World News

"My job is a national duty"-Christiana Thorpe

By  | 6 May 2010 at 02:07 | 530 views

Sierra Leone Electoral Commission boss Christiana Thorpe says her job is scary but she feels good working for her country and sticking to ethical principles.

She is the first woman to be appointed National Electoral Commissioner in Sierra Leone and her courage , impartiality and adherence to ethical principals made her win accolades after the 2007 elections in which the then ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party was ousted from power by the opposition All Peoples Congress which has succeeded in doing so for the second time since 1967.

Despite the physical threats and threats of litigation, Christiana Thorpe declared a winner and contrary to what James Jonah, the former Commissioner and UN top gun did in 1996, she declared the results from polling stations where over- voting was done as null and void. That did did not go down well with the SLPP but even though the APC too was affected by the banning, they felt satisfied after their victory.

In subsequent local government elections, Thorpe also banned a polling station at John Kenney School in the east of the capital, Freetown , a stronghold of the APC. That sent a clear signal to all and sundry that the days of rigging elections were over. In the 1996 elections Jonah decided to reduce, instead of discarding bogus ballots and declared a winner. He was subsequently appointed ambassador to the UN with a cabinet rank and then a minister of finance in the Kabbah administration which was contrary to provisions of the Sierra Leone constitution which stated inter alia that whosever presides over a national election should not be given a cabinet appointment by the elected government.

Thorpe (photo) had refused to do a Jonah, thus sending out a message to the two main parties about the rigging which characterized elections in the past and incidentally led to bad governance.

Christiana Thorpe has been re-nominated by president Ernest Bai Koroma for a second term, but characteristic of Sierra Leonean parties, they have started raising hell. But she is currently engaged in preparing for the 2012 elections and has just conducted chieftaincy elections and headmen of villages elections.

Not surprisingly, litigations have emerged after the chieftaincy elections in the midst of attempted arm twisting and political intrigues in the chiefdoms. But she seems unperturbed and tells The Patriotic Vanguard what she thinks of her job and why she sticks to principles. PV Freetown boss Alpha Rashid Jalloh met her at her office at Wellington and had a snap interview with her:

PV: Taking up such a job means facing a lot of challenges, do you sometimes feel threatened by people who are affected by your decisions?

Christiana Thorpe: It is scary but this is a national duty. I have always liked to take up national duties. But you have threats all the time. You never know what will come next….but it is a duty.

PV: There have been reports that some elections have been petitioned and the National Electoral Commission has been incidentally dragged into the litigations?

CT: You must expect litigations. Now there are three outstanding cases: Loko Masama and Masimera in the Port Loko District and Kayamba chiefdom in the Moyamba district (south of the country). But nevertheless, the president has handed staff tto thirty sevn chiefs whose results were unpetitioned. Forty chieftaincy elections were conducted.

PV: Were there problems that were encountered during the elections?

CT: This is the first time the NEC has been mandated, through the Local Government Act of 2001 to run chieftaincy lections. Before this time, it was the Local Government Ministry. The Commission merely assisted in conducting elections. We were merely collaborating with the Local Government ministry.

Coming back to the current elections, chieftaincy elections are in three phases; Registration, Nomination and the third phase is the declaration of rights.

PV: Is the declaration of rights done verbally or written?

CT: It is done verbally.

PV: Is it easy to prove legitimacy in the absence of records?

CT: The people would easily know when you declare a right if you are indeed entitled to contest. They know the history of the ruling houses. It is through that them we would know who are actually entitled to contest. But to make things easy we did a revision of the voters’ list. It is the chiefdom councilors that are entitled to vote. However there was a problem in understanding the need for a runoff.

PV: Had it existed before?

CT: Yes, they had it before. But you must have 50% of the total valid votes cast for you to be declared a winner. If not the first to have the highest votes would be sent for a runoff. But there was an instance in which three people had to go for a run off because there was a tie between two of them and the highest winner had less than 50 percent of the total valid votes cast.

PV: Reports says there have been recruitment at the commission here recently, for what is it done?

CT: It is a restructuring process ahead of the 2012 elections. We are preparing ahead of it but we will not discuss it yet.

PV: Thank you very much for speaking to The Patriotic Vanguard.

CT: Thank you. I have been reading your stories on the internet.