By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah, Matthew Anderson, and Mark Feldman
Africanist Press has authenticated evidence from Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission’s (NEC), including documentation of recent promotions and postings of electoral staff. These documents show how the country’s elections management institution promoted more than 170 electoral personnel believed to be members and active supporters of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Upon promotion, these officials have been deployed to strategic locations known to be opposition strongholds ahead of the upcoming 2023 elections.
Sierra Leone’s NEC is the state institution responsible for organizing and supervising elections. Section 33 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone empowers the NEC with the mandate to prepare for and conduct all public elections and referenda in Sierra Leone. Although the Constitution empowers the country’s president to appoint members of the Commission, these appointments must occur only after consultation with all registered political parties and subject to the approval of Parliament.
Africanist Press accessed and reviewed NEC administrative records showing that in March 2021, senior NEC officials implemented an institutional restructuring and promotions program. Evidence strongly suggests that this restructuring was designed explicitly to place personnel allegedly affiliated with the SLPP and active SLPP supporters into strategic positions with higher salaries and decision-making abilities.
New directorate positions were recently created and staffed by ruling party sympathizers and/or supposed members. For example, Momoh Kanneh, former Chief Elections Officer in the Northern Region, was promoted to Director of Voter Education. Mohamed Turay, Chief Elections Officer in the Northwest Region, has been appointed Director of NEC Operations; and Henry Swaray, previously Chief Elections Officer in charge of the Voters Roll, has been promoted to Director of the Voters Roll. With their newly created strategic management positions, all three elections officers received a 70% increase in their monthly wages and placed in strategic positions where they can influence electoral decisions. Swaray, for example, is currently assigned to the National Civil Registration Authority to help consolidate voter records for the upcoming 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections.
In other cases, Africanist Press found that NEC staff believed to be SLPP members have been deployed or assigned to likely opposition party stronghold districts, where they have been placed in strategic elections management positions. For example, Musa Kangbai, a NEC District Elections Officer from Kenema, has been appointed Assistant Director of Procurement. In this new position, Kangbai is now in charge of procuring ballot papers and other elections materials for the upcoming 2023 elections. Our investigation discovered that Kangbai was among several individuals accused of ballot tampering in polling areas across the Kenema district during the 2018 presidential and parliamentary elections.
Africanist Press also discovered similar patterns with three other appointees: Umaru Fomba, Paul Simbo, and Ibrahim Kanneh. These personnel are all alleged members or active supporters of the SLPP who have been promoted to newly-created administrative positions; evidence suggests that these appointments are deliberate and strategic. Fomba, for example, was promoted from District Elections Officer in Kambia to Assistant Director of the Northwest Region. Fomba was also accused of ballot stuffing during the Thonko Limba bye- elections in 2019. Paul Simbo was promoted, without any obvious reference to his qualification and experience, from District Elections Officer in Bo to the position of Assistant Director of Ethics, a newly-created department under the supervision of the NEC chairperson. Ibrahim Kanneh was also promoted from the position of Information and Technology Officer in the Northwest Region to Assistant Director in charge of the Voter Roll and Data. Kanneh had served NEC for barely a year before his new appointment. Each of these district elections officers in these newly-created assistant director positions are receiving gross monthly pay of Le19,178,081 (about USD $1800), which represents a 58% salary increase from their previous monthly wages in FY2020 (Le 11,809,163, about USD $1100).
We discovered a similar pattern in staff postings where alleged SLPP members were either moved from heads or assistant heads of district election management positions in ruling party strongholds and deployed in known opposition strongholds with redesignated tiles as either district election mangers or assistant managers. We noted the cases of four specific NEC staff: Solomon Sondai, Desiratu Thomas, Mohamed A. Turay, and Sulaiman Amara. These Assistant District Election Officers, with the exception of Mohamed Turay, were posted to the opposition heartland of Bombali as District Elections Managers with new salaries and positions of infleunce. Mohamed A. Turay, the Assistant District Elections Officer in Bonthe on the other hand, was also posted to Falaba as Assistant District Elections Manager.
While all of NEC’s 204 staff, including drivers and domestic employees of commissioners, received salary increases, NEC staff records and payroll documents show that only staff believed to be SLPP members were considered for promotion under this new restructuring and promotions program. At the district level, for example, Assistant District Elections officers who were promoted to District Elections Managers were mostly individuals believed to be members of the SLPP, or from areas considered SLPP strongholds. Another example is Baleyma Musa, a staff member believed to be an active SLPP supporter from Kenema, who is now elections manager in Bo. Baleyma Musa was assistant to Musa Kangabai in Kenema when the alleged ballot tampering occurred during the 2018 elections. Likewise, Augustine Saffa, who was transferred from Kambia as District Elections Officer, now holds the position of District Elections Manager in Kenema, an area with a minority of SLPP voters. Other promotions and postings include Augustine Mohamed (recently placed in charge of elections in Portloko), Henry Thompson (Moyamba), Charles Ensa (Karene), Usifu Kamara (Kono), Larry Fangawa (Western Urban), Louissa Gbassa (Western Rural), and Fatmata Jalloh (Pujehun).
However, Africanist Press also discovered that some NEC staff alleged to be SLPP members or active supporters received salary increases ranging between 45% and 75%, but were not promoted or moved to different posts. These individuals are mainly staff in NEC’s Internal Audit Department, the Finance Department, and the Department of Electoral and Voter Education. They include Aiah Sam, Philip Fatorma, Hassan V. Sheriff, Agnes Tarawally, Tonia Salankule, Kadija Dukuray, Mohamed T. Sheriff , Manty Daboh, Alieu Jalloh, Foday Samura, Lawrence Kenjah, Alimu Bah, Timothy Musa, Jacob Jajua, Ansumanah Kanneh, Mbekay Amara, Sammy C Sama, and Paul Dixon.
In recent years, questions have been raised over the regional imbalance and ethnic composition of the NEC. Opposition politicians, in particular, have expressed concerns that majority of NEC staff are potentially supporters of the governing SLPP recruited from ruling party strongholds, thereby casting doubts over the independence and credibility of the NEC. In the course of the last three years, Sierra Leone’s political environment has become increasingly marred by electoral violence and renewed allegations of vote rigging. With nearly every bye-election ending in violence and allegations of vote rigging, many have questioned the NEC’s ability to organize free and fair elections in a country where the independence of democratic institutions has been consistently eroded over the last three years.
Along with with allegations of ethnic imbalance in NEC’s staffing arrangement, controversies have also followed recent presidential appointments of NEC commissioners, with opposition parties complaining that presidential appointments were not preceded by the required consultations.
We hereby publish documents showing List of Staff on NEC’s Payroll and Administrative Records to demonstrate the evidence upon which this report is based.