We want to inform Airtel that our coalition of Civil Society Organisations called off the planned demonstration against them the last time because of the timely intervention of the Chairman of NATCOM but we will not hesitate to renew that call if AIRTEL continues to rob poor Sierra Leoneans of their hard-earned earned incomes.
We would like to commend the Chairman of NATCOM, Mr Momoh Konteh and his Commission for stemming the AIRTEL madness in time and averting what could have been a very strong case for a popular backlash against AIRTEL. However, we wish to remind the NATCOM Chairman that we are patiently monitoring the outcome of the internal investigation on who is responsible for the subversive correspondence to date and which continues to confuse the public. We also wish to remind NATCOM of their responsibility to ensure that AIRTEL and other mobile phone Operators stop deceiving subscribers that they are offering 3G services when that is not the case.
We stated in our open letter last year that a recent World Bank Comparative Assessment stated that Sierra Leoneans pay the highest tariff to mobile operators than any other country in Africa. Out of the 10 countries where AIRTEL operates across Africa, Sierra Leoneans are paying the highest tariff (100mb bundle cost Le 18,000 which is equivalent to $ 3 USD). We think this is also of a criminal nature when we have been made to believe that we have a functional Fibre optic platform that is now fully managed by SALCAB and yet the Mobile Operators continue to render poor quality service and charge exorbitant Tariffs. We hope we shall get the Ministry of Information and Communication to tell us the way forward on the status of the Fibre Optic platform.
We want to refer AIRTEL and all actors concerned to section 53 (5) of the Telecommunications Act 2009 as amended and which states; "where the commission and the Operator failed to reach an agreement on the proposed tariff and any modification thereto proposed by the Commission, the operator may appeal to the tribunal and three persons appointed by the chief Justice", this subsection address where there is a disagreement over tariffs between NATCOM and the Operator(s). AIRTEL did not only fail to abide by subsection 5 but flagrantly flouted Sections 53 (2) (3) (4) (7) (8).
Based on consultations the NCRC-NTT has had with the Chairman of NATCOM, we are demanding that AIRTEL publicly apologise for violating the Telecoms Act of 2009 as amended or we shall call them out in another media campaign until they seen reason to be more responsive to the needs of Citizens.
Lastly the NCRC-NTT wants to unequivocally state that any move by any Operator and/or the Cartel will be resisted. We are also asking NATCOM to ask Airtel publicly apologise and compensate subscriber for the 3 days cheating.
NEC runs the risk of losing its credibility
Concerns about the role of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the Political Parties Representation Commission (PPRC) in the conduct of the 2018 national elections have been extensively covered in the media over the past week, when the actions of Mrs. Zainab Umu Moseray, the Acting Registrar at the PPRC and alleged supporter of a faction (Julius Maada Bio) of the SLPP were exposed. Those concerns have not been assuaged by either organisation and their inaction has necessitated further scrutiny the extent to which both organisations have the ability to act independently in performance of their statutory roles and responsibilities.
On Friday 26th January 2017, another glaring episode of NEC incompetence, which may have gone unnoticed, unfolded at Lungi Airport. An Atlas Airlines 747 Cargo Plane carrying biometric registration machinery and kits for the 2018 elections landed at the Lungi Airport. Seen around these election materials was one Joseph Sannoh of HEAL Sierra Leone, who was given free access to the biometric equipment and kits to make a propaganda video, assuring Sierra Leoneans that the arrival of the biometric equipment and kits was proof of the current government’s commitment to free and fair
elections. This propaganda was then widely disseminated to the Sierra Leone community via social media. Mr. Sannoh had detailed knowledge of where the biometric equipment and kits were to be warehoused, planned scheduled of delivery of further consignment of biometric equipment and kits and the cost of purchasing them. This was considered strange by many for someone who does not appear to be working for NEC.
This is indicative of the lack of proper arrangements by NEC to safely secure these election materials and the incident further necessitates answers to the following:
· What is the association between NEC and HEAL Sierra Leone and why was Mr. Sannoh given unprecedented access to the delivery of the biometric equipment and kits and how did he come to obtain such detailed knowledge about NEC operational plans for the 2018 elections?
· Was the propaganda video by Mr. Sannoh endorsed by the NEC Secretariat and Commissioners? If not, why has the NEC not disassociated itself from it?
· What efforts is the NEC putting in place to ensure that all machinery and kits delivered were fully accounted for?
· Given the revelation of the location of the NEC warehouse by Mr. Sannoh, what additional security measures does the NEC intend to put in place to ensure that the biometric machinery and kits are safeguarded?
Away from that incident, a fundamental question also for NEC and which remains unanswered is the duplicitous behaviour of NEC in the ongoing Moseraygate affair engulfing the Political Parties
Registration Commission (PPRC). Readers must be made aware, though, that in accordance with the 1991 National Constitution, the Chairperson of the National Electoral Commission is, as a matter of course, a Commissioner of the PPRC, in addition to one Commissioner from the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC), and one from the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA). In total, PPRC has four Commissioners with the Chairman of the PPRC as the fourth Commissioner. At the time of providing the advice to NEC, the PPRC was without a Chair and the Bar Association Commissioner.
Therefore, the only Commissioners who would have directed Mrs. Moseray to advice NEC to accept the nomination submitted by Dr. Prince Alex Harding with preference to that submitted by the SLPP Chair, Somanoh Kapen, were the Chair of NEC and the Labour Congress Commissioner. By referring the matter of duplicate nominations for Constituency 066 to the PPRC for determination, the Chairman of NEC, would have been fully aware that his actions were inappropriate and prejudicial, if he was to sit in determination of the issue in his capacity as the Commissioner of the PPRC. As a matter of natural justice, the PPRC should have recognised the conflict of interest of the Chair of NEC and that he
could not determine an issue referred to the PPRC by NEC. Listening to the radio interview with John Oponjo Benjamin on Saturday, he confirmed that NEC issued two forms soliciting nominations of the SLPP candidate for the parliamentary bye-election for Constituency 066 (Tonkolili District), one to the Chair of the SLPP, Somanoh Kapen and the other to Dr. Prince Harding. Having received two responses, NEC then consulted with the PPRC for advice to ascertain which of the two candidates the genuine SLPP candidate for the bye-election was. It makes it unbelievable that NEC wo uld go back to seek clarification from PPRC for a decision that NEC itself might have helped to determine.
This incident is seen by many as a glaring example of the significant failure of NEC in adhering to its own Guiding Principles and calls into question, its credibility to perform the critical role of overseeing national elections in the country. It is therefore critical that NEC clears up the following:
· Why did the NEC issue two nomination forms for the nomination of one candidate for the SLPP for the forthcoming parliamentary bye-election? Was it the intention for NEC to call into question the
validity of Chief Somanoh Kapen’s leadership of the SLPP?
· Why did the NEC issue a form to Dr. Prince Harding when it is fully aware that following a National Executive Committee meeting of 4th January 2017, held at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown,
Dr. Prince Harding was expelled from the SLPP? Was it the intention of NEC to call into question the validity of the decisions taken at the National Executive Committee meeting of the SLPP held on the 4th January 2017 and to give credence to a meeting called by Dr. Prince Harding on 17 December 2017?
· Why did NEC consult with the PPRC when it is fully aware that the PPRC was not fully constituted? Was legal advice sought before this action was taken?
· When the letter from Zainab Moseray was received, was legal advice taken to determine whether the advice from Mrs. Moseray was credible?
· Why did the Chair of NEC, in his capacity as a Commissioner of the PPRC did not declare of conflict of interest and stand aside?
· Why did the PPRC convene with two Commissioners on a matter of immense political significance and without any recourse to legal advice?
· How independent is the PPRC and NEC from organisations like the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, which has now been seen as no longer actively representing the interests of its workers, affiliate members and unions?
The NEC’s Guiding Principles are:
· Accountability: The Commission will take full responsibility for its activities and will always be answerable to the people of Sierra Leone and to its partners.
· Credibility: The Commission will endeavour to win the confidence and trust of all Sierra Leoneans and the international community through the quality of its services.
· Independence: In all the electoral matters, the Commission will ensure that it operates freely in its own best judgment, without taking directives from or being controlled by any person or authority.
· Integrity: The Commission will carry out its activities in an honest and truthful manner, and will take all reasonable measures to prevent willful wrongdoing by its officials.
· Impartiality: The Commission will always be non-partisan and fair in all its activities.
· Professionalism and Dedication: The Commission will
endeavour to have a well-trained, professionally competent staff dedicated to the delivery of trustworthy elections.
· Transparency: The Commission will be open at all times in dealing with all stakeholders in the electoral process.
The issue now referred to as Moseraygate also raises questions to the extent in which NEC is abiding by its own guiding principles. As we approach the 2018 elections, the integrity of NEC is again being
called into question, as the Moseraygate affair has revealed the collusion between NEC and the PPRC, potentially under the influence of self-interested groups, such as the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, to
thwart hard won democratic gains, for which thousands of Sierra Leonean citizens blood has been shed and tens of thousands had been left physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually scarred.
By Foday Dumbuya
Northern Region Civil Society Activist