''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 10 No 1

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Saturday March 2, 2013 - It's more than a week now since the EU Elections Team observed the November 17, 2012 polls presented its final report and we still await a reaction from the government and Lady Christiana Thorpe, the electoral boss on loopholes in the process and the use of state resources by the Ernest Bai Koroma government.

The European Union sent a team to Sierra Leone to observe what went on in the electoral process before, during and after the November 17 polls which, according to the Head of the National Electoral Commission one Dr Christiana Thorpe saw the incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma getting enough votes in the Presidential votes to do away with the need for any run-off between the two leading candidates as he was ruled to have garnered 58.7 percent of all valid votes cast.

The EU team headed by a UK member of the European Parliament was full of praise for the way Sierra Leoneans conducted themselves expressing the hope that the observations in the final report would be a pointer as to how the creation of a level playing field in all aspects of the electoral process would solidify democracy in Sierra Leone - this despite the large volume of currencies, both local and international that was seen to have been moving from government and party coffers to key state holders in a desperate move to get votes using any and all means necessary.EU Elections Observer team head Howitt

In a statement before presenting the EU's Final Report the Chief Observer Richard Howitt noted, among other things, that there was a need to improve on some aspects of the process while praising areas he and his team considered worthy of emulation.

The Executive Summary of the Final Report has a number of key points that needs addressing urgently to give democracy a firm base in post-conflict Sierra Leone.

"The elections were well-conducted, conducive to democratic consolidation but...the playing field was un-level”.

In this report, we do not change this assessment. Instead, the sixty pages and thirty-one detailed recommendations of the report are about what happens next. How future elections can be improved. How democracy can be consolidated in Sierra Leone...

We say the right to participate in public affairs would be strengthened by constitutional amendments on citizenship to broaden the right to stand for election, to allow independent candidates to run for the presidency and by removing reservations against equality for women.

We suggest amending the Public Elections Act to reduce restrictions on standing for elections for employees of the public service...

We call for legislation to promote the participation of women in political parties and as candidates...

recognising levels of illiteracy in the country, for candidates to be grouped on the ballot paper by party...

We call for assistive facilities including a return to tactile ballots, to better enable people with disabilities to vote...

We call for the publication of an electoral calendar so that all stages of the process with deadlines are known in advance.

We recommend that there is progressive announcement of Presidential election results from around the country, and that full results by polling stations are published...

We also suggest that minutes of the meetings of the National Electoral Commission are themselves published...

The media also have an important role to play in securing openness in elections and we support efforts towards agreeing a Freedom of Information Bill and reaffirm our call to SLBC to fulfil its obligations as a public service broadcaster...

to be effective, we call on the judicial system of the country to ensure that objections to nominations and appeals including petitions against results themselves are resolved in a time period so that the outcome does not prejudice the rights of those involved or the election process itself.

In the final report there's one particular aspect that should be of concern to the man who declared a one-day national holiday to allow party members and government functionaries to witness what he called his second inauguration and knowing President Koroma and his gang's disrespect for financial reporting would have ripped the country's coffers wide open to spend, spend and spend with no proper documentation on how much of the people's resources were used for what, by all account was an APC victory celebration given another name.

"An unequal playing field was evident throughout the campaign period. Although the election campaign was dominated by the ruling APC and the main opposition SLPP, APC clearly benefited from the advantages of incumbency by making use of state resources, enjoying considerably more media coverage and clearly having more financial resources for campaigning, including considerable sums spent on paid media airtime as compared to SLPP and other political parties. The volume of resources invested in the campaign by the ruling party clearly exceeded that of the SLPP. The other political parties, including PMDC, were much less visible as they lacked financial resources to conduct large-scale public campaign events. As no state financial support is made available to political parties, their ability to compete in elections was impaired."

We must also add the illegal participation of a number of business concerns including those in the mining sector in funding the Ernest Bai Koroma campaign as well as providing various logistics avenues that allowed undue advantage of the incumbent over others in the race. Air transport including the provision of helicopters was also noted.

Kindly note this observation which could have led to another Kenya-style hurried swearing-in ceremony, the aftermath of which led to the carnage that the East African country is doing its best to avoid as they head for the polls on Monday March 4, 2013. We had, in earlier articles advised Dr Christiana Thorpe to be very wary and cautious and not become Sierra Leone's version of one Samuel Kivuitu.

"The NEC acted independently and impartially throughout the whole election process and key decisions were made in consultation with political parties and other stakeholders. Notable exceptions, however, were the process of prescribing nomination fees, which did not include any consultations, and the announcement of presidential election results, as the winning APC presidential candidate and incumbent President was evidently informed about the results earlier than the other presidential candidates and the general public, as his swearing-in ceremony started shortly after the official announcement of the presidential election results."

The EU Observers also noted the skewed reportage in favour of the ruling party and President Koroma by the national broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation whose head is there at the pleasure of the President

"The media overall provided a reasonably diverse platform for political parties in proportion to their level of activity in the electoral campaign. Significant unbalances, however, were observed in the electoral coverage of both public and some private media. According to the EU EOM's media monitoring findings, the public broadcaster gave access to most of the political contestants. Nevertheless, in key areas such as news bulletins and election related programmes, SLBC showed significant quantitative unbalance in favour of the ruling party.

The quality and balance of electoral coverage by private media was very diverse, with the print media registering the most evident cases of biased coverage both in terms of space and tone. The radio stations Radio Democracy and Cotton Tree News (CTN), and the newspapers Awoko and Concord Times, offered balanced and neutral coverage of the campaign period, both in amount of airtime/space and tone devoted to political parties."

The main opposition candidate of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, the SLPP, Julius Maada Bio is reported to have filed a complaint against NEC and the ruling party, the APC on how the elections were conducted citing a number of alleged irregularities.

The law, thought to be compromised has yet to respond and this observation by the European Union on the legal provisions for the addressing of complaints relating to such irregularities should serve as a warning.

It was under such loose and wayward atmosphere that provided the legal loophole for election petitions never to be heard in court nor addressed through the legal channels during the Stevens and Momoh era. Despite so many of those petitions filed on behalf of the aggrieved parties as the late legal mind Terence Terry discovered when he filed petitions against, among others, the one and only Sorie Ibrahim Koroma. Not one was heard in court throughout the life of the government and members so petitioned.

"The time limits for complaints and appeals foreseen in the law allow for procedures to continue past polling day, thereby denying timely and effective remedies to aggrieved parties. An appeal against the decision of a returning officer regarding a contested parliamentary or local council candidate nomination may be made to the NEC and, beyond this, by way of election petition to the High Court, only after the declaration of results. This is a notable gap in the legislation in that no procedure exists for dealing with contested nominations between delivery of the decision of NEC and the publication of election results. Challenges to the results of presidential elections are made to the Supreme Court within seven day of the declaration of results. No time limit is laid down for the delivery of a decision in this matter."

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