The Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, the Ambassador of the European Union to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens, and the Chairperson of the National Election Watch (NEW) Marcella Samba Sesay, has on June 2nd launched a new two-year 800.000 EUR partnership programme between the EU and NEW to promote governance reforms and democratization in Sierra Leone.
The launch, according to a release from EU, follows a recent call made by President Julius Maada Bio to civil society organizations and development partners to support government's efforts to strengthen democratization and good governance in Sierra Leone.
During the launch Vice-President, Jalloh said: "Building a viable framework to facilitate CSO and government engagement is vital to institutionalizing democratic processes and good governance. Sustained engagement with CSO constitutes one of the many paths government intends to promote accountability and inclusiveness. We believe civil society should be involved in setting the agenda, planning, implementing, monitoring, reviewing and giving feedback. An extra pair of eyes keeps everyone safer.
Ambassador of the European Union to Sierra Leone, Tom Vens expressed his delight to joining other dignitaries at the official launch of the second partnership programme between the EU and National Election Watch, a partnership aimed at pushing forward governance reforms and democratization in Sierra Leone through the active involvement of civil society organisations.
He told the gathering that strengthening peace and democracy has been the principal aim of the European Union from its very outset 70 years ago.
"As a community of like-minded States, the EU also stands for the fundamental values of democracy and rule of law, which the EU promotes both internally and externally. In line with this vision, the EU aims to integrate the pursuit of peace and democracy in all its external actions, political and diplomatic relations with third countries and multilateral institutions. Strengthening peace and democracy has never been an easy task, and today's Covid-19 crisis context poses further challenges. The prospect of a global economic recession and social instability have driven the EU to widen and intensify its efforts. They have also led to a new vision for action revolving around the concept of 'resilient societies' based on the mutually reinforcing pillars of peace and democracy, and enhanced social accountability through the active engagement of civil society," he said.
He disclosed that the project is funded through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, a key EU grant facility designed to specifically support civil society to become an effective force for democratic reform, for peaceful conciliation of group interests and consolidation of political participation and representation.
"Strengthening the role of national civil society organisations in democratic processes is a central objective of the EU's development engagement with its partner countries. By building the capacity of civil society organizations, the EU ultimately seeks to support their role asindependent democratic development actors."
He said the EU agrees with the President that "each and every voice makes our democracy better and stronger" and that "an extra pair of eyes to identify and resolve structural imbalances and triggers of conflict will keep everyone safer."
"I salute once again your presence today, as another clear token of the government's desire to strengthen its consultative relationship with civil society and we all look forward to your leadership in the coming days. Our project with NEW comes at an opportune moment as it will contribute to both the preparations for the 2022/2023 elections in Sierra Leone and the design and implementation of civic and electoral education programmes throughout the country. "At a time of crisis, it is even more important we rekindle efforts towards national unity by deepening citizens' knowledge on multi-party democracy and fostering values of national cohesion and political tolerance. And NEW is uniquely well placed to undertake the task," he said.
He said EU believes that NEW is once again uniquely positioned to take on essential activities in the run up to the next elections and that they will not only observe all election-related activities and national civil registration and voter registration operations, but will also monitor and advocate for the effective implementation of electoral observer missions recommendations.
"Through the project, NEW will contribute to deepening citizens' knowledge on multi-party democracy, elections and other political processes and mobilise the public to be better informed about the various ongoing governance priorities so that they too can contribute to the debate. Last but not least, NEW will also support the Government's efforts in containing the coronavirus with COVID-19 monitoring and awareness raising activities. With the daily increase in numbers, more people must be given the correct information. All Sierra Leoneans need to be prepared and protected by receiving the right information on the causes of the virus, how it is spread. False believes and misinformation need to be addressed. And closer attention must be put to ensure that the investments in the COVID-19 response are fully accounted for by the various actors."
He said their collaboration with NEW should also be seen in the wider context of our overall support to the governance sector in Sierra Leone, adding that their primary focus is to implement recommendations for reforms prioritised by the government and the people of Sierra Leone as successively formulated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the Constitutional Review White Paper, the New Direction Manifesto, the National Development Plan, the recommendations following the Bintumani III Conference on Democratic Consolidation for Peace and National Cohesion and the Bo Peace Declaration.
"These various documents reflect the national ambition and the will of the people of this country to ensure that tangible and practical reforms are implemented in relation to governance institutions, mandates and systems of Sierra Leone."
He recalled that the 2018 elections marked the second peaceful transition from one elected leader to another and that it was a milestone for the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone which provided us with valuable lessons to reflect upon.
He emphasised the need for the country to have a fixed date for the presidential elections so that there is predictability, adding that sufficient financial resources need to be provided to the Electoral Management Bodies in a timely manner.
"The income and expenditure of parties and candidates needs to be transparently accounted for. The conduct of voter registration needs to be clarified and mainstreamed with civic registration process to ensure inclusiveness and cost-effectiveness of electoral operations. Space needs to be created in politics to allow for more women, youth and people with disabilities to be involved in political life and hold representative positions. Nomination fees for candidates and the time required for public servants to resign before standing in elections need to be discussed and standardised. The nation also agreed that the PPRC is a critical institution that needs to be strengthened in order to meaningfully fulfil its role," he said.