Public Elections Act 2012: Training workshop for police investigators and prosecutors - Ms. Mia Seppo, UNDP Sierra Leone Country Director

19 Oct 2012

Statement by Ms. Mia Seppo, UNDP Sierra Leone Country Director

I wish to extend a warm welcome to all of you to this important training. In particular, I wish to welcome the participants who have travelled long distances from up-country to be here with us today.

This workshop has been long in the making. It is part of a concerted effort, by partners, Government of Sierra Leone and the donor community, to provide critical support to strengthen the capacity of key stakeholders in the electoral process thereby ensuring that the capacities are in place to ensure free and fair, transparent and non-violent elections. The workshop is funded from the Electoral Basket Fund with contributions from DFID, EU, Irish Aid, Japan, Germany and the UN.
 
This workshop is focusing on the important role of the Electoral Offices Court. While we may hear a lot about NEC and PPRC, the Electoral Offences Courts are often less prominent, and less known, to the public.  

Yet, Electoral Offences Courts are a key pillar of the electoral framework – and this is a point reinforced throughout the Public Elections Act, 2012.  An in-depth understanding of the role and mandate of the Electoral Offences Courts is thus critical.

Electoral Offences Courts defend the right of every individual or political party to have an avenue through which to seek remedy for violation of electoral rights.  The Public Elections Act lists several different types of offenses.  Each of these offenses have one thing in common: if committed, they are an affront to the democratic process in Sierra Leone. However, these offences have to be settled in court, not on the streets.

This is a fact reinforced by the experiences of other countries.   From its beginnings in Latin America in the 1920s, variations of electoral courts are now applied in Kenya, South Africa, and Ethiopia.  It is popular because it allows for the clear delineation of functions: electoral dispute resolution is a judicial function – and electoral management is a function of NEC. As with government branches, an electoral system with checks and balances ensures stability and fairness.

Let’s also note the important timing of this workshop.  The campaign period has begun, and the country is readying itself for elections which are less than a month away.  While NEC and all electoral stakeholders have admirably planned for a smooth process, there is the unfortunate possibility that some people may not respect the electoral legal framework and rule of law.  

However, those people should know that when they transgress, they will encounter a determined, impartial justice system and robust Electoral Offences Courts with staff knowledgeable of the provisions of the new Public Elections Act.  

It is your role to bring balance and offer remedy.  This is a very important role.  

I thank you for listening.