Was the review of Sierra Leone’s 1991 Constitution a political farce?

7

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 February 2018

The filing cabinets at Sierra Leone’s State House are filled with reports that have not seen the light of day or implemented by the government, as promised. A good example is the 1991 Constitution Review Report, which was completed over a year ago and handed to president Koroma for discussion in parliament, leading to a national referendum.

Sadly, the Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee – Justice Edmund Cowan died last month, leaving behind a country in constitutional crisis, as huge sections of the 1991 Constitution continue to provide loopholes for abuse and injustice.

Costing millions of dollars to be completed, the 1991 Constitution review process was thorough and democratically inclusive.

The Report is the culmination of months of hard work and nationwide consultation, looking at addressing decades of injustice and poor governance.

But, with presidential and general elections now the focus of attention in Sierra Leone, it is ironic that none of the presidential candidates nor their party manifesto, is giving serious thought to what they will do about the implementation of the Report.

Writing recently in the INSIGHT magazine and OSIWA online, this is what Sonkita Conteh, Director of Namati Sierra Leone, says about the lack of political will and commitment to hold a referendum, let alone implement the recommendations of the Report:

After three years of arduous work collecting, deliberating and collating views across the country for a new constitution, it looks like Sierra Leone may end up not having one – yet again.

The government published its official response to the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) in a White Paper dated 10th November 2017 and made short work of the 680 page recommendation-laden report of the 80 person committee.

According to the white paper, the committee was mandated to ascertain “from the people of Sierra Leone, their views on the operation of the 1991 Constitution…, in particular the strengths and weaknesses… and articulate the concerns of the people …. on amendments that may be required for a comprehensive review of the 1991 constitution.”

The committee claimed to have done exactly that when it submitted a final report to the President in 2016. It reportedly received several thousand suggestions from the public through submission forms and dozens of position papers from institutions and individuals within and outside the country.

However, the content of the white paper suggested that either the government did not really think that the committee truly represented the views of the people or it simply did not like the views expressed by the people.

Of a total of 134 recommendations set out in the white paper, the government rejected a whopping 102. The main justification for these rejections was that the provisions in the current constitution were adequate or that existing statutes already addressed the issue.

As far back as 1999 when the warring factions in the country’s civil conflict were negotiating for peace, there were calls for a review of the constitution. Article 10 of the resulting Lome Peace Accord called for a review of the constitution to ensure it “represents the needs and aspirations” of the people.

The country’s post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whilst noting that the current constitution was not “the product of a wide, participatory process”, felt it was desirable to reformulate the constitution, particularly the bill of rights to take into account the full range of the country’s international human rights obligations. The commission also wanted the numerous “claw-back clauses” reduced.

The first attempt at constitutional review started in 2007 but fell short of completion. The review commission produced a report in 2008 recommending certain amendments to the 1991 constitution. Unfortunately, it simply gathered dust on the government’s shelf.

After much fanfare, a new 80-person constitutional review committee was launched by the President in July 2013. The President reportedly called on all to “fully participate and take ownership of the entire review process” noting that “good constitutions are not imposed.”

Against this backdrop, it is fair to say that the government’s response to the recommendations of the review committee and subsequent legislative action betray the principles on which the review process was built. It also devalues the struggle of the people to build a better post-war society based on rules that reflect their circumstances.

It is important to point out that many of the recommendations from the committee that met the approval of government were either cosmetic in nature or limiting of recognised basic rights.

For example the government accepted the recommendation to include the words “human dignity” and “equality” in the chapter of the constitution known as the “fundamental principles of state policy” but rejected the recommendation to make these principles “justiciable.”

Similarly, the government also accepted the recommendation to amend the description of the bill of rights section to include the word “promotion” but could not accept recommendations to: (i) abolish the death penalty; (ii) ensure equality of women and men in political, economic, cultural and social spheres; and (iii) include a right to the environment, the rights of the aged, the rights of persons with disability or the rights of children in the constitution.

As though they were not satisfied with simply refusing improved constitutional protection of rights, they approved the recommendation to include a new “clawback clause” to the existing ones in the bill of rights- “national security interests”. This new limitation will afford limitless opportunities to the government to constrain rights even further.

Being the opportunist that governments are known to be, the white paper also includes some “suggestions” from the government that were not covered in the review committee’s recommendations.

For example, the government has proposed a reduction in the threshold for election to the office of president from 55% of the valid votes cast to “more than fifty percent.” It argues that the economic cost of run-off elections and national security concerns necessitate this alteration.

Others see this as an attempt to change the rules of the game, with a little over three months left to general and presidential elections.

The Attorney-General’s office is now rushing a constitutional amendment bill through parliament to give effect to the government’s “suggestions” and make some cosmetic “choice of words” changes to the constitution. The governing party has a clear majority in parliament and the bill is expected to pass without any significant challenge.

In its haste however, the government has not been able to mask the deception inherent in the bill, the object of which is ostensibly “to make better provision for the recognition and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual….”.

Sadly, none of the provisions in the amendment bill touch on any of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual – talk less of making better provision to recognise and protect them.

The government seems to have an agenda with this bill and it is not about crafting a good constitution or giving effect to the views of the people.

“Good constitutions are not imposed” the President reportedly said at the launch of the review process in 2013, “…they are genuine pacts amongst citizens to constitute themselves into a polity that they would love and honour and whose interests they would put above all else….”. These words now ring hollow in the face of government’s determination to silence the voice of the people and hijack what is supposed to be a citizen-based decision-making process. Sooner or later, the people will become tired of losing. thesierraleonetelegrap

SHARE
Previous articleSLRSA Taking Steps to Reduce Road Crashes
Next articleWhy government must not hesitate to invoke MAC-P
Abu Bakarr Tarawally is a Journalist based in Freetown. He works for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation as a radio producer. He has once served as Editor for a few newspapers in Freetown, including Sierra Express Media, The Exclusive Newspaper and his own newspaper, the Daily Express Publications. He is a teacher trainer, and loves writing and reading a lot. Email: abstarawally@gmail.com. Call +232 88601277 or +2327661303.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I truly wanted to construct a simple note in order to say thanks to you for all of the marvelous facts you are writing at this website. My time intensive internet lookup has at the end of the day been paid with excellent content to exchange with my partners. I ‘d point out that we site visitors actually are undeniably endowed to live in a perfect place with so many brilliant people with interesting tips. I feel very grateful to have come across your entire webpage and look forward to really more cool moments reading here. Thank you once more for everything.

  2. My spouse and i have been now lucky Emmanuel could finish off his web research through the entire precious recommendations he was given out of your web pages. It’s not at all simplistic to just happen to be releasing tips and tricks that some people may have been selling. And now we discover we need the blog owner to give thanks to for this. The entire explanations you’ve made, the straightforward website navigation, the friendships your site help to promote – it is many astonishing, and it is letting our son and the family imagine that this article is thrilling, which is tremendously fundamental. Thank you for the whole lot!

  3. Thank you a lot for providing individuals with an exceptionally marvellous opportunity to check tips from this blog. It is usually very pleasurable and also full of a great time for me and my office colleagues to search your website more than three times a week to study the latest guidance you have. And of course, I am actually astounded with the special principles you give. Certain 3 ideas on this page are certainly the best we’ve ever had.

  4. I have to show some thanks to this writer for rescuing me from such a matter. Just after browsing through the world-wide-web and finding ways which are not beneficial, I was thinking my entire life was over. Living devoid of the approaches to the issues you’ve fixed all through your main post is a crucial case, as well as ones which could have adversely affected my career if I hadn’t discovered the website. Your own training and kindness in playing with every aspect was crucial. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not encountered such a point like this. I can at this time look ahead to my future. Thanks a lot so much for your expert and results-oriented guide. I won’t hesitate to refer your blog post to any individual who desires assistance about this area.

  5. My husband and i felt more than happy Jordan managed to finish off his research using the ideas he obtained through your weblog. It’s not at all simplistic just to find yourself giving away things that many some other people may have been trying to sell. Therefore we fully grasp we need the website owner to be grateful to for that. The most important illustrations you made, the easy website navigation, the friendships you can make it easier to instill – it’s got mostly amazing, and it’s really leading our son in addition to our family reckon that the topic is amusing, which is certainly rather mandatory. Many thanks for everything!

  6. My spouse and i felt joyful Jordan could carry out his investigations using the ideas he gained from your very own weblog. It is now and again perplexing to simply continually be giving freely points some others have been making money from. Therefore we see we now have the blog owner to be grateful to because of that. These illustrations you have made, the easy blog navigation, the relationships you will give support to instill – it’s many exceptional, and it’s assisting our son and the family reason why the concept is thrilling, and that is especially pressing. Many thanks for everything!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here