PUBLIC REVIEW ARTICLE

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PONDER MY THOUGHTS

BY

Andrew Keili

THE EU “WAPS” ON ELECTIONS: NO “BUSH SHAKING”

It would seem the recent Press Release from the EU Follow-Up Mission has rattled the government’s cage. Whilst lauding government’s successes in introducing a bill for increasing women’s participation in public and political life, modifying the appointment procedures for board members of the IMC and decriminalizing libel, they were very scathing about the poor performance of institutions governing the conduct of national elections.

According to the EU, there is a significant decrease in trust in the bodies directly responsible for elections, namely the Judiciary, NEC, PPRC and the Police. These institutions are not trusted and there are real concerns as to how they have handled recent elections. The release then goes into specifics.

High Court decisions to declare the runner up elected in 10 constituencies, contravening section 146.4 of the Public Election Act, which requires another election to be held, eroded confidence in the neutrality of the Judiciary. The slow pace and untimely resolution of electoral cases undermines democracy. Surprisingly, the Mission also cast aspersions on the Mid-Term Census, saying it is unprecedented and doubting its stated rationale. It states thus: “The use of an optional census to provide data which might be used to change electoral boundaries shortly before an election is not conducive to the political atmosphere or good electoral practice.” It calls for the timely disclosure of the White Paper on the Constitutional Review Process as “a precondition for an effective, transparent and accountable process and for re-engaging all stakeholders”, and for having a fixed date for future elections.

It paints the government and these institutions negatively with one broad brush – “In our assessment, the government has a role in providing both sufficient and timely funding – but equally importantly the political space – for these institutions to demonstrate their neutrality and independence which are absolutely essential for elections being recognised as credible by citizens and observers.”

Not surprisingly, the opposition and other critics have hung on to the EU’s criticism. Government spokesmen, spokesmen for some of these institutions and some government supporters have not taken kindly to the criticism.

The Judiciary spokesman’s defense of his institution’s actions was comical at best and portrays the Judiciary as an institution clearly stuck in an inglorious past. He went back to citing precedence for elections annulled before under “similar circumstances” as justification for the election petition judgments! The NEC spokesman concocted some incomprehensible explanation for issues like forged figures and several sloppy actions attributed to NEC. PPRC has kept mute and the Police, no doubt caught with its hands in the cookie jar (as always) has gone Awol. Top Government spokesmen have asked for the EU to “identify those who gave them such reports” and “provide details of what baseline information was provided them.” They cite the statement made by the EU- “The Mission has been told that there is a significant decrease in trust” as proof positive that the Mission was relying on information provided by others. They obviously neglected the bit that alluded to the Mission’s findings and assessments- “The Mission findings are that these institutions’ reputations are less trusted than is needed. But further, our assessment is that there are real grounds for concern in the ways in which these bodies have administered recent bye-elections.”

These issues highlighted by the EU are certainly not new. Incidences of violence and glaring irregularities in recent bye elections are well known to most people. The actions or inactions of the bodies cited have repeatedly been condemned by civil society and local election observers.

Tragically, many of these characteristics have in the past been identified as antecedents to the conflict which persists today in Sierra Leone. The TRC report was scathing about the judiciary. It states thus: “The judiciary was subordinated to the executive, parliament did little more than ‘rubber-stamp’, …………Lack of courage on the part of lawyers and judges over the years paved the way for the desecration of the constitution, the perpetuation of injustice and the pillaging of the country’s wealth.”

Regarding the issue of the constitution and the simplification of our laws, the TRC report also concludes thus: “Access to justice can also be achieved through a simplification of legal rules so that they may be understood and used by anyone.” In a society like ours where parties are mainly formed along tribal and regional lines our democratic system based on “majoritarialism” may either lead to the politics of exclusion or the politics of acquiescence. This does not bode well for the development of the country as the success of the system depends too much on the whims of those in power

It is rather surprising that in all of these debates, the normally vociferous players in civil society have kept silent and left the fight to groups like the CGG and NEW. Where are they? Where is the Bar association? Where is the National Commission for Democracy?

I have referred to MPs thrust into Parliament through legal machinations as “Judiciary MPs”. I learnt a new term this week from CGG’s Marcella Samba Sesay who referred to the new concept of “Judicialisation of Politics”. I rather like this apt description.

It behooves Government not to take the EU’s criticism with levity. The overarching strategic objective of the EU’s relationship with Sierra Leone to support the country’s transition from a post-conflict situation characterised by structural poverty, lack of basic services and governance challenges towards sustainable and inclusive development has resulted in considerable benefit to us. Anything they mention bordering on potential insecurity should be taken seriously.

The EU has not entirely closed the door on us and are still hopeful government will address these issues. They also advise the government on the need for democratic compromise. The Press Release ends thus:

“While there remain several issues of concern; there is still time remaining to address many of these issues. The Mission recommends that the powers in the Constitution be exercised with restraint and in the spirit of democratic compromise, not winner takes all.”

The President has said he will “engage” the EU on these issues. This is good and hopeful. Let us just hope foolhardy supporters who counter every criticism with vitriol do not spoil the engagement ceremony and that this engagement will lead to “marriage”. No “bush shaking”!

NEC’s ZAINAB MORSERAY IS A “DUCK”

I must confess to rather liking Zainab Morseray, the new Electoral Commissioner for the Western Area. Anyone who has been at the top of active politics over the past decade would have encountered her in one way or another. I know her to be the quintessence of courtesy when you deal with her. She is normally soft spoken and has a listening ear. Some would say colloquially “E day make lek butter nor day melt na in mot”.

However, those that have been steeped, especially in SLPP politics and not in the “Paopa” camp have always been suspicious of her. They say definitely that “butter melts in her mouth”. They say she has had a hand in all the machinations that have worked against them in the PPRC. They have accused various PPRC Commissioners of acquiescing too easily to her whims. She has had the opportunity on several occasions to make decisions on issues in the absence of a quorum of commissioners at the PPRC. The “All Aspirants’ Alliance” members in SLPP who were at daggers drawn with the Bio camp often accused her of deliberately misplacing letters, misinformation, leaking information and all kinds of ills. In the midst of it all this, Zainab always appeared unflappable and no butter melted in her mouth.

Other political parties have also continued accusing her of being a staunch Bio loyalist. After her  appointment by the President, they have come out collectively with guns blazing to oppose her. They have also added to Zainab’s  ”military charge sheet”. accusing her of corruption and all kinds of vices. They have cited her spending nine years as Acting Registrar of the PPRC without confirmation as proof that she is not up to the task. They have accused her of unlawful use of solicited funds to undermine political party structure and authority of political party leaders, illegal soliciting of funds on behalf of the Commission and illegal funding of a convention of a rival faction of a political party. Accusations in a report by them against her of corruption that had been made to the ACC some two years ago were squashed overnight.

The opposition parties claim they were not consulted on her appointment and walked out of Parliament during her confirmation hearing. She was nevertheless confirmed.

Nothing seems to stick on Zainab (Houdini) Morseray, the teflon woman who continues to evade the hangman’s noose. She can be said by abductive reasoning to have passed the “Duck test”- “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” Opposition parties have watched her habitual characteristics and concluded she must be a duck because she quacks like one and swims like one even though those in power say she is not a duck. But then she is the new Electoral Commissioner for the Western Area. We are indeed living in interesting times!

Ponder my thoughts.

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