Cites Finance Minister and NEC Acting Chairperson
The leadership of the Senate has cited Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah and the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission to appear before the Senate Committee on Autonomous Commissions and Agencies on Friday, September 18.
The decision to invite the two officials comes after a number of Senators in an unprecedented manner yesterday, expressed disappointment and anger over the manner in which the nationwide ongoing voter roll update program is proceeding, with warnings of chaos if the current trend of events continues.
Senator Sando Johnson, whose Bomi County is in the spotlight for what is now being described as voter trucking, painted a gloomy picture of a tension-packed election, with bloodletting violence in that part of the country between those who are being trucked and the real citizens of the county.
Senator Johnson disclosed that due to the mobile voter roll update, NEC has reduced the original polling centers from 198 to 48 centers.
He said those involved in voter trucking are paying individuals LD$4,000 per voter card and allowing some of them to register as many as four times, while police officers assisting in the process get a share or commission.
“Human beings have been butchered like animals in Bomi and the government is not saying anything, which today caused women in Tubmanburg to hold a massive demonstration. If we are not careful with this Senatorial election, we will send this country back into a deep crisis; this whole process is not credible. If we don’t act now, we will tell our people to rise up, I am not hiding it; if the government wants to avoid violence and bloodshed, it must act now,” said Senator Johnson.
Sinoe County Senator J. Milton Teahjay has suggested that the whole process either be cancelled or suspended due to the glaring malpractices.
Senator Stephen Zargo reminded the NEC of the situation of tension brewing in neighboring countries including Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, where current leaders are changing their constitutions to afford them third terms, while in Sierra Leone the President is said to have been out of the country for weeks on a medical trip.
“There is uncertainty in those three neighboring countries, and this must serve as a warning against any attempt at tampering with elections here.”
The Senators’ anger and concerns were displayed after the report from the Senate committee on Autonomous Commissions and Agencies made several observations and recommendations from a committee hearing regarding the reduction in the budget of the National Elections Commission for the upcoming Mid-term Elections and the Referendum.
There was a drastic reduction made in the Elections body’s original request of US$24 million to US$17.6 million and, now, to US$13.5 million. Of the latter amount, the NEC has so far received only US$3 million.
Justifying the downward reduction in the amount needed for the elections, Senator Henrique Tokpa, who chaired the committee, quoted NEC boss Davidetta Brown-Lansanah as stating that the current budget for the electoral process was okay.
She reportedly told the committee that the budget was reduced because of the new strategy of doing mobile registration instead of the regular polling station registration that might take several weeks, if not months.
Addressing the committee members’ concerns on the final registration roll (FRR) and the voter roll update (VRU), the NEC Acting Chairperson reportedly informed the committee of the inclusion of all stakeholders, including political parties, civil society organizations, partners, national and international, which began in August and is ongoing. She spoke of the COVID-19 plan, which she said is a minor challenge.
According to the report, NEC acting head disclosed that her commission is working with the Ministry of Health, the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL) and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to source funding in the of US$725,556.00 to help implement the health protocols during the elections period.
She further assured the committee that if the current budget of US$13.5 million is made available as promised by the government, the process will go on unhindered.
“Distinguished colleagues, the Committee on Autonomous Commission and Agencies, in keeping with the confidence reposed in it by the plenary of the Senate, states clearly that based on the presentation by Honorable Browne-Lansanah and her team, the committee is confident that if the US$13.5 million is made available to the commission at the appropriate time, the elections will go on in a manner that will help promote peace and harmony,” the Senate committee report said.
In its recommendation, the committee stated that based on the findings and presentations made by the Chairman and her team, it advised that the government, through the MFDP, be made to provide funding to NEC on a timely basis for successful holding of the Senatorial Mid-term elections on December 8, 2020; that the slow pace in remitting funds to the Commission during this critical time is troubling and shameful for the country’s democracy.
Elections bring peace and harmony to a country, but it also brings disturbances if not handled and managed with care and seriousness.
During a brief period of debate, Senator Varney G Sherman took exception to NEC’s decision to reduce the budget for the elections without consulting the Senate that approved the two previous budgets.
He also observed that the NEC is abandoning the Senate’s request that the Commission briefs the Senate monthly on progress with the electoral process.