The executive of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) has said that its membership notes with utter dismay the proposed bill entitled: “The Constitution of Sierra Leone (Amendment) Act 2013” that is supposed to be laid before Parliament by the ruling All Peoples Congress Party (APC).
At a Press Conference held at the SLPP’s headquarters at Wallace Johnson Street in Freetown, the Secretary-General of the party, Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie together with the Deputy Chairman Dr. Prince A. Harding and other top executive members, has frowned at the proposed Bill, which they say, “seeks to alter a fundamental qualification for those aspiring to be speaker of parliament.
Banja Tejan-Sie noted that the present constitutional provision demands that only persons with legal background and with the experience of a Judge of the Superior Court of Judicature or qualified to be appointed as such can hold that office.
It was noted by the executive that the proposed Bill now suggests that anyone from amongst Members of Parliament with five years parliamentary experience or that is qualified to be Member of Parliament can hold that office.
SLPP Secretary General quoted Section 79 sub-section (1) of the 1991 Constitution, which states that the Speaker of Parliament shall be elected by Members of Parliament from amongst members of Parliament or is qualified to be elected as such and who is qualified to be appointed a judge of the Superior Court of Judicature or must have held such an office.
The proposed amendment to Section 79 in the proposed Bill reads that: “The Speaker of Parliament shall be elected by the Members of Parliament from among persons who are Members of Parliament and who had served as such for not less than five years; or qualified to be a Member of Parliament”.
He further alleged that the government is also proposing an amendment to Section 80 sub-section (3) of the 1991 Constitution by extending the tenure of the Deputy Speaker from being elected at the first sitting of each session of parliament to election at the first sitting of Parliament which now gives the holder a five year rather than an annual term.
On these bases, the executive of the SLPP affirmed that the current provisions in the existing constitution are in place because of the decadence that prevailed in Sierra Leone as a result of years of one party rule under the APC Government; and are pertinent today as this nation needs to guard against a recurrence of that dark era.
He said that it is apparent that the drafters of that Constitution and the representatives of the people then had demanded that someone with legal background should hold that office because such persons by their training and experience will be independently minded to impartially arbitrate proceedings; will understand the intricacies of the law making process and will be more equipped to interpret the provisions of the constitution and the Standing Orders.
Therefore, they claimed, the amendment suggested by government are designed to take us back to those inglorious authoritarian days as, they alleged, they are taken from pages of the infamous 1978 One Party Constitution which did not provide legal qualification for the speakership, and parliament was reduced to a rubber stamp authority of the executive.
Furthermore, Sierra Leone during that period went through the painful experience of having a Speaker in the person of the late William Conteh that led a Parliament that drifted the country to the political abyss giving rise to the villainous rebel war.
He said that the amendment has come at a time when the 80-man Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) has already been constituted and has commenced sittings on reviewing the nation’s extant constitution. Banja Tejan-Sie therefore stated that the APC action “undermines the essence and effort of the CRC at its infancy, which he said “is a failure of the APC-led government to show clear commitment and sincerity to the process.”
The SLPP have therefore expressed concern that the constitutional review process led set by the government “hasn’t got some sinister motives” which they APC has already manifested by this attempt to clandestinely manipulate a well structured constitutional provision which the country’s parliament has grappled with since 1991.
The SLPP therefore called on the APC-led government to refrain from either directly or indirectly interfering in the constitutional review process and “to demonstrate strong commitment” to the venture by withdrawing the proposed constitutional amendments in the interest of strengthening the country’s fledgling democracy credentials through a genuine constitutional review process.
By Poindexter Sama
Friday November 01, 2013