H.E. Manuel MÜLLER,
AMBASSADOR OF THE EUROPEAN UNION TO SIERRA LEONE
AT THE OPENING OF THE REFORM OF THE POLITICAL PARTIES ACT
NATIONAL VALIDATION CONFERENCE
Freetown, 5 October 2021
Check Against Delivery
I am delighted to join you on behalf of the European Union.
The European Union is a longstanding partner of Sierra Leone, supporting the country in the process of consolidation of peace, stability and democracy. We are a strong partner of Sierra Leone in the area of democratic and electoral assistance.
The EU is pleased to support the Political Parties Registration Commission as part of its commitment to strengthen Sierra Leone’s democracy and governance.
I wish to commend Sierra Leone, and the Electoral Management Bodies in particular, for their commitment towards electoral legal reforms.
We very much welcome the active follow up to the implementation of the Electoral Observation Missions recommendations. Implementation of these recommendations is of great importance to maintain the positive trajectory in Sierra Leone’s democratisation process. We are therefore very pleased to support this event and encourage all stakeholders to embrace this opportunity, to demonstrate commitment and ambition towards this agenda.
Under our partnership with Sierra Leone, the European Union seeks to strengthen in particular, the election management bodies and the legal framework for elections, as several of 2018 election observation reports – including that of the EU Mission – recommended to improve laws, regulations and practices concerning the regulation of political parties and electoral campaigns in Sierra Leone. Many EOM recommendations have been repeated over the years.
As the Chairman of the Commission stressed, reform of the Political Parties Act is long overdue.
To this end, the EU has supported PPRC in reviewing aspects of the act through both national and international technical assistance. Together, this assistance has enabled PPRC to table a series of policy proposals to amend the 2002 PPA.
It is important to note that PPRC has not developed such proposals in a vacuum. Rather, they are based on a combination of its own experiences and challenges in implementing its mandate, past efforts to reform the Act, national and international observer findings and recommendations, and deliberative consultations with members of political parties, civil society, government agencies, and other stakeholders, and of key importance – this very validation event.
To improve is to change. But one does not expect every proposal for reform to be fully embraced with consensus. Rather we expect a healthy debate on many of these complex issues, with the goal of finding the right solutions for Sierra Leone in line with international standards and best practices.
One of the EU Election Observation Mission priority recommendations from the 2018 elections was to establish a system of effective auditing, and publication, of the income and expenditure of parties and candidates. The EU notes the PPRC’s commitment to developing such a system, grounded in a revised legal framework, and encourages political parties likewise to adopt a similar commitment. While some parties might consider such obligations onerous, they will ultimately strengthen the operating environment for all political parties and those standing for election.
The EU Election Observation Mission also recommended that PPRC develop a more effective system of sanctions for breaches of the electoral law, and that political parties themselves develop internal mechanisms to ensure that all their members comply with electoral law.
Further, the EU EOM recommendations noted the need for a more level playing between government and the opposition by making more explicit the distinction between the government and the ruling party during campaigns.
The current proposals work toward these ends. However, they must be properly implemented, with adequate safeguards for the political parties, including the means of appeal, to avoid an overzealous scrutiny by the regulator or courts, or the perception of such.
This event will provide very important inputs ahead of an Electoral Follow Up Mission on the implementation of the 2018 EU electoral observation mission recommendations, which will be led by the Member of the European Parliament Mr Norbert Neuser, who will be in Sierra Leone on the last week of October. The EU mission will assess the degree to which EOM recommendations have been implemented and electoral reform initiatives have been undertaken. It will be keenly looking into the status of progress of recommendations related to the regulation of political parties, including political financing and the funding of electoral campaigns.
This high-level EU Election Follow-up Mission will be a valuable opportunity for relevant Sierra Leonean stakeholders and the Member of the European Parliament Mr Neuser to engage constructively in the run-up to the 2023 elections. It will express EU’s encouragement and support to our Sierra Leonean partners towards an inclusive, transparent, peaceful and credible electoral process.
Today’s event and the work of PPRC shows there is already progress on addressing the EOM recommendations, coupled with a positive energy around making reform happen. I trust we can look forward to strong delivery.
However, as the Chair noted moments ago, there were previous efforts to reform the act in 2011, with the development of draft Political Parties Registration and Regulation Commission Act, which eventually did not succeed and waited for future constitutional reform.
We encourage the Parliament and political parties to not miss this new opportunity and enact the needed reforms.
It is our hope too that the review of PPA will also include exploring possibilities for entrenching the potential mainstreaming of gender and inclusivity to accelerate the participation of women and persons with disabilities in elective public positions, also in line with the EOM recommendations. Participation of women is not a ‘gift’ but an entrenched human rights priority. If PPRC can support the attainment of this important goal, it would be a significant contribution towards deepening democracy and equality in Sierra Leone.
The EU stands ready to encourage further debate and ultimately action on these reform proposals, which will strengthen the political and election campaign framework, and ultimately the country’s democracy.
In closing, I wish you all a successful event.