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Thursday, December 1, 2022

EU Election Follow-up Mission Disappointed Over Government’s Non-Compliance

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By Foday Moriba Conteh

During a Press Conference held on Friday 29th October 2021 at the New Brookfields Hotel in Freetown, the Chief of Mission, Member of the European Parliament, who also doubles as the Head of the EU Election Follow-up Mission, Hon. Norbert Neuser revealed that they are in the country to undertake a technical assessment of the state of implementation of the 29 recommendations put forward by the EU Election Observation Mission way back in 2018 adding how the effective implementation of those recommendations would enhance the credibility, inclusiveness and transparency of Sierra Leone’s 2023 elections.

He said the purpose of their mission is to engage with various stakeholders including the Government, Civil Society Organizations, Political Parties, Electoral Management and Regulatory bodies in order to gather and collate their views on the ongoing electoral reform processes further maintaining that they are not on an election observation mission also disclosing how they did not observe the recent bye-elections, nor are they in the country to observe the forthcoming ones to be conducted in two weeks’ time.

He pointed out that in order to implement the recommendations, 9 constitutional amendments would be needed but said none of them would require a referendum but he, however, underscored that 21 legislative changes would be necessary and that some of the recommendations could be addressed through administrative policies.

“An overall recommendation in 2018 was that the new Parliament and Government should resume the Constitutional Review Process. However, three years after, the need to reactivate the Constitutional Review process still remains,” he emphasized.

He said they are aware that a White Paper is eagerly awaited, but pinpointed that Constitutional change requires cross-party consensus and compromise in order for such to be successful and durable adding how public participation is also needed.

Hon. Norbert Neuser suggested that timely disclosure of the White Paper is a precondition for an effective, transparent and accountable process and for re-engaging all stakeholders.

He noted that there is a clear consensus on many issues including that there should be a fixed date for future elections and suggesting that the issue is to turn the discussion into law in time for the elections in 2023.

“The Mission has been told that there is a significant decrease in trust in the essential bodies which play integral roles in the forthcoming elections. These include the Judiciary, NEC, PPRC and the Police. Our 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,” he stated.

He maintained that in 2018, the EU Election Observation Mission recommended the improvement of results and reconciliation forms, the timely publication of detailed tally procedures and the publication of disaggregated results by polling stations of which he said the Election Follow-up Mission is encouraging the National Electoral Commission to engage with all electoral stakeholders to address those issues with a view to restore confidence in the electoral management bodies and strengthen both the transparency and integrity of the electoral process.

He revealed that the Mid-Term Census is unprecedented; the stated reason for it is highly contested and the use of an optional census to provide data that might be used to change electoral boundaries shortly before an election is not conducive to the political atmosphere or good electoral practice, adding that the Mission repeats its recommendation that the voter register should be automatically produced from the civil register, which would save money and time. “We have not seen evidence that sufficient progress has been made on this important issue,” he lamented.

“The Mission welcomes that a Bill was formally introduced in Parliament this month that has the stated aim of increasing women’s participation in public and political life. However, the consultation process in preparing the draft was lacking. We share the hopes of many in Sierra Leone that a meaningful consultation process and clear re-drafting of the Bill will, in combination with political parties own internal policies, result in at least 30% of MPs being women in 2023,” he appreciated and expressed hope.

He ended by stating that while there remain several issues of concern; there is still time remaining to address many of those issues and that they recommend that the powers in the Constitution be exercised with restraint and in the spirit of democratic compromise, not by “winner takes all”.

(C) The Calabash Newspaper

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