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IGR says COVID-19 has little effect on 2023 election preparedness

July 26, 2021

By Yusufu S. Bangura

With funding from Irish Aid, the Institute for Governance Reforms (IGR), in collaboration with Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL-SL), on  Thursday, at their Wilkinson Road Office, launched a report on mitigating effects of COVID-19 on Sierra Leoneans 2023 election.

Speaking on COVID-19 and election, Executive Director of  IGR, Andrew Lavalie, said the report presented results of a self-assessment conducted by Sierra Leone’s Elections Management Bodies (EMBs) on the implications of COVID-19 on the upcoming general elections.

He said the report also assesses progress on the implementation of some of the recommendations made by International Observer Missions (IOM) of the 2018 election and asks whether EMBs are on track for the upcoming elections.

The IGR Executive Director said the EMBs says that COVID-19 would have little effect on the 2023 elections because the elections would go on as planned and that they have made nearly 70 percent progress in meeting the 50 indicators assessed by the scorecard.

“Integrity ahead of the 2023 elections is rated 68.3% which means that nationally, EMBs have made good progress to ensure the integrity of the 2023 elections. Also, Sierra Leone has developed a legal framework which prevents the EMBs to organise and manage the electoral process from being captured, controlled and manipulated by government, whilst allowing them to operate in a manner that gains public confidence,” he said.

The support from Irish Aid was for IGR and CARL to conduct a research on three areas that have been affecting citizens in the country.

He cited  like the effects of COVID-19 on Sierra Leoneans 2023 election, political parties and women political participation, and Sierra Leone response to COVID-19 implication for human rights, livelihood and governance.

He said the preparedness to conduct the 2023 elections during the COVID-19 context stands at 67%, pointing to a minimal effect of the pandemic and a general willingness among the six EMBs assessed to conduct timely elections.

“During the survey, 67% of Sierra Leoneans  said they were ready to go ahead with the 2023 elections and the participation of women and marginalised groups was ranked the lowest with 49%. Unless there is a deliberate action for an inclusive electoral process, all hopes for greater inclusion of women, youths and persons with disabilities in elections could not be realised by 2023,” he said.

Lavali said women’s low participation in the electoral space has long been a cause for concern, with the number of women elected into public offices declining over the last three electoral cycles with a highest rate of 15% in 2002 to the lowest of 12% in 2018 elections.

Speaking on political parties COVID-19 and women political participation, IGR Research and Policy Director, Dr. Fredline M’Cormack-Hale said they care about women because they have been vulnerable to the disease as primary caregivers within their families, and frontline health workers.

She said during COVID-19, Sierra Leone has historically high rate of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV), with some attributed to the atrocities of the civil war.

 She said concerns have been raised about the rise of SGBV which has been observed in countries worldwide, particularly during lockdowns.

She further stated  that women are often absent from decision making roles in the fight against COVID-19, and that there were concerns that the said  marginalisation contributes to the continued implementation of genderblind policies that exacerbate inequalities reinforced by patriarchal structures, norms and values.

 “At the same time, there’s literature that says if you get more women in politics, more women in leadership, you can address those issues, and have more gender sensitive policies, that’s why we looked at the ways in which women are being empowered, particularly at the local level,” she said.

The IGR research director said during the survey, data was collected between May and June 2021, and that the survey was administered to 1,936 citizens across Sierra Leone with an even split between men and women- 59% of respondents were rural-based and 41% were urban.

 She added that they would prefer recommendations as to what they need to do to make sure that women’s participation does not decline further.

On his own part, Executive Director of CARL, Ibrahim Tommy, said respect for human rights, including economic and social rights, civil and political rights, are fundamental to the success of any public health response.

He said emergency situations may demand certain extraordinary measures to protect the public, like restrictions on fundamental political and civil rights and restrictions on rights must be narrowly construed so as not to unduly impede the fundamental human rights outlined by numerous declarations.

He continued that the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic during the State of Emergency constituted human rights violations because individuals economic rights, protection from abuse, freedom of movement, among others,a were violated.

“The COVID-19 preventative measures were necessary but the implementation of those measures did raise significant rights abuses by authorities including the Police, NaCOVERC and security forces because enforcement of curfews and lockdowns were sometimes harshly imposed as citizens were seen beaten by police,” he said.

Tommy said the most common public health measure taken by States against COVID-19 has been restricting freedom of movement and those restrictions were necessary to decrease the spread of COVID-19 from epicenter in Freetown, to rural districts, but the imposition of travel restrictions forced undue hardship on the people.

“I want the government to be slow in curtailing the right to education, assembly and religion as well as the socio-economic rights to work unless it is extremely necessary. The restrictions on rights should not have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups including petty traders, people with disabilities, small businesses, the homeless, or women and children,” he urged.

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