Titus Boye-Thompson, Communications Expert
In just under two months in charge as head of Government, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party led by Brig. Rtd. Julius Maada Bio are on a downward spiral of bad decisions and ill-timed misjudgements stemming from an apparent lack of understanding of the limitations of civilian rule and the checks and balances that a Parliamentary system of government imposes on an otherwise besmirched Executive. In short, what many are experiencing is a return to rule by decree normally characteristic of a Military Junta instead of government by law and principles that is normally expected of a democratically elected government within a civilian environment.
While many point to the administrative blunders that come out of State House as central to the blundering U-turns that have embarrassed the Executive, it is important not to lose sight of the missed opportunities and passing nods given to the violence that started immediately after Maada Bio was announced as President of Sierra Leone and which. Still lingers in the background as the continuing threat to peace and security in Sierra Leone. The undertone of that violence underscores the intimidation of which Parliamentarians have been subjected to and to the wanton brutality against known members and supporters of the All Peoples’ Congress.
The opening scenes of this new dispensation tell a tale of revenge and jealousy, one of ambition and arrogance that only brutality can overcome. It tells more of a reminiscence of a “Game of Thrones” than a “Tale of two Cities,” both wrong in context but the former more brutal and less forgiving than the latter. This government will be remembered for the brutal attacks of APC members and supporters in the South and East of the country where lives were lost and houses burnt down to cinders. In all of this, the very loud silence of the flag bearer was what alarmed many. He behaved as if he did not have any need to call off his dogs of war and in a manner of speaking offered a tacit embrace of the disturbances that were spread out even to the extent of a sitting High Court Judge being dragged from his vehicle and told to find his way home.
Then notoriety of the transitional arrangements drowned everybody with a foreboding of grave danger in the air and nothing done so far has lessened that burden on the people of Sierra Leone. The opening of the first Parliament in this Republic became a farce when it became disagreeable as to who has authority to call Parliament to order. The Speaker of the last Parliament who clearly retained transitory authority until a new speaker is elected and installed in office found himself at odds with the Parliamentary minority Party because they had wished to obviate the position of Speaker in an open vote and hence planned, with their usual military precision, to hijack the process and gerrymander the process to secure an outcome of their own choosing. The result was a farcical misuse of the judicial system, intimidation and crass repudiation of judicial authority which led to a number of the Majority APC Parliamentary Party having a number of their elected MPs barred from entering Parliament for the all-important vote due to court injunctions, petitions and a disgraceful display of brute force by the Police in the Well of Parliament.
It is therefore interesting to note that this abuse of the Legislative procedures unleashed a flurry of attacks on the democratic principles of governance in the country with the rapid releases of Executive Orders that made a mockery of the proverbial “Orders from above” rendering that once ignominious excuse for the facelessness of State Authority to a more identifiable and fixed based confines of State House and the Office of the President. In the event, Executive Orders became the instrument of administration and the rudimentary vehicle for state management of authority. In other words, the country was so easily swept into what is now easily accepted to be a “JUNTACRACY,” with rule by decree overshadowing proper administrative and civil rights based procedures and edicts. In the event, an earlier Executive Order imposed compulsory street cleaning on the First Saturday in the month and a return of Sunday Trading without any consultation or engagement with the Mayor of Freetown was a complete usurpation of the Local Government Act without repudiation while another unilaterally dismissed all political appointees including Heads of Diplomatic Missions attached to Embassies and High Commissions across the World without recourse to their repatriation and end of service benefits and packages only to do a U-turn days later to recall the directives and for the diplomats to wait until these issues have been sorted out.
Other matters have arisen to which the leadership of the SLPP failed to provide the necessary leadership expected of him. The most glaring of such was the attack on the Mayor of Freetown. Many observers who frequent the vicinity of the SLPP Offices have noted the sprawl of unemployed errant youths who gather at the SLPP offices as a cause for concern. Not only are they vicious and abusive but their demeanour since the ascendancy of President Maada Bio has been one of lawlessness and an unwillingness to succumb to authority and control. It is clear that the Mayor, though voted in on the APC ticket, represent all the citizens of Freetown and her authority and mandate is secured by the Constitution. To have attacked her person in such a ruthless manner so as to cause her actual bodily harm is itself a seditious act and should not have been condoned at all. The silence of the executive has been interpreted as a tacit approval of this attack on the Mayor and that has not gone down well in many circles.
Against this background, the Executive order announcing the suspension of the Finance Acts of 2015 and 2016 looked like a fix to pander to the powerful lobby of the Lebanese and Indian traders who have cornered the market for imported alcoholic beverages on the one hand and also to rectify the order earlier pronounced to withdraw all waivers and duty free privileges to investors negotiated under the previous government and ratified by Parliament. It was not after these matters were raised as unconstitutional and can be viewed as a challenge to Parliamentary authority that a retraction was made, again with some embarrassment to the President and a subsequent sacking of the Secretary to the President who promulgated that order.
It is clear so far that this government has not been able to address the issues of constitutionality and the separation of powers that are necessary checks and balances on a civilian government. Brig. Rtd. Julius Maada Bio has always seen himself as a Military man and his transformation to State leadership based on his experiences as a member of a former Military Junta. He has no experience of civil rule nor of the sensibilities that democracy demand from its practitioners. His motivation is driven by fore and an authoritarian disposition. His return to the position as Head of State has been after a very long wait and his sole intention here has been his focus on attaining leadership but not on nation building. His first instinct that we have seen has been to introduce region and tribe as determinants for appointing people to positions in government, creating ethnic cleansing and ethnic replacements as vehicles for resurging the Mende tribe above all others in the country. The end product of such a strategy would be civil strife and a future that does not look bright for Sierra Leone. This government has indeed got on to a very shaky start.