihood activities in the entire South-East for days. They used that opportunity to ferret their people to go out and register en-masse so as to catch up with statistics emerging from the North-West. But even that did not yield their desired result as to their chagrin the North-West recorded in excess of six hundred thousand more voters than the South-East. And that is what they have been scheming endlessly to regularize.
Overwhelmed by those voters registration figures in the North-West, the next gerrymandering ploy of the ECSL (keeping the concocted lower Mid-Term Census figures published by the SSL for the Western Regions in sharp view), was for them (ECSL) to inform the world that the voter registration processes were marred by an aggregate over-registration by multiple registrants by in excess of 250,000 countrywide. Some 90% of those discrepancies they claimed were in the Western Urban and Rural Regions, and to remedy which impairments the final figures in the said regions would have to be adjusted downwards to the full extent. That is to say some 225,000 voters would willy-nilly have to be struck off by the ECSL from the still unannounced and unpublished aggregates for the Western Regions which are the stronghold of the main opposition All Peoples’ Congress (APC) Party. Now the disgusting thing about that sudden discovery of over-registration was that the ECSL would appear to have forgotten that at the time of launching those same Voters Registration Machines, they had assured the world that over or multiple registration was not possible because the machines had been robustly programmed to reject them.
But did any actual over-registration take place within the North-West, or was the intention of ESCL to align their own figures with those within the voting age bracket that the SSL had concocted for the Western Regions? Your guesses could be as good as mine, but from revelations of massive discrepancies in the particulars of registrants in their actual/physical Voters Identity Cards collected, one thing is looking eerily eerie to wit: There would seem to be a massive conspiracy by the ECSL to disenfranchise a huge number of voters in the North-West. Whether or not that is intended to guarantee the incumbent regime a second term one cannot say, but the co-ordinates arising from transposition of the particulars in thousands of Voter ID Cards collected or seen, could ultimately lead to that if immediate steps are not taken to correct all those discrepancies so as to make the playing field level for all contesting political parties. Some of those discrepancies include -:
- Transposing pictures and/or names/sexes
- Transposing the domiciled locations of Registrants – mostly voters from the Western Regions find their names appearing as domiciled in South-Eastern Regions
- The ID Cards of thousands of Registrants could not be traced for uplifting at their registration centers
- Some Voter ID Cards either do not even have pictures of the registrants or that their pictures are blurred or too dark for satisfactory identification or verification.
To the extent that the quality of the Voters ID Cards distributed is being questioned also opens up the integrity of the ECSL Chair whose remit includes supervising their printing/production and distribution to questions and suspicions, because they are neither securitized nor fraud or phishing proof. And the only way for the ECSL Chair to convince us the electorate he is above board and that those Voter ID Cards were indeed printed in Greece, are fraud-proof and of a quality commensurate to value of moneys expended for them, he must produce for inspection by all the representatives of the Political Parties’ Liaison Committee working with ECSL hard copy evidences of-:
- A copy of the Letter of Credit or copy of the direct wire transfers effecting payments to the Greece Service Providers
- Evidences of the (a). Bill of Lading (b) Final Invoices (c). Packing Lists
That is the only way the ECSL can dispel rumours that were not printed locally by an enterprise with strong human-animal political connections. Anything to the contrary and opposition parties should call for the immediate resignation of Mohammed K. Konneh
As things stand and with so many concerns being raised, the playing field is definitely not level. With most of the elections discrepancies seemingly in the interest of the sitting government (because they are not complaining), the political space is being obscured, narrowed and prone to manipulations to either deliberately disenfranchise legitimate voters or to expose them to inordinate risks on elections day. One of such major risks includes them being falsely accused of attempting to use fraudulent or discrepant ID Cards to vote and get either being turned away from polling stations or even roughed up arrested. It is on account of a possibility of such occurrences that pundits believe that the production of poor quality Voter ID Cards and transposition of Voters particulars and domiciled stations were deliberate ploys intended to cover up expected over-voting in the South-East by thousands of under-aged school children that had been coerced to register as first time voters, and among whom thousands of discrepant ID Cards of registrants in the North-West that had been duplicated would be distributed to them to enable them to vote.
A system that isn’t able to identify and reject multiple voter registrations would be most unlikely to be able to later pick up multiple voting using different but duplicated Voter ID Cards on the same day. Worse still what we should not overlook is that should confusion over satisfactory identification with discrepant Voters ID Cards arise that would warrant interventions of the security forces and that those events degenerate as would replicate what happened on polling day in 1996 when sporadic gunfire rang throughout the city sending voters scampering away in fear, then it will be difficult to ascertain to which extent those discrepant Voter ID Cards could have been duplicated and fraudulently used in other parts of the country.
The integrity of our Voter ID Cards should not be suspect.