Constitutional review questions : By Clarence Roy Macauley

On January 24, 2017 Justice Edmond Cowan, Chairman of the 80-man Constitutional Review Committee, presented the Final Report and Recommendations of the Committee which reviewed the 1991 Republican Constitution to President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House in Freetown.

Receiving the report, “President Koroma assured of Government’s commitment to the process and promised to quickly look into the report and come out with a White Paper which will be submitted to Parliament and subsequently put before the people for a National Referendum.
“This will then give way for the people, in whom sovereignty lies, to decide the fate of this process”, according to the State House Press Release issued on January 24, 2017.

Since then a Cabinet Sub Committee, chaired by the Learned Attorney General & Minister of Justice Honourable Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, has been considering the contents of the CRC Report for preparation of the Government White Paper to be submitted to the full Cabinet chaired by President Koroma for approval,  and will form the basis on which the Legal Draftsmen in the Law Officers Department will prepare the Amendment Bill to the 1991 Constitution which the Attorney General & Minister of Justice will pilot through the First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Stage and Third Reading  in Parliament.


President Koroma in his late night February 14, 2017 (Saint Valentine’s Day) radio and television  broadcast to the Nation announcing the date for the General Elections, said that the Government was in the concluding phase of the Government White Paper for a new National Constitution which will be presented to Parliament as required by Law, in due course, and if enacted by Parliament, in line with the ECOWAS Protocols on Democracy, will be followed by a National Referendum to be conducted BEFORE THE END OF SEPTEMBER  2017.


After the Amendment Bill has  gone through the Parliamentary process with a two-thirds majority of all the Members of Parliament  for it to become an Act of Parliament,   “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.”


We are now approaching the end of MAY month, and the Government White Paper should be published together with the CRC Report, and that is when the public will know what is in the Report – what the Government agrees with, and what it disagrees with.


Some Civil Society Organisations have called for the National Referendum on the new Constitution to be postponed until after the March 7, 2018 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections.


If up to this date the Government White Paper on the CRC Report, has not been made public, when will eligible registered voters digest its contents in order to make considered judgement on whether to vote YES or NO?   Or is the Government taking voters for granted?   What will be the commencement date of the new Constitution now that a date for the conduct of the General Elections has been announced?


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