Chief Justice Welcomes Govt. White Paper on Constitutional Review Process

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Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice, His Lordship Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards, has today welcomed the launch of the Government White Paper On the Constitutional Review Process describing it as one that constitutes Legal Reform of the highest order.

“The Judiciary welcomes the process not just because there are provisions which would benefit the Judiciary and make it more effective, but also most welcoming is the fact that the process constitute Legal Reform of the highest order,” the Hon. Chief Justice said.

He noted that, “as a Judiciary, our duty will be as has always been; firstly, to Interpret the Constitution. In Interpreting the Constitution, we employ and engage the Statutory/ Constitutional Rules of Interpretation.”

His Lordship Justice Edwards added that the prerogative to use any of the Rules distinctively remain the Judiciary’s and that it is only time and circumstances that would tell which Rule “we adopt at any given time.”

In his historical analyses of the review process, the Chief Justice noted that the process, since its inception by the setting up of the Dr. Peter Tucker Constitutional Review Commission has undergone a chequered history. He continued to note that the recommendations from both the Ernest Bai Koroma Administration in its unpublished White Paper as well as the Justice Cowan Constitutional Review Committee were both “pertinently considered” by the Technical Committee set up by His Excellency, Dr. Julius Maada Bio.

While he lauded the current Government for continuity by brining to a seeming conclusion of the Process, he said the Constitutional Review Process has been “consciously and judiciously” applied.

“Rest assured that whatever we do would be in tandem with the principles of Freedom, Democracy and Justice” he assured Sierra Leoneans.

“While our main Vision has been to make Justice accessible, fair and expeditious for all Sierra Leoneans, no doubt our Mission which tells of what we do, remains to be to uphold the Constitution of Sierra Leone and the Rule of Law, adjudicate on all matters, Criminal and Civil in order to promote national Peace, Security and Development,” he stated.

He said upholding the Constitution is a Constitutional mandate as enshrined in 1991 Constitution, assuring that they will  uphold the Constitution and the Laws of Sierra Leone as the ‘Judges’ Master.’

In his declaration of purpose, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Anthony Brewah welcomed his audience for gracing an occasion marking the start of widening the Country’s democratic space. According to him, the Constitutional Review Process was in compliance with one of recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and Article 1 of the Lome Peace Accord.

Launching the Government White Paper, His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada said, “the full white paper as accepted is rational and more extensive than the 2017 white paper. We would take practice steps to implement the non-entrenched recommendations immediately.”

He said the processes leading to the compilation of the White Paper was very rational and more extensive than the previous one.

He said the review requires a fixed and predictable date for elections and inauguration, adding that Members of Parliament shall now be elected through Proportional Representation.

Sierra Leone Ambassador to the U.S pays Courtesy call to IGP

The Sierra Leone Ambassador to the United States of America, Sidique Aboubakarr Wai, has paid a courtesy call to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Dr Ambrose Michael Sovula Creating link between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) for capacity building and equipment.

According to HE Sidique Wai, his visit was to get firsthand information and interact with the (IGP) and his management team.

“One would want to come and get the feel” said Ambassador Wai.

The Ambassador continued that he was therefore at the police headquarters to see the IGP, the men and women in uniform and have an opportunity to learn more, so that when he goes back to New York, he would be in a better position to talk to his friends about help for the (SLP).

He therefore called on the police management to support the leadership of Dr Ambrose Michael Sovula.

Dr Sovula said he is not just an (IGP) with a reputation limited to national level but has attracted international attention and normally when that happened, he is in the middle.

He added that the engagement was important and significant as it was aimed at capacity building and equipment for the (SLP) through link with the (NYPD)

The IGP said the visit of the Ambassador was timely, referencing President Bio desire for human capital development in all sectors including the security.

“We are currently on transformative drive and what we need now from our partners is training, training and training to enable us meet modern trend of policing” said Dr Sovula.

The (SLP) he added would have to prepare a concept paper that would determine the required training needed.

He concluded by expressing optimism that the engagement would yield fruit.

Prior to his appointment as Sierra Leone Ambassador to US, HE Wai was a Policy adviser to the (NYPD) and the initiator for the use of “Body Camera” which has become a world class crime fighting tool.

Speaker outlines the Role of Parliament in the Constitutional Review

The Honorable speaker of Parliament Dr. Chernor Abass Bundu in his open statement said I feel honoured to be invited to make a statement on the Role of Parliament in the Constitutional Review Process during this Launch by His Excellency the President of the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Process. And I would like to do so from the perspective of Parliament by making six cardinal points.  

He continued that Sierra Leone is a constitutional democracy and has been for the most part since she recovered her independence and sovereignty from Britain in April 1961. The promotion and maintenance of peace, security, order and good government in Sierra Leone is the primordial duty of every organ of State, including Parliament, the organ in which solely the power to make laws for the Republic is expressly and emphatically vested.  

“Second, that in the discharge of this primordial duty Parliament must take cognisance that not all the laws it makes are of equal value and quality. Some laws are, by definition, in a higher category than others. This differentiation of the laws passed by Parliament is clearly enshrined in Paragraph 15 of Section 171 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 (Act No.6 of 1991). That Section reads: “This Constitution shall be the supreme law of Sierra Leone and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no effect” Mr Bundu said.

He expressed that Section 171(15) gives supremacy to the Constitution of 1991 over all other laws, and it is incumbent upon all State   organs to give primacy to the Constitution at all times

Third, that in keeping with this doctrine of supremacy of the Constitution, not as much as a word can be altered in the Constitution unless it has received approbation on the second and third readings of the Bill purporting to make the alteration by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament. Furthermore, such a Bill must be duly published in at least two issues of the Gazette before its first reading in Parliament and not less than nine days must elapse between the first publication of the Bill in the Gazette and the second publication.

The speaker continued that this procedural requirement is succinctly and mandatorily stated in Section 108 of the Constitution and it applies to the alteration of all the provisions of the Constitution.

Fourth, that where it is proposed to make a new Constitution or to alter any provision in the existing 1991 Constitution which is characterized as extraordinary or entrenched, there is an additional, even more stringent, procedural requirement that must be satisfied. The Bill in which the alteration is proposed will not become law unless, after it has been expressly so passed by Parliament, has additionally been approved at a referendum by the people of Sierra Leone. For such a referendum to be valid, the votes cast must not be less than one-half of all persons qualified to vote in a Parliamentary election and not less than two-thirds of all the votes validly cast.  

He mentioned that the Bill must not be submitted for Presidential Assent unless it has been certified by the Speaker of Parliament that all the referendum requirements have been satisfied and the Speaker’s Certificate is not only final and conclusive on the matter but is also given immunity from judicial scrutiny.

And sixth, that the framers of the 1991 Constitution were in no doubt about the centrality of the role of Parliament in the constitutional review process to the extent that the Constitution condemns as Treason any alteration, suspension or repeal of the Constitution that is made by means other than under the authority of Parliament.  

He added that Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, what I have just stated represents the law of the Constitution relating to its alteration. Whether a proposed alteration is doable or not, is a separate issue altogether. If, for example, an alteration is proposed to be passed by the present Fifth Parliament then its do-ability has to be judged relative to the composition of Parliament at the time. Let me now dwell on this briefly.

“The Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic started its life after the Parliamentary Election in March 2018 with a total composition of 146 Members comprising 68 Members representing the APC Party; 49 Members of the SLPP; 8 Members of the C4C; 4 Members of the NGC; 3 Independents and 14 Honourable Paramount Chiefs. Today, through the natural effluxion of life alone, Parliament has lost to eternity no fewer than 6 Members of Parliament including an Honourable Paramount Chief and its current membership has dwindled to 144 Members comprising 58 from the SLPP; 57 from the APC; 8 from the C4C; 4 from the NGC, 3 Independents and 14 Paramount Chiefs”.

“Now any amendment requires a vote of two-thirds majority in Parliament before it can be passed into law. This means at least 96 affirmative votes. With the composition just indicated, except for Bills for the alteration of mundane ordinary provisions of the Constitution in which all the major parties represented in Parliament have a shared interest, all other Bills face a tall order in the present Hung Fifth Parliament and it is well-nigh impossible to predict the outcome with any degree of certainty. For example, if there is a Government Bill to amend the Constitution, even if it is able to attract all 58 votes of the SLPP, all 14 votes of the Paramount Chiefs, all 8 votes of the C4C, all 4 votes of the NGC and all 3 votes of the Independent Members, it would still require 9 votes from the APC to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority.  In these circumstances I can only express my utmost best wishes to any person desirous of passing a constitutional amendment in this Fifth Hung Parliament of the Second Republic particularly in these most exacting times”.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to further adumbrate one other salient observation. The framers of the 1991 Constitution were, in my humble opinion, quite deliberate and calculated when they made extraordinarily stringent conditions for the alteration of the provisions of the Constitution, even to the extent of declaring it an act of treason if any alteration or repeal of the Constitution didn’t first obtain the authorisation of Parliament. I think they must have been inspired by their own unique experience and knowledge of history to make that kind of prescription. They deemed it to be inimical to the interests of the people of Sierra Leone to make it easy for anyone to tinker with the sanctity and sacred nature of our Constitution. Strong reasons must be given for any alteration of the Constitution and they must not only be reasonable, sound and powerful but overwhelmingly so if not absolutely necessary. In other words, it was their way of admonishing future generations to make haste slowly in any attempt to introduce alterations to that sacred document”.    

Mr Bundu maintain that it is instructive to recall the history of previous attempts that have been made to amend the 1991 Constitution since its promulgation in October 1991. The first attempt was in 1993 by a Commission set up by the NPRC under the chairmanship of the late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the second was in 2008 by a Committee led by Dr. Peter Tucker. Neither attempt came to fruition for want of a referendum. The third attempt was in 2013 by the Justice Edmund Cowan Commission established by former President Ernest Bai Koroma. It turned out to be the most trumpeted and the most costly and yet it came to nothing because even though the Commission’s recommendations found strong resonance with the will of the people, Koroma’s Government issued a White Paper cherry-picking what it was comfortable with while rejecting the rest. Nor did their draft Constitutional Amendment Bill of 2017 find favour with the Parliament that was hurriedly summoned on the eve of its dissolution on 6 December 2017.

From the perspective of Parliament, therefore, I would say that the challenges faced by our nation today are as alive as they were in 2008 and 2017 and they behove us all to maintain for now our unflinching fidelity to the 1991 Constitution and allow it to grow and mature to full blossom, except for a few ordinary mundane provisions able to galvanise a common interest for change amongst all the parties represented in the current Fifth Parliament. The rest can wait for more propitious circumstances to prevail.

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