The National Electoral Commission (NEC) in Sierra Leone has issued, in a Press Conference, a statement revealing its decision that it has increased Candidate nomination fees for all candidates aspiring to different public offices in the country. NEC stated that the decision came after a careful review of the said fees as maintained in the “Statutory Regulations and as Prescribed in Sections 46(1), 60(5) of the Public Elections Act 2012. The new fees, according to NEC, stand thus:
Presidential Candidates is Le. 100,000,000 (One Hundred Million Leones); Members of Parliament is Le. 25,000,000 (Twenty Five Million); Mayors/Chairpersons is Le.5, 000,000 (Five Million); Councillors is Le.2, 000,000 (Two Million). This announcement has been greeted with an outcry of condemnation from certain sectors of society, especially from supporters of the opposition SLPP party. Some have put forward the argument that the new fees will deter the chances of those potential candidates, who are financially less privileged, from ever taking part in any elections in the country because they can never afford these high fees. Some have stated that the National Electoral Commission has no mandate to raise the fees just like that. Some said it is a ploy by the APC party and NEC to deprive other candidates, especially opposition candidates, from contesting the elections, which will give way to APC candidates winning those seats because the APC party will finance their own nominees. Others have even called for a massive protest by all other political parties and civil society groups against the APC party and NEC. Depending on what side of the political divide you are in, these are legitimate points standing alone in themselves without considering any underlying factors. No one wants to pay more fees than is necessary, especially given the global economic crunch and the rate at which the Sierra Leone economy is struggling to compete with other markets. For example, Le.25, 000,000 as nomination fee for Parliamentarians, which is roughly $6,000, is not a child’s play in Sierra Leone and elsewhere because it is a fortune for most people in the country and in other places around the world.
As interesting as this argument may be, I have also looked at other dynamics surrounding this argument. Does this bring us to the very reason why we are spending so much time on the Online Newspapers and discussion forums? Don’t we lash against thieving and corrupt government officials and castigate them for every little mistake? In my opinion, if a candidate who is aspiring to represent me in Kambia East Constituency is unable to raise funds through his people and his campaign team from the time he or she announced his or her intention to contest the seat, to this present moment; and considering we have three months to the elections, what guarantee do I have that this candidate will not be one of those government officials whom I might be spending a lot of time defending against allegations of financial misappropriation? The popularity of a potential candidate starts from how much he or she is connected with his constituents and members of his family and with the circle of friends he surrounds himself with. If the candidates and the people who are supporting them are serious about how much the candidate can contribute to national development, let them find ways to come up with the money either through generous campaign contributions or political fundraisers. It is not too late to do so. As a matter of fact, this would be an opportune moment because we all now know that the candidates are not making this up. It comes as a mandate from the National Electoral Commission; substantiation by Statutory Regulations with its attendant provisions. Why do we always want to quote what other nations are doing and compare Sierra Leone to those nations if we are not willing to do what it takes to regain our independence from external donors from where most of our financial support derives?
Politics cost money these days; and with the efforts by NEC to bring our electoral system to near perfection, it is but fitting that those who are aspiring for office own up to the dictates of the game. No one wants to deprive any Sierra Leonean of his or her God given rights to vote and be voted for; but everything comes with a price and this happens to be one of those prices that hit you in the face when you least expect it. Do I think the fees are not exorbitant? I don’t think so; and for those who are financially compromised, they would describe the fees as “Neck breaking”! But I think the National Electoral Commission has justified why the fees had to be this way. They have clearly outlined how much this election will cost the nation in tax payers’ money. We still have a little over 100 days to the elections and any vigorous efforts at fundraising, using proactive approaches, will yield more than enough for the candidates to be able to pay this fees. In other words, those who are sure of winning, by virtue of their connection with the electorates, will not see this as a problem. Those who have less rapport and interaction with their constituents will surely continue to raise alarm and condemn the fees. Either way, this will send a clear message to every Sierra Leonean that if you are not fully connected with the people you want to represent; and you are not vested in their needs to be able to convince them to fundraise for you, then you should consider waiting for a more appropriate time after you would have done your assignment well enough on the ground to attract more following and more campaign contributions. A candidate’s financial strength should depend on the support he or she has from his people. This is modern day politics, let us play it that way if we don’t want to be seen as hypocrites to our call for the modernization of our democratic principles.