A wave of dastardly behaviour and protests bemoaning modern civilization marred the face of Sierra Leone parliament to a rude shock on Tuesday and Wednesday April 24 and 25, 2018. It started with war of words on the status and authority –which should be in charge of affairs in the ‘well’ between the Speaker and Clark of Parliament.
Procedures leading to the commencement of the 5th Parliament of the 2nd Republic involve the taking of oath otherwise known as swearing- in-ceremony, and followed by elections for the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament. The House needs the mace –a symbolic golden brass metal trophy placed in the forecourt of the ‘well of parliament’ and the ceremony starts in earnest. This symbol was seized by the former Speaker, the Right Honourable Sheku Badara Bashiru Dumbuya -known popularly as SBB Dumbuya.
Prior to convening parliament, on Monday, the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party SLPP filed petition against 21 Members of Parliament-elect on eligibility criteria. Premising the fact that elections are to be held for the position of Speaker, the number game is crucial between the SLPP and the APC who have more numbers of MPs to cast votes. The APC had 68 elected MPs as the main opposition when compare to the SLPP which had 49 elected MPs, the number advantage depending who votes in favour to the counter would tempt one to think the APC is in a comfortable lead to clinch the Speaker position. For the other advantage, two other opposition parties exist in the names of C4C and NGC in a combined 12 MPs. Deciding on the 14 Paramount chief MPs elected who always support the government of the day with 3 independent candidates -adding up to 17 separate numbers, it makes a good game to battle for supremacy for this all important position. The then Speaker was shrouded in fear that the steep cut of minus 21 could tell negatively in this cumbersome challenge. So he came out with a press release citing Section 79(2) Act No. 6 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone and pronounced an indefinite postponement of the swearing in ceremony to buy in time for the judiciary to conclude on the petitions.
The newly appointed Clark, Umar Paran Tarawally issued a counter order to SBB Dumbuya’s premier orders citing a proclamation order by President Bio who under Section 86(1) has the right and absolute authority to call on parliament to convene. The cabinet, which is the executive arm of government, could not be formed without the constitution of parliament because the ministers designate have to go through a parliamentary vetting process through a committee in charge of appointments and approval. It has passed three weeks since a proposed cabinet was formed and for the relevance of parliament, the house has to be properly constituted before the business of government could forge ahead. There is fear factor on one end of the opposition wing and quite procrastination on the side of the ruling party as the time is ticking into the five year mandate of the SLPP regime.
Plethora of precedence
The All People’s Congress began the bad precedent in 2013, following the withdrawal and prevention of the Leone People’s Party MPs elect in constituency 05 and 15 in Kailahun and Kenema districts from going to parliament on petitions filed against their eligibility. Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution demands that one resigns from their jobs 12 months before elections. It includes resignation from government positions, jobs and appointments paid for from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF). This means everybody that earns salary from the national purse is exempted by the Constitution of Sierra Leone from contesting for elections unless the individuals relinquish the jobs one year leading to elections period as pronounced. This background has led to another petition situation bringing to mind the teeth for tat shenanigan in the realm of politics. The bad thing is that bye-elections should have been run to open contestants but what the APC did was to co-opt the candidates which came second in those elections knowing full well that they are APC candidates. The political expediency for this reason was to add up the number advantage to their score in the portion many considered as stronghold of the then opposition SLPP.
The drift from a hung parliament to an SLPP dominated parliament is seen to have in the near future a similar characteristics of the APC led administration. They used to hold the position of Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Leader of Government Business, Chief Whip and the Majority Leader. It was such that they have the number to dominate the Aye vote over the Nay votes. Almost all proposals brought in to parliament got the light of the day with the exception of a few private member motion bills and proposals. It is too early to say same for the SLPP but coming events cast their shadows in the order of the proverb. The SLPP has succeeded in capturing all sensitive positions in parliament just as the APC in the previous regime.
The KKY Factor
Alhaji Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella is the only presidential flag-bearer in the March polls who is now in the well of parliament to represent his Samu people in the north-western region after he failed to make the presidency. This is because, he also ran for the ticket of a Member of Parliament. He thought he put on a stellar performance in his first official capacity as a Member of Parliament. He contested for the flag-bearer position in the SLPP but resigned to form his National Grand Coalition (NGC). He stood against Standing Order 45 when he was to comment on the position of Speaker and that of the vying or nominated candidate to talk about the unfair way the police were called upon to forcefully take away MPs elect who were misbehaving in the process disrupt the swearing in ceremony on grounds of sticking to the rules which says all MPs elect must be present for the swearing in ceremony. 53 members of the APC walked away from parliament in protest to a court injunction passed on16 of their colleagues that have been petitioned in court over eligibility to run for the MP position. In the view of the SLPP these MPs did not meet the criteria to run as many of them either were receiving salaries from the CRF or held positions which they never resigned or vacate later than the prescribed timeline stipulated in the constitution. Hon. Yumkella’s position was that the manner in which the MPs were removed from the well of parliament was criminally brutal and does not match the standard of a 21st century civilised state. He said he restraint himself from voting there and then for the position of Speaker because he does not want to be a part of an unconstitutional arrangement breaching the laws of the land.
True to the spirit of rules in parliament
One is either in support of a motion or against. For that reason the only way to demonstrate against a motion is not by sitting on the fence like Hon Yumkella did. Once a motion is on floor, the SOEs dictate that one speaks or contribute on nothing other than the motion at hand. He was there to represent his people; his reservations are relevant and important too. But procedures dictate the pace at which things must be done in parliament. Analysts have said Hon Yumkella needs time to abreast with the standing orders. However, his personality is bringing in a wealth of experience to contribute meaningfully to debating on bill, laws, and amendments to enact state policies for the common interest of Sierra Leoneans.
Police in the well of parliament
This feeling was a convoluted one. In the first place, parliament has its immunity and swift abilities when it comes to procedures. The ugly sight in the events of last week left much to be desired in politics than a mere show of bravado. Parliament is an arm of government on its own and nothing should happen to the immunity that goes with the status of being a member of that noble institution.