Statement to Development Partners

Statement by
Mr. Sunil Saigal
United Nations Resident Coordinator
at the meeting of the
Development Partners Committee (DEPAC)
26 July 2016, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Hon. Minister of Finance and Economic Development,
Representatives of Government Ministries, Department and Agencies,
Excellencies, Representatives of the Diplomatic Community,
Representatives of International and Non-Governmental Organizations,
Colleagues of the United Nations system,
Development Partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sierra Leone will soon undertake elections that are outside the purview of the United Nations Security Council, and without the accompanying international apparatus. It will be an historical milestone that we hope very much will be a source of pride for the people of Sierra Leone. We all want to see free, fair, peaceful, credible and nationally owned elections that add to the overall stability and prosperity of the country.

Elections are unlike any other programme activity because under the rule of law they must be completed on time and their conduct must be clearly above criticism; they represent the very heart of a democratic and stable state. Without a doubt, everyone in this room understands the significance of getting this right. As a priority of the Government and the opposition parties alike, we, as Development Partners, recognize the current important work already being done to move the process forward, and we applaud the increasing focus on the details of all aspects of this complex task.

As inspiring as they are, elections also carry risks. The stakes are always high and the Government, Opposition Parties, Civil Society and the country’s Partners together bear the responsibility of ensuring that these elections move forward in a timely, transparent and trust-enhancing fashion and that any risks inherent in the process are managed and minimized.

If the elections, and all the elements that are within them, are not perceived as credible by the citizenship this could lead to Sierra Leone slipping back to instability. Therefore, as we advance with the preparations for the elections, the constitutional referendum, and the holding of the multiparty elections themselves, we must be realistic but also ambitious to ensure we keep building on past successes. In particular civil registration offers excellent opportunities to work in a better and smarter way, but it must all be done in time to ensure the electoral register is completely ready and forms a reliable basis for the elections. In this regard failure is not an option. The timeline for the elections must not be compromised.

To that end, we wish to highlight three important points.

Firstly, indeed the timelines of the various processes, which together will ensure successful elections in early 2018 must be clear and attainable. We fully recognize that much work has been done to revise and refine timelines, and we acknowledge that great improvements have been made. Nonetheless, planning must be rigorous with built-in margins to allow for quick responses to issues, which invariably crop in such complex processes. In addition to completing voter registration by the statutory deadline in advance of the elections, the comprehensive timeline should also clarify this need in relation to the constitutional referendum, as well as the impact of the de-amalgamation of chiefdoms. Current planning is very ambitious and seems to assume that all processes will run smoothly at a high pace and without hitches. We would encourage yet a critical look at the planning to mitigate risks in this context.
Secondly, voter registration, whether it be by direct registration or derived from civil registration must be, and must be perceived by all to be, a credible and legitimate process. It is important that the institution in charge of the process has the requisite capacity to manage the process, and to manage and be accountable for the resources entrusted to it. I have mentioned the risks inherent in the process. Having an experienced and credible institution leading the process would be an important, if not necessary, factor in managing those risks.

Thirdly, all planning should take place taking cognizance of budgets – that is of resources needed for the process, and of resources presently available. We note that, at the moment, a funding gap of more than $ 11 million has been identified for 2016 alone. While work is being done to identify additional resources, the reality is that external commitments are yet to be clarified. A prerequisite for the mobilization of additional commitments will be clear, realistic and prioritized budgets – which will also show how assets provided previously and still available to the Government will be employed – and rigorous and realistic planning that will allow partners to identify needs and resources being sought and the best places to assist.
In conclusion, our collective aim is for the people of Sierra Leone to experience again free, peaceful and fair elections held on time. We have no doubt that this can be achieved and continue to be ready to support the Government in working towards this goal.

Thank you.