Sierra Leoneans in Doubt of a Free And Fair Election in 2023 Over The Recent Salary Increase For Electoral Staffs

Recent salary increases for electoral staff in Sierra Leone cast new doubt over the independence and credibility of the country’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) and its ability to organize free and fair elections in a country whose political environment is now increasingly marred by electoral violence and renewed allegations of vote rigging.

The new concerns over the electoral body’s independence and fairness have emerged after payroll documents show that the Ministry of Finance unilaterally raised the monthly wages of NEC staff in April 2021 without authority from parliament.

Sierra Leone’s NEC is the state institution responsible for organizing and supervising elections. Section 33 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone empowers NEC with the constitutional mandate to prepare and conduct all public elections and referenda in Sierra Leone. The Constitution also empowers the country’s president to appoint all members of the Commission after consultation with all registered political parties and subject to the approval of parliament.

In recent years, controversies have followed presidential appointments of NEC commissioners, with opposition parties complaining that presidential appointments were not preceded by the required consultations. Along with improper appointments, questions have also been raised over the regional imbalance and ethnic composition of the NEC. Opposition politicians have expressed concerns that majority of staff are potentially supporters of the governing Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) recruited from ruling party strongholds.

The new wage increases raise the salaries of NEC staff, including drivers and domestic staff of senior officials, by 40% to 75%. This action has been taken despite a cabinet position against the implementation of wage increases for staff of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), ahead of the inception of a Wages and Compensation Commission (WCC).

“During this period before the enactment of the Wages and Compensation Commission Bill and the operationalization of the WCC, we would request that Ministries, Agencies, and Departments refrain from increases in salaries, allowances, gratuities and end of service benefits,” Financial Secretary Sahr Jusu wrote to heads of MDAs on 14th January 2021.

This directive specifically informed heads of MDAs that a Wages and Compensation Commission Bill was approved by the Cabinet on 7th October 2020, and was placed before Parliament for consideration.

Despite this freeze on salary increases, Africanist Press discovered that Finance Ministry officials implemented unilateral increases in salaries, allowances, and other benefits of all electoral staff, including NEC Commissioners and their ancillary employees. Analysis shows that the monthly gross pay of the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Mohamed K. Konneh, was raised from Le51,187,500 in FY2020 to Le83,434,250.00 in FY2021; a monthly increase of Le32,246,750.00 (or 61.3%). Likewise, the salaries of both Electoral Commissioners, Edmond Alpha and Marian S. Nyumah-Moijeuh, were also raised from a monthly gross pay of Le40,607,500.00 in FY2020 to Le71,572,575.00 in FY2021; an increase of Le30,965,075.00 (about 75%). The aggregate new annual pay of all three current NEC commissioners amounted to Le1,873,619,250.00; a yearly increase of Le771,944,250.00 in addition to the Wage Bill for the three top officials in NEC’s staff cadre.

Africanist Press also aggregated the monthly gross pay of all 201 staff on NEC’s payroll, excluding the Commissioners’ salaries above, and found that the new salary increases for electoral staff have driven the monthly Wage Bill of NEC upwards to Le2,896,673,552.29, representing a monthly increase of Le696,993,899.60 on the national Wage Bill. Thus, the annual aggregate wages of all NEC staff, including drivers, office assistants, and domestic employees of NEC Commissioners on the payroll, now amounts to Le34,760,082,627.43; an increase of Le8,363,926,795.21 in national expenditure on wages.

Africanist Press compared the new salaries of NEC staff with salaries of security sector workers, especially those in the military, police, and prison’s department. Current pay increases now put NEC staff among the most highly paid public sector workers in Sierra Leone. Findings indicate that, for the most part, even office assistants on the new NEC payroll now earn more than most non-commissioned officers and private ranks of the Sierra Leone military. For instance, the 27 office assistants on NEC’s new payroll are all receiving a uniform basic monthly salary of Le1,589,875.00, while staff sergeants in the Sierra Leone military receive a basic monthly pay of Le1,490,147.00. Similarly, senior drivers on NEC’s payroll are paid more than most junior officers in the army, including captains and lieutenants.

For comparison, a captain in the Sierra Leone military currently receives a basic monthly salary of Le2,342,385.00, while the basic salary of a lieutenant is still Le2,004,334.00. Analysis by Africanist Press shows that three ancillary staff on NEC’s payroll – the senior driver, assistant senior deriver, and vehicle examiner – receive basic monthly wages of between Le3,094,819.67 and Le2,737,725.16. Similarly, each of the 26 Senior Electoral Officers or District Elections Managers on NEC’s payroll receive basic salaries of Le11,047,282.10, which is twice that of the monthly basic salaries of Colonels (Le5,952,304.00) and Lieutenant Colonels (Le4,405,589.00).

Findings show a similar situation in which the 12 highest-paid members of the senior management cadre of the Sierra Leone Corrections Department, including the director general, deputy director general, director of corrections and 9 other assistant directors of corrections, all receive monthly wages of between Le10,019,614 and Le4,353,565.

Thus, on average, the aggregate annual salaries of the three NEC Commissioners alone are equivalent to the combined annual salaries of over 500 junior officers and NCOs in the Sierra Leone military. Further, the annual gross salary of Mohamed K. Konneh, NEC’s Chairperson and Chief Electoral Commissioner (Le680,617,800.00), is almost six times higher than that of the director general of the Sierra Leone Correctional Services, Joseph Lamboi (Le120,235,368).

The recent increases in salaries of NEC staff raise suspicions as to the impartiality of the country’s electoral commission, and calls into question the institution’s ability to organize free and fair elections in a country where the independence of democratic institutions has been consistently eroded over the last three years.

In addition to these new pay increases, administrative records of the electoral commission accessed by the Africanist Press show that in March 2021, NEC officials implemented an institutional restructuring and promotions program designed to place alleged SLPP members and active supporters in strategic positions with higher salaries and decision-making abilities. New directorate positions were recently created and staffed by alleged ruling party sympathizers or supposed members. For example, Momoh Kanneh, former chief elections officer in the northern region, was promoted to director of voter education. Similarly, Mohamed Turay, chief elections officer in the northwest region, has been appointed director of NEC operations; and Henry Swaray, previously chief elections officer in charge of the Voters Roll, has been promoted to director of the Voters Roll. With their newly created directorate positions and appointments, all three elections officers have enjoyed a 70% increase in their monthly wages, and occupy strategic management positions. Swaray, for instance, is currently assigned to the National Civil Registration Authority to help consolidate voter records for the upcoming 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections.

In other cases, Africanist Press found that NEC staff believed to be SLPP members were deployed or assigned to supposed opposition party strongholds, where they have been placed in strategic elections management positions. For example, Musa Kangbai, a NEC district elections officer from Kenema, has been appointed Assistant Director of Procurement. In this new position, Kangbai is now in charge of procuring ballot papers and other elections materials for the upcoming 2023 elections. The investigation discovered that Kangbai was among several individuals accused of tampering with ballot papers in polling areas across the Kenema district during the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections.

A similar pattern exists with three other appointees: Umaru Fomba, Paul Simbo, and Ibrahim Kanneh. These are all alleged members or active supporters of the SLPP who have been strategically promoted to newly-created administrative positions. Fomba, for example, was promoted from district elections officer in Kambia to Assistant Director of the northwest region. Fomba was also accused of ballot stuffing during the Thonko Limba bye-elections in 2019. Paul Simbo was promoted, without any reference to his qualification and experience, from district elections officer in Bo to the position of Assistant Director of Ethics, a newly-created department under the supervision of the NEC chairperson. Ibrahim Kanneh was promoted from the position of Information and Technology officer in the northwest region to Assistant Director in charge of the Voter Roll and Data. Kanneh had served NEC for barely a year before his new appointment. Each of these district elections officers in these newly-created assistant director positions are receiving gross monthly pay of Le19,178,081.72, which represents a 58% salary increase from their previous monthly wages (Le11,809,163 in FY2020).

While all of NEC’s 204 staff, including drivers and domestic employees of commissioners, received new salary increases, NEC staff records and payroll documents show that only staff alleged or believed to be SLPP members were considered for promotion under the new restructuring and promotions program. At the district level, for example, assistant district elections officers who were promoted to district elections managers were mostly individuals believed to be members of the SLPP, or from areas considered SLPP strongholds. For instance, Baleyma Musa, a staff member believed to be an active SLPP supporter from Kenema, is now elections manager in Bo. Baleyma Musa was assistant to Musa Kangabai in Kenema when the alleged tampering of ballot papers was carried out during the 2018 elections. Likewise, Augustine Saffa who was transferred from Kambia as district elections officer, now holds the position of district elections manager in Kenema. Other promotions and postings include Augustine Mohamed (recently placed in charge of elections in Portloko), Henry Thompson (Moyamba), Charles Ensa (Karene), Usifu Kamara (Kono), Larry Fangawa (Western Urban), Louissa Gbassa (Western Rural), and Fatmata Jalloh (Pujehun).

We have published on the Africanist Press website excerpts of relevant payroll documents to demonstrate the evidence upon which this report is based. For more details see: https://africanistpress.com/2021/10/10/sierra-leone-recent-salary-increases-for-electoral-commission-staff-cast-doubt-over-the-possibility-of-a-free-and-fair-election-in-2023/

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