There is a Significant Decrease in Trust – European Union Releases Damaging Report on Maada Bio’s Government

The European Union Delegation in Sierra Leone has said that there is a significant decrease in trust in Sierra Leone public institutions which play integral roles in conducting elections.

This statement formed part of the European Union press statement of the Election Follow-Up Mission (EFM) who came to Sierra Leone to assess the progress in implementing the recommendations made by the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) in 2018.

The follow-up mission was led by the Hon. Norbert Neuser, a Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chairman of the Development Committee, who engaged with different stakeholders in the run-up to the next general elections.

The remarks of Chief of Mission, Member of the European Parliament, Hon. Norbert Neuser reads;

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to return to Sierra Leone for the third time and be once more a guest in your country. I was first here at the time of Ebola as part of a European Parliament delegation showing support for Sierra Leone and offering appropriate assistance. In 2018 I observed the presidential and parliamentary elections as part of the Election Observation Mission.

“Today I am pleased to be back as the Head of the EU Election Follow-up Mission and to share with you our key findings. Before that; I would like to highlight the purpose of our mission. We are here to engage with a wide range of stakeholders; from government, civil society, political parties, electoral management and regulatory bodies; in order to gather their views on the ongoing electoral reform process.

“Our mission is not an election observation mission; we did not observe the recent bye-elections, nor are we here to observe the forthcoming ones in two weeks.

“Rather, our mission undertook a technical assessment of the state of implementation of the 29 recommendations made by the EU Election Observation Mission back in 2018. The implementation of these recommendations would enhance the credibility, inclusiveness and transparency of Sierra Leone’s 2023 elections.

“In order to implement the recommendations, 9 constitutional amendments would be needed, however none of them would require a referendum. A further 21 legislative changes would be necessary. 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. Three years later, the need to reactivate the Constitutional review process remains. We are aware that a White Paper is eagerly awaited, but also that Constitutional change requires cross party consensus and compromise in order to be successful and durable. Public participation is also needed. Timely disclosure of the White paper is a precondition for an effective, transparent and accountable process and for re-engaging all stakeholders.

“There is a clear consensus on many issues – including that there should be a fixed date for future elections. Now 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.

“There are surely some lessons to be learned from the management of the last bye-election, which can be trialed in future bye-elections. In 2018, the EU Election Observation Mission recommended
– the improvement of results and reconciliation form,
– the timely publication of detailed tally procedures,
– the publication of disaggregated results by polling stations

“Those issues were not touched upon during the national validation conference of August 2021 as it focused on electoral legal reforms. Therefore, the Election Follow-up Mission encourages the National Electoral Commission to engage with all electoral stakeholders to address those issues to restore confidence in the electoral management bodies and strengthen both, the transparency and integrity of the electoral process.

“In our assessment, the government has a role in providing both sufficient and timely funding – but equally importantly the political space – for these institutions to demonstrate their neutrality and independence which are absolutely essential for elections being recognised as credible by citizens and observers. The government has committed to the creation of a National Election Sustainable Trust fund account – which if fully implemented would address one of the recommendations. So far, the details of this have not been communicated to the NEC and other bodies.

“If an election is declared void, according to section 146.4 of the Public Election Act, another election shall be held. The 2019 High Court decisions to declare the runner up elected in 10 constituencies, eroded the confidence in the Judiciary. Unequivocal respect for the rule of law in election petitions is crucial for ensuring confidence in the electoral process. In addition, the delivery of timely effective judicial redress is a paramount feature regarding the fairness of election dispute resolution. At the National Validation Conference on electoral reform in August 2021, consensus was reached regarding the need to revise courts’ procedural rules ensuring that election petitions are adjudicated within a reasonable period of time. Justice delayed is justice denied; the same applies to democracy.

“The Mid-Term Census is unprecedented; the stated reason for it is highly contested. The use of an optional census to provide data which might be used to change electoral boundaries shortly before an election is not conducive to the political atmosphere or good electoral practice.
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.

“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.

“There have also been improvements regarding the Independent Media Commission. By modifying the appointment procedures for board members, who are no longer appointed by the President, another EU recommendation has been partially implemented.

“We furthermore acknowledge the achievement of decriminalising libel as a vital step ensuring and strengthening freedom of expression in Sierra Leone. This amendment of the Public Order Act addresses fully one EU recommendation made in 2018.

“While there remain several issues of concern; there is still time remaining to address many of these issues. We recommend that the powers in the Constitution be exercised with restraint and in the spirit of democratic compromise, not winner takes all.”

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