The Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation yesterday came under serious criticism from the European Union Election Observation Mission to Sierra Leone for giving "preferential treatment" to the ruling All People's Congress (APC) as against other political parties.
Delivering the EU EOM preliminary statements on Saturday's elections at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown, Chief Observer Richard Howitt stated that even though the SLBC gave access to political parties and candidates through free airtime programmes, they showed biased coverage in key areas like news bulletin and elections related programmes in favour of the APC.
Nonetheless, Howitt noted that the elections had so far been generally well conducted in a peaceful environment with high level of participation, despite the unequal level playing field for the contestants during the campaign period.
"The SLBC gave access to all political parties on radio and television even though it was overshadowed by the main opposition SLPP and the ruling APC. 61% of all coverage was devoted to the governing party. An unequal playing field was evident throughout the campaign period, according to our assessment," he stated.
Howitt also accused the APC of using state resources in the electioneering processes and distributed money to electorates for votes at various places, including Bo, Bonthe and Kenema.
"EU EOM observers reported the use of a significant number of government vehicles by the APC presidential candidate for campaigning in Kenema and Kailahun. The Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) has little control over the source and volume of campaign funds which makes a blurred separation between the ruling party resources and state resources," he noted.
Reacting to the allegations, Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo - who doubles as Government Spokesperson - said the use of government vehicles by the incumbent during such exercises has not been a major issue though he considered it as a "minor error".
According to him, the vehicles that accompanied the president on his campaigns in the provinces and in the city are security proof and are needed to ensure his safety wherever he goes. "The president needs to be protected and it is only the state security that can provide him with that security," he said.
Mr. Kargbo cited instances where he said some Permanent Secretaries and other civil servants covered their official vehicles' number plates and used them to campaign with the main opposition party.
"We want the international observers to know that we've gone into these elections with no intention to cheat anybody," he concluded.
The SLBC director general could not be reached for his comment.