March 15, 2017 By Mohamed Massaquoi
The main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party, (SLPP) has raised concern that contrary to the assurance given by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to the public in the 2012 electoral cycle relating to the biometric voter registration exercise, the institution has again clearly stated that they would neither use biometric facility for voter verification nor voting in the forthcoming general elections.
SLPP National Election Committee Chairman, Jacob Jusu Saffa, narrated during a press conference at the party’s headquarters yesterday that it was imperative that the integrity of the electoral process was protected and that only eligible voters should register and vote in the forthcoming elections .
He noted that NEC should use biometric verification to ensure transparence and accountability in the process.
He said members of the SLPP believed that using biometric verification on election day would avert a lot of huddles attached to the traditional method of identifying voters.
“SLPP urged NEC to fulfill the promise made to the nation of using biometric verification on Election Day. We are also calling on the government and development partners to provide the needed resources for this purpose. We are also concerned about the long distances between polling centres from highly populated communities. This is further exacerbated by the removal of registration centres from highly populated communities. Reports from various districts across the country estimate that some polling centres are up to 8 to 9 miles away from some communities,” he said.
He said the SLPP has learnt with great reservation, that NEC has already embarked on a pilot voter registration without the participation of political parties despite the promise by them at the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC) meeting of March 1, 2017.
“The Party considers the exclusion of the SLPP from the pilot as deliberate and improper. Therefore, the Party will continue to have reservations about the efficiency and integrity of the biometric machines. The Party urges the Commission to conduct another pilot to give an opportunity to the political parties to see how these machines work.SLPP would like to note that the public education on voter registration is limited to only a few areas and to persons with access to radio. The vast majority of people in remote areas where access to even radio is challenging have not been informed about the voter registration,” he said.
Also, the Party is concerned that local authorities have not been involved in the process and NEC has neither used traditional structures such as Town Criers nor used Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to sensitise the public.
“This dismal situation can only be to the advantage of the incumbent APC Government which has access to state resources and facilities to convene town hall meetings to the disadvantage of less resourced opposition parties. The Party therefore views this as not creating a level playing field for political parties but as yet another attempt to skew the process in favour of the incumbent. Additionally, we have been reliably informed that the APC has embarked on massive issue of fake birth certificates to under 18 persons in their strongholds with a view to increasing voter registration in these areas. This practice is fraudulent and the SLPP has therefore instructed all its agents to vehemently resist the use of any fake birth certificates as evidence of proof of eligibility” he noted.