23 March 2012

Liberia: Accuses Embassy in Nation, Guinea of Cross Border Voter's Registration

The Sierra Leonean opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) party has accused officials of the country's embassies in Guinea and Liberia of ferrying voters from their respective station countries to border towns in Sierra Leone for the purpose of partaking in the ongoing biometric voter registration for the 2012 General Elections in favor of the ruling All People's Congress (APC) party.

According to the AWOKO News, a leading news organ in that country, the claim was stated at a press conference held at the NDA headquarters in Freetown.

Spokesperson for the party, Chernor Alpha Bah, accused embassy officials of the Sierra Leone's embassies in both Guinea and Liberia of "facilitating Sierra Leoneans resident in the two countries to register at the border towns" for the ruling party.

He considered the act as "a violation of the electoral laws" of the neighboring country.

Bah argued that the statement of the National Electoral Commissioner, Christiana Thorpe, that Sierra Leoneans can register anywhere irrespective of whether they are ordinarily residents in the constituency "has flagrantly contravened the electoral laws of the country."

He called on all stakeholders in the electoral process to clarify the issue so as to avoid chaos in the country" and also condemned the government of Sierra Leone for using state resources to ferry voters along the border towns to register and vote for the APC during the pools.

Sierra Leonean Ernest Bia Koroma last years announced that Sierra Leone will use Biometric Voting System in the 2012 Elections.

He said in collaboration with the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), the National Electoral Commission (NEC) were laying the foundation for Free and Fair Elections by innovating the Sierra Leone election processes with Biometric Voter Registration System.

State House sources to local media that the president has made it one of his top priorities to ensure that the Biometric Data Information System is completed before the first ballot is cast in the 2012 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Elections.

"His Excellency is very much concerned about some of negative feedback he is getting that certain key opposition party members are setting the stage for potential election violence. He is very concerned about the recent violence within the SLPP and the false accusations that the APC Government will rig elections. The president's only political weapon of choice is developing Sierra Leone and improving the lives and welfare of the people," a source told Awoko.

Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Chief Electoral Commissioner

What is a Biometric Voter Identification Process? Every human being has specific biological traits such as DNA, hair color, height, iris of the eyes, facial features and fingerprints. DNA is the unique biological code in every human cell but it is much more expensive and invasive to use biometric data collection. The most easily identifiable trait in a human being is their fingerprint, and it is the least expensive biometric information used to identify people. No two people in world have the same fingerprint patterns.

Large amounts of biometric information can be stored in a microchip and subsequently transferred to a voter's registration or identification card. The information contained in the card will enable polling agents to identify the individual voter and prevent duplicate voting, and of course voter fraud. The information in the identification card will automatically be checked against the biometric data information available in a computer.

The ongoing field voter registration is lasting for approximately three months in early 2012.

The project commenced in 2011 and the planning, procurement, testing, recruitment and training are planned for the remainder of this year. From planning to implementation, the entire project will cost almost US$60M.

The government will pay 56% and the rest will be funded by UNDP and other donors.

In 2007, when then candidate Ernest Bai Koroma was vying for the highest office in Sierra Leone, he promised to change Sierra Leone for the better.

The president understands that building a lasting post-war peaceful nation requires genuine national projects that will ensure all Sierra Leoneans have confidence in the country's democracy particularly our election process.

The president's long-term strategy of reform has already ushered in a new political discipline that is by far different from, and better than that of his predecessors.

"I was elected president of the whole of Sierra Leone; I will serve the whole of Sierra Leone; "I will unite this country by fulfilling the promise of the Agenda for Change to the common man and woman, regardless of their sex, ethnic group, region or political party," he said in 2009.

Meanwhile, a three-man delegation from Liberia's National Electoral Commission (NEC) that is currently on a study tour of Sierra Leone's Biometric Voter Registration process has called on government to "provide financial resources to the country's National Electoral Commission (NEC) so that it can be more independent."

The team comprises, James Dogbey- IT Director, David Colliee-Software Developer and Archie Delaney- Delineation & Technical Information Management are on a four-day visit to Sierra Leone's NEC to observe the registration process which they intend to replicate back home during their next general elections.

In an interview with the team, Archie Delaney disclosed that "there is no cost in ensuring and sustaining democracy. If there are no democratic elections where the people are assured that at the end of the day their votes counted reflect the will of the majority of the people, we all know what will happen."

He added that democracy is too expensive and therefore the government has to provide the financial resources to the Commission so that it can be more independent, noting that "many a times donor monies come with conditions".

Delaney maintained that there is no cost too high for Sierra Leone's government to provide support to NEC to sustain the country's democracy. According to him, if NEC is unable to adequately conduct itself to sustain the current democratic trend, the alternative which could be outbreak of violence is known by all.

Questioned about the importance of the Biometric Voter registration, James Dogbey another member of the visiting delegation said that, looking at the current system from the way the data is captured and the processing procedures, "we have just been briefed this can record between 90-100% the possibility of multiple registration." Therefore he went on "multiple voting during polling day will be definitely squashed out as the registrations are going to be marched as all the duplicates are going to be removed so when that data is marched together its certain that those who are engaged in double registration will be certainly weeded out meaning they will not be able to vote during polling day."

Cross border registration is an issue brought up during the Sierra Leone registration process. Was this the same during the Liberia process? Dogbey disclosed, "we had cross border issues but these are Liberians that were residing on the border area of Sierra Leone and during our registration they came in and once they were proven that they were Liberians, they were allowed to register."

Questioned about the purpose of their study tour, Archie Delaney said they are in the country to learn from this process so as to assist Liberia that is contemplating the possibility of also doing biometric voter registration in the country.

He said "we believe that the tour will be very invaluable because the two countries share similar situations, environments and both are war torn countries with broken down infrastructures. He noted that starting this kind of a system in such an environment that is shrouded with issues of inaccessibility, high illiterate population, voter education and all those kind of issues, we therefore thought Sierra Leone can be a perfect case study from where we can learn as a Commission."

The Liberian Technical Information Manager added that their visit is to understudy how Sierra Leone meets her challenges, its constraints, and how it devices solutions. The answers to all of these concerns he maintained, will be a valuable experience to them as a Commission.

On the area of violence during elections in both countries, David Colliee stated that the Liberia election was not violent because they had lots of instances where the people were forced to exercise "very high level of patriotism," Mr. Colliee stated.

What does this mean for the Sierra Leone NEC the Chief of External Outreach Albert Massaquoi disclosed "we are very much happy to have a sister country coming to us to share experiences. We are learning from them and they too are learning from us; this is something that is good for us," Mr. Massaquoi noted, adding that the visit also serves "to underscore the fact that what we have been doing is good." By Betty Milton and D K Sengbeh.

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