A campaign for Justice…Alimu Barrie’s Illegal ‘Broke Ose’; women and children homeless

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By popular demand

The Chairperson of the aggrieved occupants at South Ridge Community, IMMAT, in Freetown Jespy M. Thoronka, has explained to this medium that they are struggling to find dwelling places as Alimu Barrie completely demolished their homes with a fake court order.

He continued to state that over 7000 people were left homeless and a primary school which used to host over 3000 pupils completely destroyed.

The chairman described such a situation as unfortunate as it has deprived thousands of school children from continuing their education at a time when the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone is working tremendously to improve free quality education.

He said they had occupied the place in question from 1999 to 2000 and that during this time the place was a thick forest, adding that he was a teacher by then at the Maranatha Primary School at the IMATT community and claimed to have taught up to ten thousand school children to date.

Mr. Thoronka pointed out that after they had cleared the whole area in 2004-2005 they started working cordially with the Ministry of Lands and Country Planning which allocated the land to them.

The chairman went on to say that during that time, the former Minister of Lands Diana Konomanyi met and informed them that they had one investor (Alimu Barrie) who wanted to build an Estate on the said land.

“It was a laudable venture by then because everyone was looking for such an opportunity and such investment will create jobs for them,” he explained.

He noted that because of mismanagement and financial problems Alimu Barrie wasn’t able to continue with the construction project and he was later sued to court by Mr. Fawaz a business man who Alimu had borrowed building materials from for his estate construction project.

He added that Mr. Alimu ended up losing the case and Mr. Fawaz seized the whole estate comprising of over 21 houses, adding that in 2007 to 2008 Mr. Alimu made an attempt to reclaim the whole area which is equivalent to 30 acres of land.

The teacher added that Alimu was also taken to court by Sonny Davies and he later lost the case and the court later consented to give Mr. Davies 16 acres while and Alimu was asked to maintain his 10 acres and they later offered him another 16 acres at Moigaba.

The Chairmen said since the land has been surrendered to them they were given survey documents and they are currently paying NRA to the government of Sierra Leone.

He said since then no one has ever taken them to court but that quite recently they were called by the Minister of Lands who informed them that the Attorney General had already given orders for them to vacate the said place.

Mr. Thoronka said he asked the Minister to provide him with the court order but that the minister refused and that few days later they just saw huge heavy duty earth moving machines start bringing down their homes.

He also claimed that Mr. Barrie personally called him to bribe him ($50,000) fifty thousand dollars for him to avoid the matter.

 Mr. Thoronka has made formal complaint to the Citizens’ Advocacy Network (CAN) a renowned civil society organization in Sierra Leone through a letter dated 29th September written by the aggrieved parties complaining that, as occupants at the South Ridge Community, IMMAT, in Freetown they were barricaded by members of the Operational Support Division (OSD) of the Sierra Leone Police, from entering their homes and that in the company of others the OSD vandalized structures and rendered over seven thousand occupants homeless.

Mr. Thoronka, Chairperson of the aggrieved informed the Citizens’ Advocacy Network that, according to the police, they were executing a Court Order over which they had no prior knowledge as should be the case, because they were never taken to court to challenge their legal ownership of the land they had been occupying.

The occupants, who are now homeless, are expressing their deepest displeasure over the illegal demolition of structures and subsequent eviction of over seven thousand (7000) legal occupants, including women and children at South Ridge Community, adjacent to the Embassy of the United States, Hill Station in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The Chairman explained that since they had occupied the said community for the past fifteen (15) years with no interference from individuals they were never invited to court to defend their legal status regarding the land they occupy.

He continued that the ‘‘police had acted in favor of Alimu Barrie, who lately laid claim over a community which had been in existence for over fifteen years now, and that Barrie hoodwinked the police into believing that the said land belongs to them, albeit occupants having legal documents to the effect that legitimizes their ownership.’’

Currently, the chairperson lamented that women and children have no place to sleep and the schooling activities of their children has been disrupted by this single act of the police, in cohort with other state authorities who wrongfully backed Alimu Barrie as against seven hundred thousand legal occupants.

This medium has proactively spoken to the Citizens’ Advocacy Network and the institution responded that they are soliciting the intervention of the appropriate ministries into this matter as it infringes on the fundamental human rights of citizens to own land as enshrined in the constitution of Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, Alimu Barrie is keeping sealed lips on the matter.

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Bio Launches Commencement of Mid-term Census 

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The president of the Republic of Sierra Leone has launched the 2021 mid-term census that set to be hold early December and explained three key reasons why the census should hold.  

1. In July of 2020, I proclaimed the conduct of a Mid-Term Population and Housing Census to be held in December 2020. That exercise was postponed to 2021 due to the global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. International technical experts could not travel and the shipment of 20,000 electronic tablets from Kenya was delayed.

2. Throughout this process, Sierra Leone has received significant support from our friends and partners, especially the President and Government of the Republic of Kenya, the World Bank, UNFPA, UNECA, UNICEF, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, and the Mano River Union.

3. From within Sierra Leone, we have also received tremendous support from the Parliament, Political Parties, Paramount Chiefs, Local Councils, the Statistics Sierra Leone Council, Civil Society Organisations, and the Media.

4. In readiness, I am informed by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development that Statistics Sierra Leone has completed and updated digital cartographic maps, conducted a digital pilot census to gain experience and learn lessons, and set up solid technological infrastructure and processes for managing data. 

5. Statistics Sierra Leone has also recruited and will soon commence the training of 15,000 field staff, including enumerators, supervisors, IT, and administrative support staff.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans,

6. We are conducting this 2021 Mid-Term Population and Housing Census for three key reasons:

a. To correct the anomalies of the 2015 Population and Housing Census;

b. To provide credible and reliable data that will help us plan, implement, and monitor development interventions by the Government of Sierra Leone and our development partners in respect of the current Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019-2023 and the follow up national Plan;

c. To prepare us for the next Population and Housing Census.

7. This will be the first-ever digital census in Sierra Leone. Our country will thus join other African nations like Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Liberia in using technology and digitalisation to conduct a census.  

8. The digital technology used will ensure that households, villages, and towns that were not reached in previous censuses are reached this time and enumerated. This approach also assures that all inhabitants and housing structures throughout Sierra Leone will be fully covered. Digital data generated therefore will provide an excellent sampling frame for conducting subsequent statistical surveys.   

9. Additionally, statistical indicators derived from the 2021 Mid-Term Population and Housing Census will also show the progress we have made since the 2015 Census and what challenges need to be addressed in the overall development of our country.

10. Statistics Sierra Leone will therefore commence a two-week electronic enumeration of everyone in the sovereign territory of Sierra Leone from the 10th to the 23rd of December 2021. During the census exercise, Statistics Sierra Leone will collect administrative, demographic, social, and economic information on all persons.

11. We need to know how many people live in Sierra Leone and where they live. By knowing where people live, what their living conditions are, and what development challenges they face, my government and development partners can better plan and implement investments in their communities.

12. Our development partners and my government are firmly committed to ensuring objectivity, transparency, and professionalism throughout the census exercise. I, therefore, urge every citizen to participate fully in this exercise.  

13. I, therefore, declare the night of 9th December 2021 as Census Night, and the 10th of December 2021, as the date for the start of electronic enumeration for the 2021 Mid-Term Population and Housing Census for Sierra Leone. 

I thank you and may God Bless the Republic of Sierra Leone

Speaker Moves Motion to Manage Dissension in Parliament

The Speaker of Sierra Leone Parliament, Rt. Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu on Thursday 25/11/2021 moved a motion in the Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda on managing the floor in light of radicalism and dissenting behaviour of Members of Parliament. The motion was seconded by South Africa and chaired by Botswana.

Below was a verbatim statement by the Speaker of Sierra Leone Parliament, Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu on the occasion of the 17th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), Africa Region.

The conference was themed: “African Parliaments in the 21st Century”.

The Sierra Leone Parliamentary Delegation includes the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu, Leader of Government Business, Hon. Mathew Sahr Nyuma, Clerk of Parliament, Hon. Paran Umar Tarawally, and supported by Sheku Lamin Turay, Hannah Sankoh and Sallay Kawa.

THE PRESIDING OFFICER IN A CHANGING SOCIETY: STRATEGIES FOR FLOOR MANAGEMENT OF RADICAL DISSENT AND MINORITY GOVERNMENT

Statement by Rt. Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu

Speaker of Sierra Leone Parliament

at the 17th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CSPOC) (Africa Region)

at Kigali, Rwanda, 25th November 2021

1.      Rt. Hon. Donatille Mukabalisa, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies & Chairperson of the Conference of Speakers & Presiding Officers of CPA Africa Region,

Rt. Hon. Justin Muturi, Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya & Chairman of CPA Africa Region,

Colleague Speakers of Parliament

Hon. Members of Parliament

Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen

All other Protocols observed

2.      For the purposes of my contribution to this important topic, I will confine my experience to the Sierra Leone Parliament over which I preside as Speaker.

A.      Architecture of the Composition of the Sierra Leone Parliament

3.      The current architecture of the Sierra Leone Parliament is unique in more ways than one. Some might marvel at how it has managed to work so far in discharging its constitutional responsibilities without appearing in headline news in the international media on a regular basis. Indeed one might even argue that the current Parliament in Sierra Leone represents the locus classicus for the development of strategies for floor management of radical dissent and minority government which the topic of our discourse this morning enjoins us to do. I will elaborate further on this in the course of my presentation.

4.      But, first, let me highlight some of the significant signposts that make the Sierra Leone Parliament to appear somehow unique in this regard.

5.      Generically speaking, the Sierra Leone Parliament falls under the category of a uni-cameral legislature. It is a standalone House of the People’s Representatives with no Senate or Upper Chamber to complement it. It also means that it is the organ of government primarily vested with legislative power.

6.      The current membership of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone is 146. Of this, 132 are ordinary members elected by the adult population aged 18 years and above in single-member constituencies using the first-past-the-post system, and voting is by secret ballot.

7.      To qualify for election as a Member of Parliament, a person must satisfy four basic criteria: first, he must be a citizen by birth or by registration provided he has had continuous residence in Sierra Leone for 25 years; second, he must have attained 21 years of age; third, his name must be inscribed in the Register of Voters; and fourth, he must also be able to speak and read the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him to participate in the proceedings of Parliament.

8.      This is the first group of members comprising the Sierra Leone Parliament. It is also the largest group. The last General Elections of March 7, 2018, saw all the 132 ordinary seats contested by over a dozen registered political parties. The results of those elections were as follows: the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) (currently the ruling party) won 49 seats; All Peoples’ Congress (APC) (the main opposition) 68 seats; Coalition for Change (C4C) 8 seats; National Grand Coalition (NGC) 4 seats; and Independent MPs 3. This was only the third time since the promulgation of the Constitution of 1991 that more than two political parties have been represented in Parliament. The first and second times were in 1996 and 2002 respectively.

9.      The second group of MPs comprises Paramount Chiefs and they are 14 in number, each representing one of the 14 administrative districts into which the country is currently divided. Their election is fundamentally non-partisan and their franchise is not universal; rather it is restricted to fellow Paramount Chiefs and the registered local authorities in each district.

10.    The Presidential election of March 7, 2018, was held simultaneously with the Parliamentary and Local Council elections. In the first round, the Presidential election produced an inconclusive result because no candidate was able to obtain the statutory 55 per cent of the vote and less than 15,000 votes separated the top two candidates. A second ballot, therefore, became necessary on March 31 between the leader of the Opposition SLPP, Julius Maada Bio, and Samura Kamara, the presidential candidate of the then ruling APC party. Julius Maada Bio was subsequently declared elected by 51.8% of the vote. Both international and national election observers hailed the election as “orderly, free and fair” despite the fact that it was hotly contested.

11.    Because of the constitutional nature of our presidential system, the SLPP assumed the mantle of government and Julius Maada Bio was sworn in as President despite the inability of his party to win the majority of seats in Parliament.

12.    The 14 Paramount Chiefs elected in 2018, by tradition and by hallowed practice, were not factored in the making of the determination of which party had won the most seats in Parliament. This is so partly because it has always been the accepted constitutional convention and partly because, as stated earlier, their election is non-partisan. As Members of Parliament, the 14 elected Paramount Chiefs mostly sit and vote on the side of the party in power.

B. State of Affairs in the Current Parliament

12. As I have already indicated, the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic started its life in April 2018 with the previous ruling party, the APC, finding itself in the benches of the main Opposition despite having won the greatest number of seats in Parliament; 68 seats compared to 49 seats for the ruling SLPP.

13. Subsequently, however, due to judicial determination of election petitions between the two main protagonists, a situation has been brought about in which both the ruling SLPP and the main Opposition APC parties stand on an even keel in Parliament, with 58 seats each. If you were looking for a classic example of a Hung Parliament, you cannot find a better one than the current Sierra Leone Parliament. Perhaps the only other Commonwealth country that I know comes close is the current Parliament in Ghana.

14. One might therefore ask what has been our experience in Sierra Leone in operating a Hung Parliament? More specifically, what has been particularly unique in our experience in Sierra Leone so far?

15. For a start, there is the challenging question whether it is possible to effect any amendments to the supreme law in Sierra Leone? The Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991, Act No. 6 of 1991, by the provisions enshrined in Section 108, compartmentalises constitutional amendments into two parts: entrenched and non-entrenched provisions. For the non-entrenched provisions, it stipulates that any Bill for an Act of Parliament for the alteration of any non-entrenched provision, it must be supported on the second and third readings by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament. Mathematically speaking, this means there must be 98 votes in favour of the motion for an amendment. And for the amendment of an entrenched provision, there is the additional requirement of a national referendum.

16. Let me now illustrate the significance of this in practical terms. If ever there should be a government motion for amendment of the Constitution, even if it gets all the 58 votes of the SLPP, all the 14 votes of the Paramount Chiefs, all the 8 votes of the C4C, all the 4 votes of the NGC and all the 3 votes of the Independent MPs, this would amount to a total of only 87 votes. It would still require 11 votes from the Opposition APC to pass. So the simple answer to the question posed is that it is virtually impossible to even contemplate the possibility of any amendment of the provisions of the Constitution, whether entrenched or non-entrenched.

17. Perhaps the only exception I can foresee is where the amendment sought is to a mundane type of provision in which all the parties represented in Parliament have an interest. Section 32 of the Constitution, dealing with the composition of the National Electoral Commission, might be one such example. An amendment to this provision might be able to attract the support of all sides of the political spectrum in Parliament because it speaks to the composition of the National Electoral Commission. Presently that Commission’s composition is incomplete. It talks about the Commission being composed of a Chairman and “four other members” but, following the reconfiguration of the previous Northern Region into two regions, North-East and North-West, there are now 5 regions in the country. It is therefore possible to envisage mutual cooperation from all parties represented in Parliament to effect an amendment to Section 32 by producing the requisite 98 affirmative votes. And, of course, the onus will be on the mover of the motion to muster the required 98 votes. Precisely because of the imponderables and uncertainties I have described, there is presently no seeming appetite to introduce any constitutional amendment in the current Sierra Leone Parliament. 

18. What about other crucial motions? Do they stand a chance of passage? There have been several such motions requiring pronouncements by the Presiding Officer after a simple collection of voices both of the Ayes and of the Nays. In this regard, our cumulative experience in Sierra Leone has been at best concerning and at worst harrowing. One recent instance relates to the declaration of a state of public emergency under Section 29 of the Constitution. This was done by the Government to curb the spiking incidence of sexual offences against women through the strengthening of the Sexual Offences Act 2012 and the imposition of life imprisonment for certain grievous sexual offences. Another was the appointment of the Electoral Commissioner for the Western Region of the country. In both cases the Opposition expressed its dissatisfaction and staged a walk-out. In other instances, the Opposition called for a division under S.O. 46. These include the tabling of a Proclamation by the Government for the conduct of a mid-term national census and another for the passing of a procurement provision for military supplies under the Finance Act of 2022. 

19. S.O. 46 of the Standing Orders, imperfect as it may be, does make provision for resolution in such circumstances. After two successive challenges to the Speaker’s decision, that Standing Order empowers the Speaker to call upon the members who support and who challenge his decision successively to rise in their places and to be counted. The Clerk is then required to enter in the Votes and Proceedings the record of the votes so taken after the Speaker has pronounced the numbers voting for the “Ayes” and for the “Nays” respectively, and shall then declare the result of the division. Despite all these precautions, there has never been a dearth of accusations of partiality against the Speaker from the Opposition benches, albeit done in undertones. However, as Speaker, I must admit to deriving some solace from the fact that there hasn’t been a single occasion when the results of a vote count taken in a division called for by the Opposition under S.O. 46, have been different from my prior pronouncement in favour of the Government side. And I would like to think that this in itself is a great vindication of the quality of impartiality with which I have discharged my duty as Presiding Officer thus far.

C. Way Forward in Hung Parliaments

20. In spite of what I have narrated, the question still remains what is the way forward particularly for Hung Parliaments in such circumstances? Of course, Hung Parliaments are not unknown to the democratic process in many Commonwealth Parliaments, but it must be noted that they do create room for the emergence of a semblance of fragility especially in nascent democracies, not to speak of the potential they also create for some democratic backsliding. In this regard, it is my humble submission that Parliaments, particularly Hung Parliaments, have an extraordinary duty to rethink or to begin to think out of the box, to find new ways of how to progressively maintain decorum whilst also seeking to strengthen resilience and public confidence in the Parliamentary democratic process, and reduce mistrust, rancour and tension. Often times, where these persist, the impression is inescapable, rightly or wrongly, that Parliament is in crisis.

21. In the search for a resolution, I submit that “consultation” must cease to be treated as a mere theoretical construct and must cease to be emptied of practical significance. Increasingly, instead, consultation should now come to be embraced not only as an attractive companion of Parliamentary leadership but as an essential bulwark for the practice of good Parliamentary democracy. I recommend it most strongly we must remember that Hung Parliaments are invariably the product of the popular will, expressed by the people through elections. And I make this plea all the more strongly because Constitutions generally have shied away from giving the Courts the jurisdiction and competence to inquire into situations where consultation is a prerequisite for decision-making. And they have also failed to clearly define the meaning, content and scope of “consultation” particularly where one person, in the exercise of vested power, is enjoined to consult with another. Despite these constitutional shortcomings, the fact remains that the hallowed principle of good faith is available and must be invoked in such crucial circumstances. This hallowed principle of bona fides deserves even greater recognition now more than ever, especially where the interests to be promoted or protected are those of good governance and international best practice. And I also submit that we as Presiding Officers of Parliament should use it as an invaluable tool for dressing “consultation” authoritatively with a meaning that goes beyond the mere giving of information by one party to another. By doing so, I believe, we would have given both vitality and validity to the principle of hanging of heads in achieving constructive engagement between and among the leaderships in Parliament as an essential and overarching strategy for promoting and consolidating the process of negotiation, conciliation, consensus, bridge-building and cooperative good governance particularly in the management and administration of Hung Parliaments.

22. With these few submissions, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for your kind attention.

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