Gbarpolu County – Over 18,000 eligible voters in Gbarpolu County have called on the National Elections Commission of Liberia to revert its decision of closing the only voter registration center in a populated artisanal mining community.
An assessment by NEC’s Geographical Investigation Survey (GIS) team earlier showed that the Jungle James Mining camp VR center was in Gbarpolu, but the camp’s proximity with neighboring Bong County then sparked concerns about its actual location.
Based on the NEC hired GIS team judgment, the commission published Jungle James Camp as one of the 76 VR Centers in Gbarpolu County but later that decision was halted due to complaints or petitions from Bong County authorities to NEC on grounds that the area is in their county.
So far, the complaint from Bong County has made it difficult for electoral body to determine the actual county, thereby preventing thousands of Liberians from registering.
According to NEC’s Magistrate in the county, he was ordered by headquarters to cancel Jungle James VR center, which is located in electoral district #1 of the county.
This means the current total number of VR centers in the county has reduced to 75.
Mr. Kollie Lamendine told a team of national independent monitors that the mining camp has been a “no man land”, prompting rivalry for ownership from the two counties.
“The two counties [have] been fighting on that place, so Bong County raised it and HQ has taken a decision that we canceled that place,” Kollie said, adding that NEC cannot work in two counties with a politically disputed area.
Many residents of the camp who are desperate to register are expressing disappointment over the commission’s move to close the VR center.
Peter Flomo described the decision “as totally disheartening and unacceptable that over 18,000 people of this area are been denied their electoral rights to have access to polling center and so the government needs to do something.”
Government needs to do it now so that these people rights and voices can be heard into national decision making through the ballot box,” Kollie added. “I am speaking in the face of the fear urgency of now, if this will cause an extension of the March 7, 2017 VR exercise, it has to be done”.
He said NEC action should not be based on geographical argument which is denying a particular community of participating, while he also called on his fellow constituents to stay calm and await response from the commission.
The situation has caused scores of people to show reluctance about traveling long distance and registered at another center. Some of them say long travel will slow their mining activities for a day, something they are unprepared to risk.
They assert that NEC wants to deliberately leave them out of the national decision process, and threatened to push for autonomous status because according to them, the area is rich in gold and diamonds and should be govern by them without national government’s interference.
Abraham Sally, a youth of the camp said: “We will continue our work until government knows our values and do something quick-quick that will help us register too”.
He argues that the artisanal mining camp contributes huge revenue to the national budget through the acquiring of mining licenses and selling of diamonds.
The Gbandi Governor in the area, Abraham S. Kannah, asserts that it is meaningless for locals in the area to participate in the VR process.
Another resident, Janga Sumo, who is yet to register said he won’t I take one step from the camp to register at another VR center.
“This place supposed to be the one to have two or three centers; why they carried center to small -small villages that have one or 3 houses. Is it right for people to walk to go to villages and register”?
Like Janga, many families in the densely populated mining camp are discouraging their relatives from registering unless the center is reestablished in the camp.
For a female resident of the area, the situation appears to be a never ending land dispute that is on the verge of denying them their foremost civil rights.
Korto Tokpa said: “What kind of problem that can be between Gbarpolu and Bong that will not allow us to get center”.
Korto says the situation is an urgent call for national government to resolve the dispute between the two counties, but she also sent out a caution.
”We will not register until that go on,” she said bluntly.
Report By: Henry B. Gboluma,Jr.