Christian Lawyers Centre hereinafter refered to as LEGAL LINK has followed religiously the tweet, press release and interview of the ECSL boss via BBC and feels enthused to make an open call for censorship of the ECSL boss over his cavalier attitude and omission to carry out a public duty as provided for by law.
But before delving into the reasons for our call to have him sanctioned, it is vital to emphasize that the conduct of boundary delimitation exercise which ultimately leads to the division of the country into constituencies and wards is a constitutional duty placed upon ECSL under section 38 of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone.
No justifiable reason therefore exists as to why ECSL should have reneged on such a constitutional duty owed to the people of Sierra Leone and thus paving way for the President to direct for the conduct of the 2023 elections to be based on a PR system ( district block system).
It is vital to also remind the public that Sierra Leone’s electoral system for the conduct of Parliamentary
elections has largely revolved around two types; the First Past the Post (constituency elections) and that of Proportional Representation otherwise known as District Block System.
The 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone under section 38 (1) makes the First Past the Post electoral system as the mandatory choice for the conduct of Parliamentary elections by ECSL and the country has implemented same in three successive democratic elections namely 2007, 2012 and 2018 elections.
But notwithstanding the above provision however, Proportional Representation has also been made use of in Sierra Leone at least in two democratic elections namely 1996 and 2002 elections.
By section 38 (A) (1) of the Constitutional Amendment of 2001, Proportional Representation was made part of our electoral system as a default option to be resorted to only where “a date for a general election of members of Parliament has been appointed but constituencies have not been established in accordance with subsection 3 of section 38 of the 1991 constitution for the purpose of such election.”
This Constitutional Amendment, introduced during Sierra Leone’s war period was justifiable since there was an acute absence of credible
population data coupled with the challenge of accessibility to many areas of the country at the time for the delimitation of constituencies and wards. Hence, the basis for which the Proportional
Representation system was introduced in the 1996 and 2002 elections respectively.
Today, in peace time, just about 8 months to the 2023 general elections, ECSL had made a representation to the President that they are unable to conduct the boundary delimitation exercise and divide the country into constituencies
thus paving way for the President to direct the re-introduction of the Proportional
Representation system as the modus operandi for the conduct of Parliamentary elections in 2023.
Listed therefore below are 10 strong reasons as to why LEGAL LINK believes that the chairperson of ECSL should be sanctioned with immediate effect from the institution.
1) It was the ECSL boss that represented to the President that ECSL is unable to carry out the boundary delimitation exercise that will lead to the division of the country into constituencies and wards
From his interview at the BBC and the Press Statement issued by ECSL dated 21st October 2022, it is clear as crystal that it was ECSL that represented to the President their inability to conduct the boundary delimitation exercise that could have divided the country into constituencies and wards.
This inability precipitated the President to then issue out a directive to ECSL to conduct the 2023 elections using the district block system.
It is therefore proper, just and reasonable in the given circumstances to blame the NEC boss squarely for this forceful introduction of the PR system by the government without reasonable justifications.
Had he not represented to the President that he was unable to conduct the boundary delimitation exercise that will lead to the division of the country into constituencies and wards, the President would not have triggered the District Block system (PR system) under section 38A of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone which happens to be the exception.
The arguments put forward by the ECSL boss via BBC as to their inability to conduct the boundary delimitation exercise only makes a stark ridicule of the ineptitudeness of the ECSL institution.
2) The ECSL boss failed to engage the public, political parties and relevant stakeholders over ECSL’s inability to conduct a boundary delimitation exercise
The sudden outburst from political party stakeholders, the public and right activists on social media regarding the press statement from ECSL on the PR system reveals that not much was done by ECSL to engage them before the pronouncement.
The secrecy maintained by ECSL on such a contentious issue raised serious suspicion particularly for the main opposition party that has vehemently decried the PR system when it was tabled in Parliament through the Public Elections Bill of 2022.
A prior engagement with all political stakeholders on ECSL’s inability to conduct the boundary delimitation exercise and it’s implications on the 2023 elections before engaging the president may have been helpful to say the least.
Construing it’s non engagement approach with relevant political stakeholders on its abandonment of the boundary delimitation exercise before holding a consultative meeting with the president, LEGAL LINK asserts that ECSL failed in it’s primary role to serve as an independent and transparent arbiter for public elections in Sierra Leone.
3) The flip flop behavior of the ECSL boss poses a clear and present danger to the integrity of the ECSL institution
As an integrity institution, it is distasteful to see and hear the ECSL boss flip -flopping around the conduct of the boundary delimitation exercise. At some point, he asserted that the boundary delimitation exercise is ongoing and at another time, he asserts that such exercise has been put on hold and will no longer take place.
This chameleonic state of affairs is not good for an integrity institution like ECSL whose mandate is to conduct public elections in Sierra Leone in a free, credible and transparent way.
Amongst other things, it will engender public distrust for the institution and dent it’s credibility in superintending over free, fair and credible elections in the country.
4) The incessant delay by ECSL in carrying out the boundary delimitation exercise was wilful and intentional
It is important to emphasize that ECSL had the whole of 2022 to plan for the boundary delimitation exercise. As admitted by the ECSL boss himself, the process had started as far back as February 2022. There was available data that ECSL could have used for the boundary delimitation exercise if the provisional results of the Mid term census was being delayed.
But ECSL chose to wait for the mid term census statistics and even requested for it long before the results were validated.
Why then did the Commission decide to renege on its pursuit to utilize the mid term census results even after it’s validation? This is certainly anyone’s guess to make. But what is clear however is the fact that there was incessant delay on the part of ECSL to carry out the boundary delimitation exercise as agreed under their strategic plan / electoral cycle calendar of activities.
This omission to act inadvertently imputes a wilful intention on the part of ECSL to not carry out the boundary delimitation exercise dividing the country into constituencies and wards for the 2023 elections.
5) ECSL’s boss reference to the August 10 violent protests as an excuse for not carrying out the boundary delimitation exercise is unpardonable
LEGAL LINK notes also that the ECSL boss, in his interview on BBC referenced the August 10 violent protests as part of the reason for ECSL not been able to carry out the boundary delimitation exercise.
This excuse is certainly untenable and unpardonable particularly when it is construed that the violent protests of August 10 only lasted for a week. After that, normalcy was quickly restored in the country with the curfew lifted within the shortest possible time.
The question then that comes to mind is, what steps did the Commission take in rolling out the boundary delimitation exercise before August 10?
Did ECSL really set out a timeline to complete the boundary delimitation exercise before December 2022?
Without any gainsaying, it defeats logic and common sense for the NEC boss to use the August 10 violent protests which only lasted for one week as a justification for not carrying out the boundary delimitation exercise. Such excuse is unpardonable indeed.
6) ECSL still has time in their hands to do the boundary delimitation exercise if there’s good will.
The ECSL boss in his interview on the BBC told the world that the ECSL institution is constrained by time to carry out the boundary delimitation exercise.
On the contrary however, LEGAL LINK is of the firm belief that the ECSL boss is economical with the truth as Sierra Leone still have about 8 months to the general elections in 2023.
Where there’s a will on the part of ECSL, the government and election management bodies, the boundary delimitation exercise can be effectively carried out in the next two months by the Commission.
It is important to further emphasize that when the ECSL wanted to undertake the voter registration exercise, it only took them a month and two weeks to roll out such a herculean task in the whole of the country. This means that the ECSL has the capacity to undertake huge tasks with speed and dedication.
LEGAL LINK therefore calls on ECSL to show the same vehemence and dedication shown at the Voter registration process towards the boundary delimitation exercise and within 2 months the process would have been completed.
7) The ECSL has enough available data to conduct the boundary delimitation exercise
One of the impediments to boundary delimitation exercise is usually the absence of census data on the population. However, such is not the case in Sierra Leone at the moment as there’s the 2015 census data, the 2021 mid term census data and even the recent statistics on the voter registration exercise.
Hence, it is inconceivable and shocking as to why ECSL neglected all of the available population data and remained defiant towards the conduct of the boundary delimitation exercise.
8) ECSL’s boss introduction of the PR system in the forth coming elections via tweeter.
On the 20th of October 2022, we note that the ECSL boss introduced the PR system via tweeter and informed the public that the 2023 elections will be based on the PR system without any reference to the President.
It is still unclear as to why the ECSL boss choose to communicate such an important political decision via tweeter. But many political party stakeholders, civil rights activists and social media commentators had condemn this move by the ECSL boss to whittle down such an important matter.
As an right based institution, LEGAL LINK equally condemns this cavalier attitude of the NEC boss in the strongest terms and urged that such matters should be treated with a deep sense of cosmic responsibility and moral rectitude going forward.
9) The non clarity of ECSL’s boss regarding the type of PR system to be adopted after its introduction
In his press statement and BBC interview, the NEC boss indicated his desire to engage with political parties and other stakeholders as to the effective planning on the rules, procedures and regulations concerning the PR system that is to be introduced.
This unclarity by the ECSL boss and institution as to the type of PR system to be introduced in the 2023 elections coupled with the absence of rules and procedures before introducing the PR system poses a clear and present danger to the credibility of the 2023 elections. Would political parties ever agree as to the type of PR system, census data or quota that may be utilized in the 2023 elections?
10) The ECSL boss did not separate the various elections to be affected by the PR system in his press statement and BBC interview
A cursory analysis of the interview of the ECSL boss via BBC and that of the ECSL press statement will leave everyone thinking that all 3 elections in 2023 ( presidential, parliamentary and local council elections) will be runned according to the district block system.
This is the case because no effort was made in both of ECSL’s media updates to emphasize that it is only the Parliamentary Elections that will be affected by the PR system.
Hence, it is still unclear as to how the local council elections in particular will be conducted by ECSL especially so when wards and constituencies first needs to be determined for the effective conduct of lower level elections in the country.
In conclusion, it is vital to pinpoint that this act by the ECSL boss and by extension ECSL sets a dangerous precedent in the electioneering process and the body politic in the future. It will further undermine public trust and puts the institution in a bad light before the international community.
There’s therefore a need for some strong measures to be taken against the NEC boss over his cavalier attitude and omission to perform a public duty as required for by law. The 1991 constitution clearly provides punishment for such omission by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone.
But will such a forceful introduction of the PR system receive validation from the government, opposition political parties, CSO’s, election management bodies, right groups and the donor/ diplomatic community in Sierra Leone? Only history will tell.
Rashid Dumbuya Esq
Executive Director of LEGAL LINK and Former Commissioner for Human Rights in Sierra Leone
On behalf of the LEGAL LINK TEAM
ABOUT LEGAL LINK*
Christian Lawyers Centre (a.k.a LEGAL LINK) is a non-profit legal advocacy group comprising of lawyers, law students and human right activists that seeks to provide legal assistance to religious communities as well as vulnerable groups in Sierra Leone through legal advocacy, education and training, public interest litigations, state and private sector accountability, enforcement of the rule of law and ensuring respect for domestic and international laws that guarantee fundamental human rights and freedoms.