By Aruna Turay
Sierra Leone’s new Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Mohamed Kenewui Konneh has broken his silence on the conduct of the parliamentary by-election in Constituency 110 and also on plans for the 2023 general elections.
It can be recalled that the vacancy in Constituency 110 occurred as a result of a judgement passed on 31st May 2019, in the High Court which ordered inter-alia, that the Parliamentary Election conducted on 7 March 2018 n Constituency 110.
The NEC boss said he inherited 5 pending elections, 2 parliamentary and 3 local council and also fifty-seven paramount chieftaincy elections.
He said owing to COVID-19, NEC has developed a guideline that will enable the conduct of these elections without the violation of COVID-19 regulations including those of the State of Emergency.
He said the guideline is currently being reviewed by NACOVERC and after that the review, the guideline will be rolled out to stakeholders including political parties. When once the review is done, he went on dates will be fixed for pending elections and this includes Constituency 110.
To improve the country’s electoral system, the commissioner went on, they are reviewing the hundred and eleven recommendations brought forward by the 2018 electoral observation missions including the EU, ECOWAS and others. These recommendations he said will help transform and improve the country’s electoral system if implemented.
He said the NEC learnt a lot from 2018 elections which include improving the communications unit to strengthen voters’ education among other electoral issues.
The commissioner said currently his administration is working on ensuring that Sierra Leone governments set aside an Electoral Fund Basket for electoral purposes only, adding that over the years, the country only gets resources when elections are closer.
He said: “We are working on increasing staff motivation and moral through the improvement of conditions of service. This is being captured in our 2020-2024 Strategic Plan which we are now putting in place.”
He added that the Commission is also working on ensuring that governments sponsor the construction of regional offices for NEC in all four regions across the country instead of them leasing properties to use as office space as it is happening now.
Speaking on his strategies to curtail or eradicate electoral violence before, during and after elections, Commission Konneh said he will first tackle misinforming by opening up relevant information to the public and stakeholders in time.
Adding: “We are working with the PPRC to coordinate with each political party to ensure that all understand each other’s obligations, roles and responsibilities.”
He said he intends to use some local civil society organisations to engage community stakeholders to help identify some of the threats of violence in particular areas across the country and then put in place motivating factors that will prevent violence during elections.
He said there are countries were people go on with their normal activities whiles elections are ongoing and that such atmosphere needs to be replicated in Sierra Leone.
“My vision is to make Sierra Leoneans take politics as normal activities where people can wake up in the morning, go vote and return to their normal businesses as if it is just a normal day.” Commissioner Konneh stated.
He said the way some politicians talk to people, the way they go about their campaigns and the way they spread their messages in political rallies are some of the main contributors to electoral violence in Sierra Leone. He said these are some of the issues his Commission intends to address before the 2023 elections.
Commissioner Konneh said: “I want to use CSOs to be able to pacify people’s mentality towards a peaceful elections rather than violence. One of the issues we want to avoid in conducting elections is to pronounce a date for elections when the Commission is yet to have money to conduct that election. For this and other things we are working with the Ministry of Finance to ensure money is provided for elections before NEC makes pronouncement of dates.”
He assured that the NEC will put mechanisms in place to ensure that the 2023 general election voting system, including the announcement of results very much easier than the previous.
Election is an integral part of our democracy and Sierra Leone has enjoyed five democratic national elections since the restoration of democratic governance in 1996 and all has been given a clean bill of health by the international community.