CONSTITUTIONAL REPORT: “WHAT IS HAPPENING TO IT”?
BY CLARENCE ROY-MACAULAY OOR
What is happening to the Report of the 80 – member Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) which President Ernest Bai Koroma officially launched on 30th July, 2013, to review the existing 1991 Republican Constitution? The Committee first completed its work on 12th October, 2016.
“We (the Constitutional Review Committee) have completed our work, the mandate to REVIEW the 1991 Republican Constitution and not to WRITE A NEW CONSTITUTION. The whole exercise, from what we have been hearing, the people are satisfied that we have done a good job and we do recognize that fact. Posterity will judge us kindly,” said Chairman of the 80-man CRC Honourable Justice (R) Edmond Cowan in an interview with this Writer Wednesday October 26, 2016.
Questioned as to when the Report would be presented to the Government, Justice Cowan replied “this will have to fit into the schedule of His Excellency the President and the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice is working on this.”
On 28th October 2016 the National Secretary General of the Ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) political party Ambassador Foday Osman Yansaneh wrote to the Chairman of the CRC Committee Justice (R) Edmond Cowan expressing the APC concern over what the party considered to be GREY AREAS in the Report.
On Tuesday November 15, 2016 a Plenary Meeting of the CRC, which was requested by the Ruling APC to consider what the Party referred to as GREY AREAS in “the Draft Constitutional Review Committee Report/Amendment Bill” ended with the decision of the CRC that the APC should present in writing what their concerns were – the GREY AREAS – by Friday November 18, 2016, and then the CRC Secretariat would circularize the APC document to the Members to be followed by the scheduling of another Plenary Meeting which would consider the contents.
“There will be no further Plenary Meeting of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and the Final Draft Report remains as it is. There has been no change to the CRC Document. The Ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) Representatives and others were given the Document which they requested to go and read and if they have any concerns, they will put them in writing and send to the CRC Secretariat which will put them in the form of an Addendum and attach to the CRC Final Report. There has been NO CHANGE to the Final Report,” Chairman of the CRC Honourable Justice (R) Edmond Cowan emphasized in an interview with this Writer on Wednesday November 30, 2016.
By coincidence on Thursday January 12, 2017 when this Writer and Senior Citizen called on a knowledgeable source close to the CRC Secretariat to find out what was happening to the CRC Report, the Executive Secretary of the CRC was on his way to the Office of the Learned Attorney General & Minister of Justice the Honourable Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara to also find out what was happening to the CRC request for a date to present the Final Report to President Koroma at State House. The response was, the AG’s Office had forwarded the CRC request to State House and was waiting for a response. It was “regrettably” learnt that a copy of the correspondence to State House was not sent to the CRC Secretariat, as Protocol demands
The review exercise of the 1991 Republican Constitution of Sierra Leone is a joint project of the Sierra Leone Government and the International Community, the latter represented by the UNDP, and the sum of 4.1 (four point one) million US Dollars has been spent on it, partly funded by the Sierra Leone Government and the UNDP.
President Ernest Bai Koroma is on record for encouraging Sierra Leoneans to come up with ideas, and has said ”the CRC must listen to everyone, and come up with a document that will make governance better; that will deepen democracy; that will make everybody feel part and parcel of government machinery”.
According to the CRC Chairman Justice (R) Edmond Cowan, members of the CRC, during the Plenary Sessions, deliberated on the issues raised by members of the public, after the publication of the abridged draft report earlier in 2016.
“We will not come out publicly with the final report, but will present it to the Government and the Government will come out with a WHITE PAPER, that is when the public will know what is in our final report , what the Government agrees with, and what it disagrees with,” the CRC Chairman has been quoted as saying.
Recounting the further steps to be taken after the presentation of the final report to the Government, Justice Cowan has said “from the point of the Government issuing its White Paper on the Final Report, an Amendment Bill to the 1991 Republican Constitution of Sierra Leone will be prepared and taken to Parliament.”
The Ruling APC already has a two-thirds majority in Parliament to vote in favour of the Amendment Bill.
The Government White Paper will form the basis on which the Legal Draftsmen in the Law Officers Department will prepare the Amendment Bill to the 1991 Republican Constitution which the Learned Attorney General and Minister of Justice will pilot through Parliament for it to go through the Parliamentary process and for it to become an Act of Parliament, BUT, “President Koroma will not sign it into LAW until it has gone through a National Referendum, according to Section 108 of the 1991 Constitution ALTERATION OF THE CONSTITUTION:” which states, among other things, as follows:-
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, Parliament may alter this Constitution.
“(2) A Bill for an Act of Parliament under this section shall not be passed by Parliament unless –
(a) before the first reading of the Bill in Parliament the text of the Bill is published in at least two issues of the GAZETTE: provided that not less than nine days shall elapse between the first publication of the Bill in the Gazette and the second publication:
(b) the Bill is supported on the second and third readings by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament.”
Subsection (3) states, “A Bill for an Act of Parliament enacting a new Constitution or altering any of the following provisions of this Constitution, that is to say, (as listed in the Constitution, most of which are entrenched clauses)
“shall not be submitted to the President for his Assent and shall not become Law unless the Bill, after it has been passed by Parliament and in the form in which it was so passed has, in accordance with the provisions of any law in that behalf, been submitted to and been approved at a referendum.”
The National Electoral Commission (NEC) has already intimated that the Review of the 1991 Constitution is part of their programme for the conduct of the February 2018 General Elections – Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government.
If the National Referendum is conducted during the first half of 2017 and the Amended Constitution is signed into Law immediately after, then the General Elections – Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council – will be conducted as scheduled for February 2018.
The Ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) then in opposition led by Ernest Bai Koroma, was first elected to office in the 2007 Parliamentary Elections of August, 2007 and the Presidential run-off poll on September 8, 2007. President Koroma was re-elected for a second five-year constitutional term of office on 17th November, 2012 in the first ballot with a 58+ percent of the total votes cast. This means that President Koroma’s present Government entered its final year of office on November 17, 2016.
As regards the conduct of the February (3) a little bird has whispered in the ears of this writer) 2018 General Elections, highlights of the CRC final report include NO CHANGE to the two-five-year term of office for the Presidency. According to section 46 TENURE OF OFFICE OF PRESIDENT “No person shall hold office for more than two-terms of five years each whether or not the terms are consecutive.”
The twelve (12) months period for a public officer intending to contest in the General Elections, to resign, has been reduced to six (6) months. The office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice has been separated. The Learned Attorney General & Minister of Justice Honourable Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, is the Principal Legal Adviser to the APC Government and one of the published Flag bearer Aspirants of the APC political party for the February 2018 General Elections. He has not yet resigned. May be he is waiting for the Amendment to the “to be Constitution of Sierra Leone” under which he can resign SIX months to polling day not TWELVE months under the existing 1991 Constitution. According to Section 85 (1) of the 1991 Constitution, “Parliament shall stand dissolved at the expiration of a period of five years commencing from the date of its first sitting after a general election”. This means that Parliament stands dissolved sometime in November, 2017.
Section 87 (1) states “A general election of Members of Parliament shall be held not earlier than thirty (30) and not more than ninety (90) days from the date of the dissolution of Parliament.”
The Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Committee ((CRC) Final Report, which is expected to be presented to the Government any time from now, will be the determining factor whether President Ernest Bai Koroma , as LEADER of the All Peoples Congress (APC) political party, can run in the scheduled February 2018 Parliamentary election, that is, if a PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT is adopted, such as in Britain, in which case he can become an EXECUTIVE PRIME MINISTER of Government, if the APC political party wins the majority of seats in Parliament, and the Executive Prime Minister to name an Eminent Sierra Leonean as Ceremonial President. SO, UNTIL THEN, WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE CRC REPORT? TIME! TIME!! TIME!!! IS OF ESSENCE. THIS, IS A MATTER OF PUBLIC INTEREST and the public has the right to know. This is a matter of LAW and the Constitution.
BY CLARENCE ROY-MACAULAY OOR
2006 AP (ASSOCIATED PRESS) GRAMLING SPIRIT AWARD WINNER
RETIRED (1989) CONTROLLER (NEWS & CURRENT AFFAIRS)
FORMER MINISTRY OF INFORMATION & BROADCASTING.