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FEATURES  

Surreptitious Strategies Employed in 2007 by the Dr. Christiana Thorpe Headed Elections Office
By Dr. Bu-buakei Jabbi, Esq.
Jun 14, 2010, 14:50
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Legal Documents filed by Sierra Leone Peoples Party covered 23 pages & 75 sections[paragraphs]. Paragraphs 35 to 61 covered Surreptitious Strategies allegedly used to deny the SLPP of victory. They here follow:

35. In view of the clear emphasis on transparency, impartiality, procedural fairplay and the bona fide performance of duties under the Act, as enshrined in its key mandatory provisions itemised in Section C above, among others, it would be instructive to outline a few surreptitious strategies some of which seem to have been actually set in motion, perpetrated, orchestrated, endorsed and/or otherwise encouraged by the 1st and/or 2nd Defendants/Respondents herein or in others of which one or other or both of them may have got implicated even if merely by knowingly ignoring, condoning or enduring it. 

(i).  Amending Section 66

36. The first surreptitious strategy, seemingly somewhat more remote than others to be mentioned herein, consists in the sequence of amendments to section 66 of the Electoral Laws Act since its first enactment in 2002.  It would be best to set out the successive enactments here, each of the two amendments being by way of "repeal and replacement" of the whole section.

(a)    As Originally Enacted on 6th February 2002

"66.  Every ballot paper shall be attached to a counterfoil which shall have a number printed thereon, but there shall be no numbers printed on any ballot paper."

(b)    As Amended on 21st March 2002

"66.  Every ballot paper shall have a number printed thereon and shall be attached to a counterfoil bearing the same number as is printed on the ballot paper" (Emphasis added).

(c)     As Amended on 23rd July 2007

"66.  Every ballot paper shall be attached to a counterfoil which shall have a number printed thereon, but there shall be no number printed on any ballot paper."  (NB: Only gazetted on 6 September 2007 in Supplement to Sierra Leone Gazette, Vol.138, No. 45)

37. It is clear that the amendment of 21st March 2002 was seeking to close a major loophole in the provision of materials for the 2002 parliamentary and presidential elections, to wit, the lack of an essential identity connection between the ballot paper that would be given out to a voter and the counterfoil thereof to be retained for possible verification purposes.  For where every ballot paper has printed on it an identifying serial number that is also printed on its corresponding counterfoil, it becomes easy to control and record the genuine ballot papers assigned to a polling station and therefore to also detect any fake or additional ballot papers that are used in any particular polling station.  Whereas if only the counterfoil carries an identifying serial number but the  corresponding ballot paper does not bear that or any such number at all, ballot stuffing and other forms of vote rigging will have been assured of a field day on the day of voting.  That is precisely what the belated amendment of 23rd July 2007 succeeded in doing for the 2007 elections slated for only three weeks thereafter.  It is believed that this amendment was actually urged by some so-called technical advisers to the Electoral Commission, which in any case must have known of it and ought to have seen through it all as early as the bill stage of the legislative process before actual enactment.  If they did not, then NEC and its Chairperson were somewhat remiss in their duty at this stage.

38. The insistent reports in the various NEC Statements to the Media as to "a higher number of votes cast than registered voters" at certain polling stations (Exh. JJS 4 of 11th September 2007) or "the unusual high levels of participation in some polling stations" (Exh. JJS 7 of 13th September 2007) or, worse still, "attempts at ballot stuffing and ballot-box swapping" and "polling station results with turn-outs of over 100%" (Exh. JJS 11 of 17th September 2007) could all have taken root or derived encouragement from the free-for-all situation inherent in the sort of amendment made on 23rd July 2007, which NEC and its Chairperson obviously knowingly encouraged, ignored, condoned or even merely endured from that date till the end of the elections.

(ii).  Ballot Materials Intrigues

39. Various allegations of intrigue in relation to ballot materials were openly made at various stages of the election process, sometimes directed even against United Nations personnel assisting the National Electoral Commission and personnel of the Commission itself, and some of which received police attention.  The main ballot materials intrigue allegations were in relation to the so-called "indelible ink" for marking the finger of a person who has voted, the Ballot Validating Stamp (BVS) and printing of excess ballot papers.

(1) Indelible Ink

There were strong allegations right from the first round presidential election that the Commission had resorted to a weak strength of "indelible ink" for actual voting at the elections, whereas a high strength genuine "indelible ink" had been used during the voter registration exercise.  This matter was actually raised by journalists during a NEC press briefing on Thurs. 6 September 2007, according to a report in Awareness Times  of 11th September 2007 (at p.3).

"Awareness Times investigations had clearly shown that within 30 seconds of dipping ones inked finger in a bottle of Whitex  (local bleach), all the indelible ink washed off the finger, thus allowing anyone to vote multiple times if they had access to do so. "It was pointed out that the genuine indelible ink used during the registration exercise had lasted for weeks on voters fingers whilst this one used on Elections Day simply washed off within a day or two. "Dr. Thorpe in responding to the concern raised expressed that there were different strengths of indelible ink in the world, ranging from Weak Strength to long Lasting Strength.  According to Dr. Thorpe, the one used for the registration exercise was of a stronger strength than the one used one used on Elections Day because  the registration exercise lasted for 40 days whilst (that for) elections was just for one day. "Dr. Thorpe also made an intriguing statement when she remarked that even she did not know what kind of strength of indelible ink will be used in last Saturdays elections in Sierra Leone.  She informed that she would only know when she went to vote in the morning."

(2) BVS

The BVS was a device intended to ensure that only genuine ballots were cast by voters, as this stamp was to be impressed upon the back of a ballot paper at the polling station before giving it to a voter to cast it.  However, a serious abuse of it was discovered in places, e.g. when a large number of pre-stamped ballot papers already thumb-printed for one of the presidential candidates were caught with no less than a NEC appointed Presiding Officer at Masiaka and the culprit taken to the Makeni police station.  Abuses like this led to NEC deciding to order another special set of BVS which, on arrival, were however discovered to have 52 extras more than had been ordered; and there was no explanation how the extras had got into the packs. 

(3)   Excess Ballot Papers

Although in principle there was need for more ballot papers being printed so as to take care of any wastage, there were allegations that about 80% of such excess were printed and that this was more than was necessary and was prone to abuse; indeed, that the very NEC authorities who procured it might secretly allow large numbers to be dished out for use in the interest of a favoured candidate.  This was especially likely where ballot papers were printed in accordance with the 23rd July amendment of section 66 mentioned in paragraph 36 above, whereby a ballot paper was not serially numbered the same as the counterfoil.  Ballot stuffing on a massive scale would be an easy way of abuse in such cases. Such allegations were freely bandied against NEC officials at the elections.

(iii).  Skewed Tallying Selectivity

40. From as far back as 11th September 2007, the second day of run-off results declarations, NEC was openly accused of a strategy of over-selectively tallying more results from polling stations with high scores for the APC presidential candidate whilst tallying results from only low score stations for the SLPP candidate at the run-off presidential election.  In its issue of 12th September 2007 (at p. 11), referring to the results declared for the previous two days, the Awareness Times newspaper noted the following:

"The results read out by the National Electoral Commission so far have been misleading in that they are skewed.  For example, the results read out that gave the APC those high votes so far in Kailahun were mostly from polling stations where the APC or the PMDC had done extremely well in the first rounds on August 11th 2007."

The newspaper was even more specific and detailed in its next issue on 13th September 2007 (at p. 7) about the systematic way in which, according to it, NEC was executing this skewed selectivity in tallying the results, viz:

"The APC/PMDC strongholds are being selectively tallied and recorded all over.  For lack of space, we will cite just an example.  The NEC Tally Centre has mysteriously jumped over a whole ten polling centres encompassing several SLPP strongholds in Kailahun.  They tallied up to Station Centre 01029, skipping a few centres in between; but then as soon as they arrived at 01029, they skipped a whole chunk of SLPP strong areas and went on to tally Station 01039.  It is noteworthy that Station 01029 was the start of result patterns that showed differences like 1,286 for SLPP to only 23 votes for APC, whilst Station 01039 significantly dropped the difference again to 461 votes versus 216 votes! "This pattern of selective tallying and recording that mysteriously skips SLPP strongholds is repeated all over the South and East, thus giving the very skewed results that have come in at the 50% threshold.  SLPP supporters have been asked to just be patient and wait as NEC eventually tallies all."

The New Vision newspaper put the same point succinctly in its Commentary column on 5th October 2007 (at p. 4):

"What the NEC did was to hurriedly publicise results from zones often considered as APC strongholds so as to ensure that the party maintains its early lead while neglecting SLPP strongholds."

And the Democrat newspaper posed a series of pointed rhetorical questions on the matter it its issue of 13th September 2007 in an article entitled "Sabotage at NEC?" at page 12 thereof:

"Why does NEC consistently announce more votes of the opposition in their strongholds even when there is cause to believe that there are sufficient results in from all the regions for an equitable announcement?  For instance, why has not the Commission announced most votes from Bo, Kailahun, Kono, Kenema, Pujehun, etc. when these are results from areas no further than most announced constituencies in the North? "Why does the Commission only announce results in SLPP strongholds where the opposition has made some gains? "Will this not discourage SLPP supporters now and incite APC supporters later when the true picture of the vote count finally emerges in the belief that they have been cheated of a victory that was never theirs?"

It was indeed widely reported that results had been declared from many more APC strongholds than from SLPP strongholds by the time on 13th September 2007 when 4,687 out of the total of 6,157 polling stations nationwide had been reported on, leaving 1,470 stations still pending, with the scores of the candidates standing at this time at 859,144 for APC and 567,449 for SLPP and a paltry difference of 291,695 between them.  At this time, as reported by the Independent Observer newspaper on its front page on  14th September 2007, the pending stations in the APC strongholds in the Northern and Western Regions were only 424 whereas the pending stations in the SLPP strongholds in the Southern and Eastern Regions were 1,046.  And so as it thus became due to declare the results of polling stations in several well-reputed SLPP strongholds amounting to over 1,000 polling stations in all, NEC deferred results declarations to 17th September 2007, thereby allowing itself more time to re-check results from the remaining stations and determine its subsequent strategy of declaration of results.

41.This strategy of skewed selectivity in tallying the results was mainly a public relations propaganda exercise, intended to shape public opinion and expectation in a certain direction so that as the scores of the favoured candidate go higher and higher in the early stages of the declaration of results public expectations of the final result would be accordingly shaped.  It is an excellent piece of evidence of bias and unfair presentation of the results. It could even lead to premature conceding of defeat by a nave opposing candidate or Party. But, of course, if the actual results are called to the end this trend could possibly be reversed, unless of course the determination to let it continue leads to the adoption of yet another reinforcing surreptitious tactic.  So long as merely skewed selectivity in the presentation of results remains otherwise unaided and faithful to the actual results certified to the National Returning Officer, it may not in the end succeed in subverting, misrepresenting or mis-presenting the final result; and the truth will ultimately prevail.  But, indeed, only "so long as .."!

(iv).  Results Summary Discrepancies

42. The structure of discrepancies and incompatibilities found in certain sets of Progressive Results Summaries as announced at the press briefings and/or as posted on the NEC official website gave cause for grave concern by the SLPP as early as 13th September 2007, the fourth day of announcement of results for the run-off presidential election (Exh. JJS 6A & 6B of 13th September 2007). And that concern was further aggravated by similar discrepancies in another set of Progressive Results Summaries as posted on the NEC official website on 17th September 2007, the last day of announcing the run-off results (Exh. JJS 10A & 10B of 17th September 2007).  Both sets seemed to be barely concealed attempts by NEC or its computer staff on its behalf to manipulate the results.

43. In a letter to the 1st Defendant/Respondent dated 14th September 2007 (Exh. JJS  8), the SLPP Leader and Presidential Candidate complained about the "variations in material particulars" between the two summaries in Exh. JJS 6A & 6B respectively, and proceeded to detail some examples thereof, Exh. JJS 6A being what the 1st Defendant/Respondent read and handed out at the press conference (the handout) and Exh. JJS  6B being the internet posting (the print-out):

"I give you below a few examples of the variations discovered through the examination of the two official NEC documents:

a)     In the progressive result summary you read at the Conference, total valid votes scored by the two candidates as 1,410,582 is in excess of that scored by the candidates.  Both candidates are recorded on that summary as having scored 1,409,895; a difference of 687.

b)    The scores of the two candidates for Bo District are given for oroma and Berewa respectively as 38,669 and 71,009, whereas on the same progressive report summary posted on the NEC official website at the same time records scores for Koroma and Berewa respectively as 40,864 and 85,512.

c)     Similarly, in Bonthe District, the sum of the scores for the two candidates is 44,620 whereas the valid votes recorded both in the document you read and distributed to Party Agents and what was posted on your website is 43,307.  This gives a discrepancy of 687 votes between the two results summary (sic).

d)    In the summary you read at the Press Conference, the valid votes for Bo District was given as 109,678 and that posted on the official NEC website was given as 126,376; indicating a discrepancy of 16,698 votes.

"From the above it becomes clear that the compilation of the results through the present computer system at the National Electoral Commission cannot be relied on and, therefore, the integrity of the whole process is seriously in question, having in mind the fact that the outcome of this election is determined by a single vote and the discrepancies above are not only too large to be entertained, but are disadvantageous to me.  These discrepancies could not have arisen accidentally."

SLPP Leader & Presidential Candidate closed by demanding "prompt action" from NEC "in order to enable us to determine our next course of action."

44. The NEC reply to the SLPP Leader in its letter dated 15th September 2007 (Exh. JJS 9) explained the "anomalies" as follows:

"In relation to the announcement of the progressive results on the 13th September, the version of the results read by the National Returning Officer Dr. Christiana Thorpe was a working document presented to her and other members of the Commission in preparation of the press briefing at 6.00 p.m.  These figures reflected 75.4% of the results.

"Subsequent to this, however, in its bid to include as many results as possible in the results data base, the tally centre continued to process and input results.  This lead (sic) to an increase in the figures reported in the NEC website which was up-dating in real time.  The figures which you quote represent 76.1% of the results.  As such, the announcement of results presented by the National Returning Officer at the evening press conference, lagged behind those presented electronically on the NEC website."

45. This explanation by NEC is unashamedly ludicrous.  Firstly, the declaration and websiting of progressive results for the previous three days (Exhs. JJS 1, 2 and 3 of 10th, 11th and 12th September 2007 respectively), even as it may have followed the same procedure, did not however reveal any such discrepancies.  But secondly, both Exh. JJS 6A & 6B being marked as having been prepared and websited at "15.00" GMT and the press briefing having to follow three hours later at 6.00 p.m., would the updating "figures reported in the NEC website" between 3.00 and 6.00 p.m. not have been available to be given to the National Returning Officer for her press briefing at 6.00 p.m., even if the briefing was to be delayed slightly to avoid giving the press and the public any sense of such anomaly or discrepancy?  Or was it better for the press briefing being held later on to report lower (or even merely different) figures than had already been inputted or updated on the internet before the time of the briefing? 

46. In any case, it will be seen that the NEC reply (Exh. JJS 9) attempted to explain away only the inter-textual or horizontal discrepancies between the two documents, and even then ever so ineptly, but without showing the slightest awareness of the intra-textual, internal or vertical discrepancies inside each of the said documents in its own separate right and respect, let alone explaining or resolving them.  With respect to Exh. JJS 6B, for instance, it will be easily seen that the combined total votes for the two candidates in the "Presidential Election by District" Table amount to 1, 426, 593, which ought to be the same as the combined valid votes cast; but in fact this total is shown in the Valid Votes column in the "Summary of Votes by District" Table as 1, 427, 280, thereby showing an upward difference of 687 votes.  It is curious that this is the exact difference when another set of internal or intra-textual discrepancies is selected from each of Exh. JJS 6A & 6B, to wit, the total votes for Bonthe District in the "Presidential Election by District" Table as 44, 620, which ought to be the same as the combined valid votes cast for that District; but in fact this Bonthe District total is shown in the Valid Votes column in the "Summary of Votes by District" Table as 45, 307.  This difference of 687 votes, floating and swinging so freely but surreptitiously in the various Tables in both Exh. JJS 6A & 6B, did not seem merely coincidental or accidental; it seemed a deliberate ploy by reputed computer "wizardry or witchery" for manipulating voter scores in subsequent results proclamations if it went undetected on this first occurrence. The letter in Exh. JJS 8 may merely have unearthed it too early for any future variations and transformations of it to be conceived.

47. Meanwhile, a NEC senior staff anonymously interviewed in Awareness Times of 14th September 2007 (at p. 8) gave an explanation for one set of differences between Exh. JJS 6A & 6B, the latter having reportedly been posted on the internet for NEC by a junior UN staff at 3 p.m. before Exh. JJS 6A was read & handed out at the 6 p.m. press conference, which explanation practically endorses the public relations propaganda theory posed in paragraph 39 above for the strategy of skewed selectivity in tallying the results.  According to him:

"(The) United Nations own version of 15.00 GMT was the correct version whilst Dr. Christiana Thorpes own version read was doctored backwards to strategically remove 43 polling stations from Bo that had been tallied. When Dr. Thorpe removed the votes from those stations (14,503 for Berewa against 2,195 for Koroma), that was why she was able to get a difference of almost 304,000 between Berewa and Koroma.  When you look at the correct one released by the United Nations, you see that the difference has significantly dropped to only 291,692, the NEC staff explained.    " Listen, if they say Ernest Koromas lead has jumped up from 165,000 to over 300,000, the psychological effect on the populace will be more than if Koromas lead grew from the hundred thousand range to just the two hundred thousand range.  This is not a mistake.  They want the populace to stay like this for the next five days believing that Koroma has a massive lead, our source opined."

Surely, the explanation that "Dr. Christiana Thorpes own version read was doctored backwards to strategically remove 43 polling stations from Bo that had been tallied" (Emphasis added) is a more plausible scenario in the circumstances than NECs explanation in Exh. JJS 9.

48.The likelihood of Exh. JJS 6A & 6B having been some sort of deliberate subterfuge is greatly heightened when we consider Exh. JJS 10A & 10B, successively posted on the internet at 8.00 and 9.30 a.m. respectively on 17th September 2007 before the purportedly final results announcements that day and the very next since that of 13th September 2007.

49. The discrepancies are most pronounced in Exh. JJS 10A.  To begin with  the internal or vertical discrepancies: Firstly, whereas the "Tally Progress" Table is headed "National: 5,678 of 5,678 (100%) polling stations reported", the district by district totals of polling stations recorded add up to 5, 679 by the NEC computing itself.  Secondly, when the "Summary of Votes by District" Table is considered, it will be seen that the totals of valid and invalid votes cast district by district as recorded in the "totals" column are wrong in the case of each and every district, giving an overall wrong total of 2,042,601 when it should actually be 1,783, 851.  But this wrong overall total is in fact what is recorded in the "Turnout" Table in Exh. JJS 10A, both in the heading and in the total under its vertical column.  Was Exh. JJS 10B seeking to amend or correct the internal or vertical discrepancies in Exh. JJS 10A?  If so, but since without expressly so indicating, it only ends up with inter-textual or horizontal discrepancies with the earlier document in practically all respects under the respective Tables relating to "Tally Progress", "Turnout" and "Summary of Votes by District", with the result that the 5,679 reported polling stations in each document end up with only 1,783,851 voter turnout in the later Exh. JJS 10B as compared with the much higher 2,042,601 turnout in the earlier Exh. JJS 10A, with each district also showing a substantial reduction in turnout only one-and-half hours later by 9.30 a.m.  What happened to the 258,750 voters within the ninety minutes or so?  Even with at least three days of respite from vote tallying, was NEC still having a problem putting its house in order?  And, still more problematically, there is a message tucked away in the left-hand bottom corner of each of Exh. JJS 10A & 10B that "477 stations have been invalidated due to more ballots than registered voters", without at this stage specifying any further data about any of the said purportedly "invalidated" polling stations.  The purported "final" overall run-off result was subsequently announced that morning by way of Exh. JJS 11 in accordance with the statistics as recorded in Exh. JJS 10B, obviously excluding any figures or results from the 477 "invalidated" polling stations which by law ought to have been included in that "final" declaration if it must take place at that time

(v).  No Detailed Final Results on Website

50. At the declaration of the final run-off results on 17th September 2007, the National Returning Officer stated in her NEC Statement to the Media as follows:

"The general summary of the results, as well as the detailed results, by station and by centre, will be posted on the NEC website: www.necsierraleone.org"

A similar statement to this effect was included in all the NEC Media Statements on 10th , 11th , 12th and 13th September 2007, every time as part of the results declaration for the day, and in those cases even with the qualifier "immediately" which is now missing here.  And for all the declarations on 10th to 13th September 2007 inclusive, the promised posting was indeed done on the same day (see, for example, Exhs. JJS1, JJS 2, JJS 5, JJS 6A & 6B).  This relatively settled practice was obviously in intended compliance with the provisions in section 38(b) of the Electoral Laws Act 2002 (as amended) to the effect that the National Returning Officer

"shall, after declaring the result of a presidential election as soon as possible, cause the result of the election to be published by Government Notice and in such other manner as he may think fit" (Emphasis added)

The National Returning Officer  obviously complied with the Government Notice side of the said section 38(b) (see Exh. JJS 12).  But if Exh. JJS 10A & 10B should be taken as the said posting for the final declaration on 17th September 2007 "in such other manner as" the National Returning Officer did previously so far "think fit", then neither of them include any data in respect of the 477 purportedly "invalidated" polling stations.  This exclusion of the "invalidated" results was the basis of the SLPP National Secretary-Generals two letters of 30th September and 8th October 2007 in Exhs. JJS13 & 14 respectively, "requesting the final results of the presidential run-off election by polling station" (Exh. JJS 14).  It was not until around 28th November 2007 or thereabout that the undated document in Exh. JJS 15 was distributed to members of the press by the Commission at a meeting.  (See subsection (vi) below).

(vi).  Arrogating and Processing "Invalidation"

51. As far back as 11th September 2007, the second day of the run-off results declarations, NEC considered and "unanimously" took decisions at its meeting of 3.30 p.m. on that day in respect of  different "cases of over voting" at polling stations nationwide, especially on "Case 3: voter turnout of over 100%", as follows:

"Cases of polling stations with high voter turnout of over 100% will warrant immediate invalidation; even if there is no complaint from anyone of the political parties that contested the run-off elections or, incident report from the district office" (Emphasis added).

The NEC Statement to the Media on 13th November 2007 (Exh. JJS 7) again reported on this decision to the effect that

"in cases of voter turn-out exceeding 100%, the station results will be automatically invalidated" (Emphasis added).

And it even took the unusual step of attaching a copy of the minutes of its meeting of 11th September 2007 (Exh. JJS 3) to the days Media Statement for public consumption.  The actual decision of purported "invalidation" of whole polling stations was reported for the first time at the bottom left-hand corners of the NEC internet postings at 8.00 and 9.30 a.m. on 17th September 2007 (Exh. JJS 10A & 10B) before the press briefing session that morning on the final run-off results.

52. The NEC Statement to the Media for 17th September 2007 (Exh. JJS 11) strenuously harped all over again upon the phenomenon of "invalidation" and NECs seemingly agonising decision on it for the purposes of the run-off elections.

"As reported earlier, the Commission noted polling station results with turnout of over 100%. It is impossible for voter turnout in excess of 100% to have taken place without fraud or illegal action.  The Commission has been left with no option but to invalidate all results from polling stations reporting over 100% turnout.  In all, 477 stations across the country have thus been invalidated, as follows: Kailahun: 90, Kenema:65, Kono:9, Bombali:17, Kambia:8, Koinadugu:12, Port Loko:2, Tonkolili:6, Bo:123, Bonthe:2, Moyamba:24, Pujehun:113, Western Rural:1, and Western Urban:5" (Emphasis added).

One can almost hear the subdued scream of agony and regret that the Commission, if not perhaps the National Returning Officer alone, apparently feels or felt in having to take the decision to "invalidate" the results from the said stations, with the full import and effect thereof not being at all lost upon it or her.

"It is extremely regrettable to have to invalidate even a single polling station, and it is a decision that the NEC did not take lightly.  However, the responsibility for the act of invalidation falls on those who are responsible for the malpractices; it is they who should be held accountable for disenfranchising voters, as there were legitimate votes cast in these polling stations..

              "..  Those who cheated have succeeded in doing a disservice to their respective candidates.  They also succeeded in disenfranchising fellow Sierra Leoneans.  But they did not succeed in tarnishing either the results or the credibility of the process." (Emphasis added).

NEC even comes close to suggesting a basis and justification, even if not perhaps the legal source, for the act of "invalidation" it embarked upon.

"There is one important element to highlight: international election standards say that the invalidation of votes does not require a repeat of the polling exercise if the act of invalidation does not affect the outcome of the poll.  The National Electoral Commission can confirm that in the case of 8 September poll these invalidations have NOT affected the outcome of the election" (Emphasis added).

53. So NEC took the decision to "invalidate" the results for no less than 477 polling stations with no less than 193,161 registered voters in the full knowledge that it constituted "disenfranchising voters" who, under various provisions of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991, have "the right to vote" and are entitled not only to take part in determining the proper "representation of the people" in Parliament but also "to vote in the election" of "the Head of State, the supreme executive authority" for their country who shall have the duty and responsibility to choose and lead a government for Sierra Leone "subject to the approval of Parliament" and the will of the people for five years at a time (see, for example, sections 31, 40(1), 42(2)(a), 56, 64, among others).  Surely, for any person, body, authority, organisation or tribunal, whether or not created by statute or otherwise, to have to deprive any appropriate person of such an imponderable set of rights and entitlements would seem to require the clearest possible legal right or authority to do so.

54. Be that as it may, for present purposes one may need to ask under what legal right, power, remit or authority the National Electoral Commission, being a specific and exclusive creation of statute, considered itself entitled to take such a major and far-reaching decision affecting the civic and constitutional status, rights and entitlements of such a large number of citizens or indeed of any one citizen at all. 

55. Furthermore, in the particular circumstances of the arrangements for the elections, one should also ask who really is to blame if the amount of "over-voting" complained of or indeed any "over-voting" at all actually took place.  For one thing, a whole hierarchy of officials manning and controlling polling stations and the election process were appointed by NEC itself, as per sections 35 and 60(2) of the Electoral Laws Act as amended by Act No. 5 of 2002; and sections 67 to 71 inclusive thereof firmly assign the keeping of order and controlling of the individual voter at the polling station to one of these appointees, the Presiding Officer.  And each political party contesting the election is also required to appoint two polling agents per station to oversee its interests and for "making representations to the Presiding Officer" and drawing his attention to "irregularities in the procedure at a polling station" (section 62 thereof).  With State security personnel also being available to render assistance, it would be a tall order for the unaided individual voter to bypass this apparatus and "over-vote" without detection.  So why should he be innocently automatically "disenfranchised" if any "over-voting" nonetheless allegedly takes place?  The possibility of even a Presiding Officer causing or knowingly condoning "over-voting" at a polling station under his control should not be underplayed.  And, in any case, a system that generates the printing of greatly excessive ballot papers under the amended section 66 cannot just shove off the responsibility for "over-voting"!  In fact, with the available evidence of anomalies and discrepancies committed in that system even in merely declaring and publishing results, it is necessary to go behind the figures of alleged "over-voting" in such as  Exh. JJS 15 to verify even the sheer factual validity of the figures cited. 

56. For another thing, since the Commission is exclusively a specific creation of statute and also since the results affected by its purported "invalidation" are part of the election whose conduct is entrusted to it by its enabling set of statutes, the declaration, notification and/or publication of the said affected results would obviously have to be in accordance and compliance with at least such provisions under its immediate enabling and governing Acts as sections 37, 38, 78, 84, 85 and 123(1) of the Electoral Laws Act, No. 2 of 2002, as amended, and/or section 11 of the National Electoral Commission Act 2002.  And the procedures, time-scales and other processes since adopted in accordance therewith by the Commission itself for declaring and publishing results of the elections, whose conduct is entrusted to it by law, are equally applicable to the results affected by its act of "invalidation".  And then, of course, the actual content of whatever decision or action it may take in respect of reporting on such "invalidation" would also have to be examined and assessed.

57. For example, as intimated in paragraph 50 hereof, it was not until around 28th November 2007 or thereabout that the undated "Summary Statistics of the Invalidated Stations in the Presidential Run-off Elections September 2007" in Exh. JJS 15 was peddled out in presumed compliance with section 38(b) of the Electoral Laws Act, as amended.   But that, obviously, was and is not "as soon as possible" after 17th September 2007 as the section requires.  And so, in practice and in real effect, and notwithstanding Exh. JJS 15, it may be said that the full final run-off results was not posted on the NEC website either "as soon as possible" or at all up until now, contrary to established practice and in breach of section 38(b) of the enabling and governing Act.

58. And when the actual content of the said Exh. JJS 15 is examined, it will be seen that certain discrepancies and irregularities, both of an internal nature and also in relation to prior knowledge or information concerning the run-off election, detract severely from its credibility and integrity.  Firstly, its overall block presentation of essential data fails to reveal anything about specific polling stations and the basis for their "invalidation".  Even for a district like Western Area Rural, where only one polling station was purportedly "invalidated", no further information is disclosed about the specific factors responsible for that.  And so when you consider districts with multiple "invalidated" stations, e.g. Bo (123), Pujehun (112), or Kailahun (90), confusion is worse confounded; with such districts one may be forgiven to surmise that perhaps the "over 100% voting" statistics given against each of them may not after all be true of each one of the polling stations alleged to have been so affected.

59. Also when you look at the overall numbers of polling stations, whether by district or nationally, serious gaping discrepancies are revealed in both categories of the internal or vertical and the external or horizontal discrepancies that have been considered above.  A simple obvious internal discrepancy is the transposition of the figures for Kono and Kenema, probably arising from the fact that the two districts are alphabetically transposed as a possible typographical error in Exh. JJS 15, Kenema usually coming before Kono in all previous listings for the 2007 general elections. 

60. Probably far more deliberately, however, it will also be seen that in the cases of at least five districts, the total numbers of polling stations are either reduced or increased by one in each case in Exh. JJS 15, when compared to previously known figures as reported in previous Progressive Result Summaries (even in the Commission-preferred Exh. JJS 6B on 13th September 2007).  So Exh. JJS 15 reports the total numbers of polling stations in the five districts as follows: Kailahun: 422 for 423; Kambia: 321 for 322; Koinadugu: 349 for 348; Moyamba: 310 for 309; and Western Area Urban: 995 for 996.  Probably equally deliberately, furthermore, it also reports the overall national total of polling stations less by one, i.e. 6,156 for 6,157.  All this is suggestive of some deliberate juggling of data or information through the computer.  "Garbage in, garbage out", they say.  In the case of the overall national figure, one polling station is also juggled out of the computation.  So also is the fact that of the five districts in Exh. JJS 15 with recordings different from the previously known totals, three districts are reduced by one station each (Kailahun, Kambia, Western Area Urban) whereas only two are increased by one station each (Koinadugu, Moyamba).  There is an obvious suggestion here of a pattern, design and purpose in this juggling, as is suggested by this consistency of one polling station less at each level of the nation and of the districts put together. In either case, the one polling station that has been juggled out of the computation may contain data that may have contributed to make a whole world of difference to the results in a simple majority contest.   And there may be other forms of computer "juggling" or "wizardry" which may have caused other differences in the scores.  So that when it is said that if the respective total scores for the two presidential candidates in Exh. JJS 11 and Exh. JJS 15 were added together, the scores would (or would have) come to 979,441 for the APC candidate and 958,715 for the SLPP candidate, making a difference of 20,696, that may only be because other forms of computer "wizardry or witchery" may have juggled appreciable scores out of or into the computation, one way or another; otherwise the final result might have been different.  Our main point here, though, is the sheer fact of clearly deliberate discrepancies or irregularities of quite serious import in the NEC presentation in  Exh. JJS 15.

(vii).  Premature Website Downing

61. It is also reported that either certain essential elections data have been wiped off the NEC Sierra Leone website or that the website as a whole has become dysfunctional for its former purposes just over a couple of months after the run-off election itself.  On the contrary, that the NEC Liberia website, for instance, is still functioning for its original purposes well over two years after the last presidential elections were held there.  The Awareness Times issues of 4th and 12th December 2007 (at pages 10 and 8 respectively) affirm it with much confidence and appearance of authenticity.   

"The official website of the National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone has melted off cyberspace with all its very important data, including the Data Base of Voter Register, the names of the elections contestants, the polling stations by district and just about every other historical data of record that an Electoral Commission worth its salt or a United Nations Technical Advisory team of credible men and women would want to have made available to the people of Sierra Leone

     "However, as can be shown from the data retrieved from the Internet Registry and published here today, the websites hosting was not only discontinued but the website domain name of www.necsierraleone.org, which was fully paid for up until June 2008, has been virtually ordered deleted from the records.  In fact, what even made it possible for us to retrieve the published data is because the Internet Rules dictate that domain name records be kept for up to 40 days even after the Delete Order has been given." (page 10 of 4th December 2007 issue).

If this is true, much credence would be given to the suggestion that it has been done to avoid the retrieval of such embarrassing discrepancies and irregularities and seeming subterfuge evidence about the run-off elections held on 8th September 2007.  It would be like putting a brave face upon a clearly disorienting reality.  "Tek drai yai koba shame", so goes the krio adage.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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