By Thomas Vandi Gbow
Following President Dr. Julius Maada Bio’s announcement of the newly appointed Chief Electoral Commissioner of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Mohamed Kenewui Konneh, who is the current head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party in a statement on Monday night rejected the appointment. Their position is that Mr. Mohamed Konneh is disqualified to be appointed Chief Electoral Commissioner of NEC and that the party stands ready to institute legal proceedings to enforce strict adherence to the provisions of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.
According to the APC statement signed by its National Secretary General Ambassador Osman Foday Yansaneh, they are of the considered view that the proposed Commissioner of NEC, Mohamed Konneh stands disqualified given that did not meet the conditions precedent as set out in Section 32 (4) (a) & (b) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone which states: “A person shall not be qualified –
- for appointment as a member of the Electoral Commission if he is not qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament, or
- to hold office as a member of the Electoral Commission if he is a Minister, Deputy Minister, a Member of Parliament, or a public officer, or if he has attained the age of sixty-five years.”
The main opposition APC are also aggrieved that despite they requested to meet with the President and present their position to him after they had acknowledged receipt of the CV of Mr. Mohamed Konneh which the Secretary to the President forwarded to them with regards the appointment, the President proceeded to appoint him as Commissioner of NEC without engaging them further on the issue they raised in their letter on 16th July, 2020 for proper consultations pursuant to Section 32 (3) of the 1991 Constitution which states: “The members of the Electoral Commission shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the leaders of all registered political parties and subject to the approval of Parliament.”
Whilst the APC have in no uncertain terms challenged the qualification of the newly appointed Commissioner of NEC quoting the relevant Sections of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, Government or the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) representatives, according to those who listened to a radio discussion on the issue yesterday, have argued that Mohamed Konneh has resigned as head of FIU and would therefore be qualified to take up the appointment because he is no longer a “Public Officer.” On the issue of the appointee not on the Register of Electors, the Government or SLPP have come to Mohamed Konneh’s defence by producing alleged Voter ID of the appointee which has gone viral on the social media.
Though I didn’t listen to the radio discussion on the issue yesterday, I believe the main opposition has every right to challenge the appointment of the proposed Commissioner of NEC if they are convinced that the President did not make the appointment according to the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone. As a democratic country, the people expect the President to make such sensitive appointment going strictly by the constitution otherwise the public, opposition political parties and the international community will lose confidence in the electoral system.
If the letter which the Secretary to the President sent to the APC National Secretary General forwarding the CV of the nominee to the APC informing them about his nomination was the only move by the President, then one would surmise the President did not do further consultation with them or other leaders of registered political parties prior to the appointment of Mohamed Konneh as Chief Electoral Commissioner of NEC. Section 32 (3) of the 1991 Constitution clearly stipulates that “The members of the Electoral Commission shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the Leaders of all registered political parties and subject to the approval of Parliament.” What, if the APC and other registered political parties challenge the appointment of Mohamed Konneh as Chief Electoral Commissioner of NEC in court for not consulting them, will it not result to another legal defeat for the President and his Government?
Even the Voter ID card of Mohamed Konneh which has gone viral on the social media could be subject to investigation to prove its veracity. They could be wrong but the APC might have done their research or investigation properly before they claimed that the name of the nominee was not in the Register of Electors. The SLPP leveled similar allegation against APC’s Abu Bakarr Jalloh, when the then opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma announced him as his running-mate in the 2002 parliamentary and presidential elections. Truth is Abu Bakarr was registered in absentia whilst he was in the Diaspora and when the APC argued that he registered himself, the SLPP demanded his passport to ascertain whether or not he was in Sierra Leone during voter registration for the 2002 national elections. Consequently, Abu Bakarr Jalloh saved his neck by hastily leaving the shores of the country and never witnessed the national elections. It was Hon. Victor Bockarie Foh who the then Opposition Leader Ernest Bai Koroma eventually appointed as his running-mate. And who knows whether or not the Voter ID of Mohamed Konneh going viral on social media is a doctored one?
To avoid controversy over any presidential appointments that would need the consultation of other registered political parties, I believe the President must do the needful to prevent unnecessary political tensions. We are talking about elections here and if they are to be free and fair, then the process of appointing the Chief Electoral Commissioner must involve serious consultations with all other registered political parties that will be participating in future elections. But to marginalize the opposition will be the beginning of election malpractices. And you don’t expect the opposition to repose confidence in a Chief Electoral Commissioner whose appointment they were not involved. It therefore stands to reason that the President does what is constitutional instead of being challenged in court by the main opposition APC that have a battery of sound legal luminaries as demonstrated in the recent treason trial of Major (Rtd) Alfred Palo Conteh.