To say that our ailing nation has many loose ends in our governance and statutory provisions is indeed a gross understatement. For a long time, I have been wishfully wondering if this time round we will streamline portions of our laws that are not in harmony with the reality, before the 2018 elections.
One of our erudite Lawyers once said that most laws lose their relevance at 20 years from its passing. If we go by this, it means many of our laws are quite extinct and obsolete. Take the 1965 Public Order Act as an example of a law which has generated the greatest contention over the years with governments dead or alive. The current President promised to scrap the 1965 Public Order Act, if elected President. Well we still have a couple of months for his final term to end. His first Minister of Information who had served as SLAJ President was reminded several times by the Press to take up the issue to no avail.
It reminds me of the City Councils bluff to free Freetown of stray dogs. They went to the extent of passing a Bye-law on Stray Dogs. When no action was taken the dogs got angry and increased their numbers on the streets. Just last week, I am told a young man was caught slaughtering dogs to prepare roasted meat for sale! Did I hear you say he was trying to reduce the number of stray dogs?
Go to Sani Abacha Street and you will know that even a church entrance is blocked by traders and the noisome pestilence that obtains there is enough to scare the most humble Angel. The traders hollering compete heavily with the gospel songs from the Church. Tell me what is the use of making laws if they are not seen to be working? When the Traders invaded Sani Abacha Street in arrogant defiance all government could do was to institute actions that never worked. You remember Operation “Free Flow” and “Push Back”? Today, pedestrians have no place on most of the streets in the Central business Area in Freetown.
When the Public Elections Act 2012 was done and passed hot on the heels of the 2012 elections, the issue of Candidature Fees was not clearly stated and at election time NEC and political parties nearly locked horns over the matter.
Some fines in some of our archaic laws are so ridiculous that that existence is enough recipes for crimes galore. In some cases, we even have the mention of money denominations which do not now exist but are still in our laws as fines like twenty Leones. If regulations are just there to be flouted with impunity, then it is of no use having them around. However no matter the arguments, we need laws for an ordered society and this is why Parliament should prove very effective and efficient when making laws. A glaring example of confusion over our laws not complementing each other is the Public Elections Act 2012 and the recent National Civic Registration Act. The former gives NEC the power to do Voter Registration but the latter abrogates all registration to it.
The fight against Ebola has taught us a lot of valuable lessons. Major among these is the issue of community involvement and ownership of development programs that hinge on their very survival. We saw, in the case of ebola that you cannot solve a community challenge by making the structure to address it very top heavy. In the initial days of the ebola, the authorities were not able to win hearts and minds of the very people who needed to cooperate. It was when the community ownership was stressed that breaking the chain of transmission came in sight.
In the same token our Parliament must be consultative when they are making laws. This, to a large extent has not been the case over the years. Take the Speaker of Parliament issue. When Parliament decided that the Speaker should be one of their kind and not necessarily a lawyer, they ignored all the arguments from Civil Society. Today they have their kind and they sometimes complain that they are not lawyers. On the Passport issue, we saw no consultations and despite the loud and angry voices of the people against an increase, parliament went ahead and did it. As if that was not enough, at the height of the Austerity, Parliament approved another increase from Le500,000 to Le750,000. One even opined that not every Sierra Leone needed a passport. Hmmmm.
Our national elections are just about a year away and indeed we need to get certain unresolved issues straightened out. One major area is this issue of who the actual representative of the people are. There are three important positions in our governance that we need to put under close scrutiny when we are talking about our laws. These are the Paramount Chieftaincy, the Members of Parliament and the Councilor. In today’s reality which of these are the real representatives of the ordinary depraved illiterate foot citizen living by his or her sweat day in, day out?
One law that needs revision logically before the next elections is the Local Government Act 2004. This Act places the local councils as the highest political body in the locality. However, unpalatable events have proven that this exists on a shaky ground. We have witnessed in some districts where the Paramount chiefs could not see eye to eye with the council chairmen on one hand, the Members of Parliament and council Chairmen and the former and Paramount Chiefs. This issue was made complex when about four years ago the District Officers were re-introduced into governance. The Late President Kabbah did not countenance this position perhaps in the spirit of decentralization. So what reasons did President Koroma’s administration have to re-introduce it? We were told in feeble tones that they are representing the central government. Well whether this goes against or in favor of decentralization, is not for me to say. What I can say is that the situation needs some deeper thinking. If we care about the decentralization maturing, then we know which position we should take.
Technically one would think that the Paramount chiefs fall under what we call traditional authorities/Leaders. However recently they have been placed on salaries and this puts them straight under public scrutiny because they are paid from the consolidated fund. This perhaps squarely places them in direct allegiance to the central government from which authority to pay them comes. Also it makes them obliged to the government of the day which sometimes becomes difficult by paramount chiefs with a history of openly supporting a particular party. Sometimes we are told that they interpret the policies and programs of the government to their people. There is this other angle of Paramount Chief MPs representing Districts, not voted for by the public.
There are also the councilors supposed to be residing in the communities they call Wards. These are expected to push forward the council’s programs and aspirations. These are not paid salaries. Their positions are said to be voluntary as they are expected to have jobs and other forms of livelihood. Because the Councilor is more often than not in his locality, he is the first point of call by the communities. They bear the brunt of the angry community members when anything goes wrong.
Also you have the Member of Parliament, who, by statutory position is representing his constituents in Parliament. MPs are often blamed for not linking up with their people who voted them in, even when they are given constituency facilitation funds. Our response to poverty and injustice requires us to work for policy change and challenge those who withhold justice. We need to attack root causes—whether in government, religious institutions, the general public or all of these.
By Ben Cambayma
Thursday February 23, 2017