THE CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW PROCESS: JUSTICE COWAN’S HEADACHE

BY Andrew Keili

Every conceivable group has been coming out of the woodworks to make its submission to the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC). Many expect the new constitution will be a panacea for all our ills. If Justice Cowan and his team were to consider all the view points and incorporate them into a constitution, it would have to be a really detailed and never-ending document.

sl-mapWe know this is not possible and that they realize what is important to be included, given the incessant genuine concerns raised about certain issues and their knowledge of what is germane.
The CRC has received over 100 submissions, with many groups expecting their concerns will be addressed. The Rastafarian movement wants marijuana to be legalised, claiming that it is part of the religious rituals of its followers and touting its benefits for medicinal purposes. Its spokesman claimed in an interview that even the Bible condones its smoking (I haven’t been able to find the reference however). Notwithstanding the cranky nature of some of the submissions the views of many of the various parties are however instructive and could really be a referendum on what people perceive to be wrong with our society.
Let’s take a quick snapshot of some more recent ones. A group called CNU-SL wants all public elections, whether at intra-party level or not to be conducted by the nation’s “Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)”. It adds, “We in CNU-SL believe it will improve the level of mutual trust, suspicion, transparency, reduce defection, etc. among party members.” This suggestion is no doubt because of the current internal schisms within the main opposition parties.
The group also claims the judiciary and most state institutions are not independent and questions the relevance of the Executive Presidency; hence its recommendation that a semi-Presidential system of Government be adopted wherein the President will appoint a Prime minister from the party with the majority in Parliament. Having a ceremonial type of Presidency, resolving election petitions within 30 days, choosing Ministers from the rank of Parliamentarians and having a 60 man upper house are amongst the other recommendations made.
The Krio Descendants Union ( KDU) wants citizens to be eligible to contest the Presidency as independent candidates. It also wants holders of dual citizenship ineligible contest for the Presidency or for appointment to cabinet. The Paramount Chiefs no longer want to be in Parliament but want a National House of Chiefs in which every Paramount Chief is a member. They also want the House of Chiefs to monitor the implementation of projects in their chiefdoms and want “Gross misconduct” to be clearly defined in the Constitution as the basis for the removal from office of a Paramount Chief. No doubt the Chiefs are concerned about their waning influence, uncertain governance mandate and increasing control by the government of the day.
The Human Rights Commission wants the “Reduction of inefficiency, mismanagement and waste of public funds and assets” to be recognised in the constitution. The Commission also wants a more clear statement on “how the nation’s economic management of natural and other resources is conducted.” Its suggestion to include the commission into the revised Constitution and to guarantee the commission’s existence, impartiality, mandate and immunities by including these as entrenched constitutional provisions reflects its distrust of governments. It also wants HRCSL’s decisions when acting in its quasi judicial function to be binding and enforceable through the existing court system.
Other suggestions by various groups have included the separation of the Office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the retention of the death penalty, the establishment of a second chamber of parliament; the inclusion of local government into the revised Constitution; the creation of a whole chapter on citizenship; the reduction of the powers of the President among many others. It is also important to note that the majority of the submissions call for curbing the power of the President.
But what do the main political parties say?
The SLPP wants members of the Electoral Commission to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a “Multi-Partisan Committee and subject to the approval of Parliament”. It also wants the PPRC to be given “punitive powers to deal with individuals and parties with an inclination to subvert the democratic process”. Not being oblivious of its lack of success in pursuing electoral petition cases swiftly, the party recommends “a transitional period during which all pending legal issues should be resolved before the President is sworn into office”. The party also favours a hybrid Presidential system, reverting to the proportional representation system and a 30% women representation in parliament. The party wants cabinet to be directly accountable to parliament.
The ruling APC party, not to be outdone takes a dig at other parties who have governed, blowing its own horn in the process: “The All Peoples Congress (APC) is a champion of constitution making in Sierra Leone. In 1971, under the leadership of His Excellency Dr. Siaka Stevens——Since that time there had been efforts by the illegal NPRC regime and later by the government of the SLPP to design and craft new constitutions. But both regimes lacked the will and capacity to push through constitutional development in this country. ”
With no acknowledgement of Dr Peter Tucker’s substantial effort at the behest of the previous government, it attributes all the praise to one person…….. no prizes for guessing who!: “On assuming governance in 2007 the APC, under the leadership of His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, and true to its historic role as champion of constitutional transformation vowed to review the 1991 constitution……”
When it comes to substance however the APC press release has some “turkeys voting for Christmas” surprises. The party supports a two term limit for the Presidency and according to the release “in order to promote a greater sense of belonging to the state of every individual and groups, the APC proposes that the civil and public service be reflective of the ethnic and regional diversity of the nation”-two issues on which the party has been repeatedly criticised. One would be tempted to clap for the APC for categorically making positive statements on these issues until you take stock of the caveats interlaced in the Press release, The APC would like Presidents who have reached their term limit to be eligible to stand for presidential elections after an intervening term. Not surprisingly, the party supports the removal of a Vice President by the President when “he comes to the conclusion that the Vice President lacks the requisite loyalty, capacity etc. to continue to serve as his/her principal assistant.” Also the APC wants a President or Vice President to lose his/her office when they are no longer members of the party under whose ticket they become President or Vice President.
On the issue of the President being eligible to stand after an intervening period, several observers have likened this in unflattering terms to the Putin situation in Russia.
Justice Cowan and his team have got their work cut out. They are no doubt up the task of synthesising the issues and producing a good constitution. The Committee will submit a report containing recommendations for constitutional amendments to the Government which will release a White Paper for the drafting of a revised Constitution. Parliament will make its input into the constitution drafted and send it to the President for his assent after a National Referendum seeking the mandate of the people. If endorsed, the President will sign the new Constitution into law. One skeptic however noted: “How much “whitening” of the recommendations will take place in the White Paper and how much tinkering will go on in Parliament? People will have to vote for the constitution but how would the referendum be crafted and how fair will the process be?” These are undoubtedly issues we would have to grapple with in the not too distant future.
Meanwhile, we wish Justice Cowan and his team well.
THIS LITTLE GIRL IS A BEACON OF HOPE FOR SIERRA LEONE’S FUTURE
A few Saturdays ago I went to a wedding, uncharacteristically for me, donning a gown. From the Church, I made a brief stop at the reception venue but decided to go home for a brief while. The driver drove me home and just as I was alighting, I noticed my phone was missing. I announced this to the new driver I had contracted only that morning; he seemed perplexed and looked guilty. It was obvious that my suspicion would fall on him-after all my normal driver had driven me countless times without such an unsavoury situation happening and I had only alighted from the car for a brief while at the reception venue. When he noticed I was staring at his pockets to see if there was any bulge, he “suspected himself” and went into panic mode. He took out his phone and called my number-I obviously suspected he had put it off and was going through a futile motion. I heard him say: “Udat na you? Nar the Pa in fone you get!”. I grabbed the phone from him and continued the conversation with the young girl at the other end, pleading with her to return my phone. She answered calmly: “Pa cam take you phone”. I kept pleading but she assured me: “Pa, a say cam”. I heard music in the background and she told me she was at the reception. I drove at breakneck speed with the obviously relieved driver in the passenger’s seat.
When I got to the reception venue, I called my phone number, expecting a “blank” or a ransom demand, but the girl answered, asking me to wait at the gate. A sixteen year old girl walked towards me holding my phone to her ears. She gave me my phone. I thought to myself that this must be one young person out of a hundred that would pick up a not inexpensive phone and return it. I thanked her and attempted to give her some monetary reward but she refused. Asking about her particulars she told me she was the daughter of a lowly military man. I peered through the reception and saw many shady characters, who with luck (on my side) did not “discover” the phone. I could not believe my luck and recalled an incident a few years back when my phone was stolen at a function at which I wore a similar gown (It must be the pocket!). That day there were four of us who were “dis-phoned”. Well, there are still some honest young citizens in our country-this little girl gave me some hope for the future. My trust in the Sierra Leonean to display good citizenship was however dashed some two weeks later when I drove myself to the Youyi building for a meeting which was to be followed by another one immediately after in my office. I dashed out of the building only to find out my car had been blocked by another car whose driver could not be found even after several enquiries by security staff. I had to hitch a ride to my office, leaving my car behind. Ah, well not every day can be a good citizen’s day. But for that young girl, I wish her well. There is still hope for the future.
Ponder my thoughts.

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Categories: Opinion

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