Hon Cherinor RM Bah - Deputy Speaker - "We are concerned about the news going around regarding the recent press release from the National Electoral Commission. It is why we as a Parliament have called you NEC, along with the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA), and one of our development partners, the UNDP.
"I am the Chairman of this meeting, and with me is the leadership of the House of Parliament.
"When people cry, it's our duty as a Parliament to inquire into the issue. This is why we have called you all to ensure that the good things we started regarding our forthcoming elections should continue.
"Parliament is not a monster - rather we should all liaise to ensure that the smoothness of our electoral calendar is not obstructed. People are talking about Kenya but this is Sierra Leone. But the effect of outside forces can influence many things here, so we want to ensure that whatever we do is in line with the law. We don't have the resources like Kenya, so it's better we get it right from the start and onward. At the moment we are relying on the complaints we received from the ground, you all know this is Parliament and it has nothing to do with any political party here, rather it is an issue that has to do with the people of Sierra Leone, right now some of them are asking questions and we want answers. The recent press release from NEC actually has contradictions between words and figures.
"Now, if there is chaos at all, it is politicians that will be chased, not NEC. Again, this has nothing to do with political parties, but it is about the people of Sierra Leone. Like I said, it is the leadership of the House that has called this meeting, I am only chairing it. So let's start hearing from the leadership."
Hon Leonard Fofanah - Majority Leader - "When we received this press release from NEC, we were a bit shocked and taken aback by the contents of the release. The Press Release itself does not give us details, it is only about promises made to NEC by other stakeholders. We were expecting a complete register. MPs themselves reported that they have a lot of challenges. And these very MPs , some of them were not registered. There are also instances where other people have not been registered, or captured in certain registration centres. Hon Helen Kuyembeh, for example, said in her constituency there were excess figures - and that is also true in Pujehun and other places. Another issue is the adjudicated list of 53,000; and about the 51000 that were discovered to be in other districts.
"So, this is an opportunity for us to know from NEC the issues about the adjudicated list and the other issues. Yes, the process of the registration was seriously faulted. NEC gave us reasons that the machines supplied were faulty, and that after the process they had no immediate access to the machines to download the data.
"These concerns are very serious to us and we are not comfortable with them, so we want NEC to address these things. The sword of Kenya is hanging over us, because a single individual can go to the courts to challenge the legality of this process, so let's get things right.
Hon ANSU KAIKAI - Acting Minority Leader - "I have no allegation against NEC at this time, because I have not seen the final figures, based upon the journal they have. I cannot endeavor to accuse them right now until I can adequately prove that they are culpable. Our future is based right now upon the figures they present to us, so what is their finality on this process as of now we don't know. So I'm waiting on them.
Hon Hassan Sheriff - Deputy Majority Leader - "The issue of missing data is the key issue raised in Parliament during our recent sittings in the Well, and that some of the MPs names were missing from the register. NEC has also said the machines were faulty, there were reports of omissions of data, and misplaced data. I have heard NEC say the manual register is available so there is nothing to fear, but it can be altered up and down, by the way.
"These are concerns to us, but NEC has promised to go back and fix the problems. But if you are to ask me to verify the missing data right now it's impossible. The issue of surplus data was also raised, and the figure that was shown far exceeds what was on the verification list. We also heard issues of deletions of names, but NEC said names were not deleted. So out of 53,000 at one place, 51,000 was deleted and sent elsewhere - of course that is a matter of concern. Majority of these would be disenfranchised.
"Now NEC has said all these will be fixed before the deadline. Elections have been slated for March 7, but if NEC have not completed their part before the deadline, we MPs would be seriously affected; and we don't want to disenfranchise a single voter, like it happened once in Washington, D.C., were a candidate lost by a single vote. Our objective as a Parliament, is to make sure that NEC submit to the nation a credible job, but when political parties are raising questions, it is a matter of concern to Parliament."
Hon Sidi TUNIS - Minority Whip - "The purpose why we are here is to ensure that the process is credible, so it would be good for us to hear from NEC about how far they have gone in solving these problems. Now I am from Pujehun, but this is the first time I'm hearing about excess figures from there."
Hon JB MANSARAY - Deputy Minority Whip - "The nation has placed their confidence on NEC, so let them prove themselves."
Hon Ibrahim Sesay - Clerk of Parliament - "I have a single question for NEC. Has the exercise been completed, and what does NEC actually do after the completion of the exercise?"
Hon Leonard Fofanah - Majority Leader - "I am coming in for the second time. There is a floating figure of 3,000 voters that have not yet been placed anywhere, (well, I'm just confirming what Hon Helen Kuyembeh also alleged). NEC had memory sticks, and three other methods in how they collected data during the registration exercise. What happened to all these other methods? And why did NEC decide to delete 51,000 voters without notifying the nation."
Nfa Alie Conteh - Chairman NEC - "We thank Parliament for its support of NEC. We want to assure you that what we have done we are satisfied that the process is within the law. The press release that we issued this week is ours, as the field data has to be declared within six months after the process, which is why we published that press release. I want you to know that voters ID printing is in process. Now concerning the excess registration in Pujehun District, I want you to know that the data is now handy - as there is manual back up to the electronic data. We will sort everything out.
"Concerning the adjudicated list issue that is emanating from the ruling party (the APC) we beg to differ. It is part of the process to weed out persons who have registered twice, for example.
"Of course, the field data exercise is complete. We will not add or reduce anything again, except those who have died. We did not delete 51,000 names, as alleged. These are allegations. We also didn't send extra machines to the south. Why do we do exhibitions after any registration exercise, it is to pick out flaws and concerns like we are now having presently. We promise you all that we are going to work on these concerns as soon as possible."
"Now, I'm going to let other members of the technical staff also make their contributions at this point."
Commissioner Matthias - One thing we want to assure you as a Commission is that we did the voter registration with the objective of enfranchising every Sierra Leonean. We want to give you the assurance that we had over 3 million voters, that far exceeds the voters compared to those of 2012. The issue of undignified comments about the process is actually not helpful, and we actually do not deserve that. Two MPs' data were omitted? It may be true. My own wife and children too are also not in the register, if you should know. One luck that we have is that we have manual databases, which is evidence that no one will be disenfranchised. The manual data and the electronic data can both be compromised anyway, but TRUST should be our watchword here. In politics, the stakes are high. So we understand the jitteriness. So rest assured that those that were deleted by the machines will be imputed again from the manual register.
"The other issue about cards having no photos will also be addressed. And for your information, those who did double registration will be charged to court - yes we will charge them. And again if the machines were faulty, as the allegation is, please know that the suppliers too will be charged for them to defend themselves for supplying faulty machines.
Commissioner Miatta French - "One thousand five hundred thirty nine (1,539) people were guilty of double registration. This is a clear attempt to beat the system, so know that if you register twice, we have forwarded it to the AG and the law officers department for possible cause of action. Now regarding those that were deleted from the system, we have the raw data still.
"Concerning the adjudication of the 53,000, when the list was adjudicated they found out that 51,000 were no-match cases, the effect is that we should released them into the system again, so it is the 1,539 that are still suspect per se, because the 51,000 have been released into the system. We don't want to disenfranchise anyone. We have compared the manual, the journal, the registration forms, and the electronic. So we have our duplicate list.
"We also have the underage register issue, which happened because of the twinning function we did with the National Registration. There is also possibility of omissions in the journals too. The challenge now is, the translation into the electronic format of the journal. We should know that the issue of data surpluses happened because some of the kits were faulty so we have to repair them and it is possible those kits were not assigned to the same centre again."
Deputy Speaker CRM Bah, interjecting Commissioner French - "So how many people are you trying to recapture again? And what plans do you have now to ensure the last person is informed about this?"
Commissioner Miatta French - (answering the Deputy Speaker) "We are trying to recapture 43,000; but so far it is only 22,000 that have been recaptured. When we are done we will inform the public about it."
William A Davies- Executive Secretary NEC - (rejoinder to Comm French's answer) "By November the plan is, we will have the opportunity to recapture you again in the localities where this issue has arisen, yes you can be recaptured during the issuance of the voter cards."
Hon Leonard Fofanah - Majority Leader - Is the voter register complete as of now, and would people now rest assured?
Nfa Alie Conteh - NEC Chairman - No, the voter register is not yet complete. The process is still on.
(A general gasp from many, and a long pause where brows were raised and looks exchanged.)
Hon ANSU Kaikai - Acting Minority Leader - We are not looking for fault at this juncture because NEC's job is very cumbersome. We prefer to wait for now.
Hon Cherinor RM Bah - Deputy Speaker - We know there is no perfect environment anywhere on this earth but we want to curtail issues before they come up in the eleventh hour, we don't want to give individuals who want to derail the process a chance to do so, so bottlenecks have to be identified and addressed as quickly as possible. Well, we would now want to hear from the UNDP.
Sanil Saigal - UN Resident Coordinator - Our desire is to facilitate this up coming elections, and our hope is that elections will hold in March and on time, and in a credible manner too. Parliament has repeatedly assured us that it has no desire to change the electoral calendar. So I'm not betraying your confidence but believe all parties will stand by the electoral calendar. This is why we are doing our utmost to support NEC to ensure that the process is credible. So anything that we can do, we are ready to support you with."
Hon Cherinor RM Bah - Deputy Speaker - Well, let me at this juncture thank everyone, as I would like to call this meeting to an end right now. Thank you once again.
- REPORTER - Elias Bangura, Secretary General, Guild of Newspaper Editors-Sierra Leone.