Sierra Leone hosts 52nd Commonwealth conference

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By Feima Sesay

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) African Region has on Monday, 6th June, 2022 officially commenced the 52nd Conference at the Freetown International Conference Center, Aberdeen, Sierra Leone on the theme, “The role of African Parliaments in Building Inclusive Society to Counter Growing Insecurity in Africa”.

The conference attracted most of the CPA Members and their Speakers as well as Members of Parliament to discuss and chart the interest concerning the CPA Africa Region.

Over fifteen Speakers from CPA Member countries and several delegates were part of the conference.

The Secretary-General of the CPA, Mr. Stephen Twigg, while welcoming the delegates, thanked the Speaker of the Parliament of Sierra Leone, Rt. Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu and also President Bio for initiating the Free Quality Education. He spoke about the future development of the CPA and other efforts including working towards the full legal status. The Secretary-General also assured the delegates on other related aspects and planned activities.

The Acting Chairperson of the CPA International Executive Committee Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger expressed appreciation for being part of the conference and appreciated the work of the CPA. He insisted that Sierra Leone had been an active member of the CPA. He spoke about efforts geared towards the future development of CPA and encouraged members to collaborate and give support to each other.

Hon. Dr. Makali Malu, Senior Regional Representative, East Africa Region who spoke on behalf of the CPA Chairperson, CPA Africa Region Executive Committee and Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya,  Rt.  Hon. Justin B.N. Muturi, EGH, MP, thanked delegates and informed them that he was very pleased with the Sierra Leone Speaker of Parliament. He gave the composition, activities, and other related characteristics of the CPA in light of the future agenda.

In his welcome address, the Speaker of Sierra Leone Parliament, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu who also doubles as President of CPA Africa Region, commended all the delegates and other participants for participating in the conference. He spoke about the vision, mission, and core values of the Commonwealth, in light of democracy, human rights, gender equality amongst others.  He thanked CPA members for their support to his current position as well as for hosting the 52nd CPA conference in Sierra Leone. He also explained the history of his country and other related benchmarks.

He reiterated and lauded Sierra Leone for its religious tolerance, freedom and asked other countries to emulate these values. He also explained the political will of President Bio towards education and went on to recall the historic attainment of education that was declined by the ravages of the war and being regained by the leadership of President Bio.

The Speaker expressed delight over the conduct of the conference in Sierra Leone and shared the experiences of his Parliament with the delegates, in light of democracy, good governance and amendments in the legislative framework that is predicated on international best practices.

The   President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, in his keynote address, said the city of Freetown is a replica of history and went on to speak about the country’s cultural heritage, with touristic attractions. He thanked the Royal Family in England and commended the Commonwealth’s support to Sierra Leone’s development. According to him, the common vision had kept the commonwealth together and spoke about the country’s resilience. He thanked the Honourable Members of the Sierra Leone Parliament for their remarkable efforts and spoke about their service deliveries. He noted that the theme of the conference is very pertinent, in light of promoting governance.

He used the opportunity to speak about the global effects on state parties and also showered praises on the national Parliaments for supporting and promoting good governance. He expressed hope for a fruitful deliberation, in light of building an inclusive society.

The ceremony was climaxed by the presentations of gifts to President Bio by the leadership of Parliament for the latter’s support to Parliament.

The Mission of the CPA African Region is to promote and protect the interests and perspectives of CPA Africa Regional Parliaments and countries, in the Commonwealth and beyond, and to promote gender equality, the emancipation of women, and respect for human rights, freedoms, democracy, and good governance.”

The African Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association comprises 63 national and subnational legislatures. 

The CPA Africa Region is governed by a Coordinating Committee and Executive Committee which is made up of representatives from across the region. There is also a Regional Representatives Committee that reports to the Executive Committee.

2022 Mid-Term Census credibility…

Opposition Leader in Parliament writes  Chief Electoral commissioner

Description: Opposition minority leader Chernor Bah (chericoco) calls on ECOWAS to be  proactive – Welcome to the Sierra Leone Telegraph

The Leader of the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC) in Parliament, Hon. Ahmed Ramadan Bah aka Chericoco, has written a formal letter to the Chief Electoral Commissioner over the 2022 Mid-Term Census.  

Below is the letter.

I write to you as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and on behalf of the membership and constituents of the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), to share with you and the entire Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, our concerns relating to the use of data from the disputed 2021 Mid-Term Housing and Population Census and also the planned introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system during the June 2023 multi- tier elections.

Mr. Chief Electoral Commissioner, since your appointment to this delicate position, you have conducted a good number of elections at chiefdom; ward and constituency levels and you have seen firsthand the level of mistrust and anger that characterizes our national politics and how all of this impact negatively on national peace, cohesion and security. It is undeniable that the undertone for the prevailing political tension in the country is a result of the glaring mistrust the populace has over government institutions.

In the past four years we have recorded many incidents that transformed the civic business of elections and governance into political gas lighting thereby creating a fragile and vulnerable environment for the outbreak of violence as was witnessed in Constituency 110 in the Western Area, in Ward 155 Constituency 046 in Koinadugu district, and recently in Constituency 056 in the Tonkolili district.

From the removal of ten (10) duly elected opposition Members of Parliament who were replaced with defeated ruling party candidates; to the selection of Electoral Commissioners without consulting with opposition parties as stipulated by law; to the unprecedented Mid-Term Housing and Population Census which was fraught with several problems, including the withdrawal of funding by major funders; strike actions by enumerators; breakdown of iPads used for capturing data and the widespread boycott of the census; our political environment has been subjected to so much fragility that its electoral and other governance structures are tottering.

It is against this background that I draw your attention to the fact that your conduct as Chief Electoral Commissioner is crucial to the success of our democracy, stability and in pulling the country away from this unfortunate situation it finds itself in. A huge responsibility is upon your shoulders as the due processes and fair outcome of the June 2023 Presidential and General Elections depend on your neutrality relating to any decisions and actions you and the Electoral Commission take now and going forward. 

On Tuesday 31st May, 2022, the Government announced incredulous census figures as the country’s total population and population distribution. These very flawed figures, and the haste with which they were put together and announced, in total disregard for national and international technically sound advice given as to timelines and other pertinent criteria, further validated concerns that the central objective of the census exercise is for political rather than national development imperatives.

In addition, we are also aware of the planned introduction of a proportional system that would very likely take the incredulous figures as the basis for allocation of electoral districts and other distributional processes.

Mr. Chief Electoral Commissioner, we are hereby again drawing your attention to the fact that these two activities are illegal and not in the national interest of the citizens of this country.

On the legality of the Census, firstly, the instrument was not properly laid in Parliament and even after opposition MPs objected to its impropriety, the Government merely reintroduced the instrument without following the established procedures for it to become legally binding, resulting in the World Bank’s withdrawal of technical and financial support to that process. Secondly, owing to its overtly political objectives, the process was widely rejected by the main opposition APC, several other political parties and a substantial number of members of the public. As you can see from the strange figures announced on Tuesday, we have been told that our nation’s capital city and its environs is far less populated than the number of voters in this same capital in 2018; that it is smaller than its 2004 census conducted by the SLPP Government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, and that it is smaller than it was in 2015. This brazenness, arrogance and fakery fly in the face of other projections, surveys and visible evidence of the population of Freetown and its environs. It is indeed a feat of magical proportion that the only regions that grew their population were the South and Eastern Provinces. You would agree with me, Mr. Chief Electoral Commissioner; that such brazen manipulation of critical statistics could constitute considerable risk to national development, peace and security.

Regarding the planned introduction of the PR system, as a lawyer of about two decades of practice and a lawmaker for fifteen years, allow me to explain why like the Mid –Term Census, this too is illegal.

Mr. Commissioner, changes to any part of our 1991 Constitution requires no less than a 2/3 majority because the entire constitution is regarded as an entrenched document. Section 108 only highlights the sections which require a referendum or plebiscite before they could be amended. As a matter of precedent, our Constitution has been amended twice. The first time it was amended was in 2001 for the introduction of the PR system since some parts of the country were still inaccessible. The most recent was in 2013, regarding the election of the Speaker of Parliament. Both amendments were unanimous (all voting in favour), no dissenting voice.

The Proportional Representation (PR) system itself has been tried twice in Sierra Leone in 1996 and in 2002 and on both occasions, it failed because it is incongruous with the Sierra Leone political exposure. With the PR system, MPs are removed from the electorates because under the District Block System, they are chosen by the political parties. Apart from the fact that it takes away the relationship between the people and their representatives, and by extension political accountability of the representative to the constituents; it also further conflicts with the Public Elections Act 2012 in terms of how to deal with petitions relating to quasi criminal offences.

Additionally, such a dramatic change to the electoral system just as major elections are around the corner portends ineffective public participation in the election of especially their parliamentary representatives and undermines the efficacy of democracy in the country.

Of concern also, is our understanding that there is a plan to use the Public Elections Act to introduce a PR system. Any attempt to do so is unconstitutional as there is no way legally to introduce an amendment to the Constitution without it going through the Constitutional Amendment procedure. Please be guided that Acts of Parliament may be used to give effect to the Constitution but not amend it.

Essentially, the PR system will be a disaster for democracy in our beloved nation.  It is thus suspicious why the Government would insist on introducing a system that has failed twice especially when Section 38 of the Sierra Leone 1991 Constitution is very clear on the circumstances under which the PR system could be used.

I therefore beseech you to use your good offices and good conscience to refrain from being a part of any attempt to undermine democracy through the use of discredited data from a disputed census; as well as the imposition of an electoral system that has already been twice proven to be inappropriate for our country. At this very critical moment when political tensions are so high, political dialogue and consensus building have become non-existent; the onus is on you to employ tact, caution, fairness and neutrality.

In the discharge of this great responsibility, let your decisions and actions burnish your integrity, highlight your patriotism and position you prominently on the positive side of history.

IMC Complaints Committee conducts hearings on six complaints

The Complaints Committee of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) chaired by Mr. Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai Esq., on Friday 3rd May, 2022 conducted hearings on six matters before the Commission as follows:

Alpha Sesay Vs. Standard Times Newspaper.

In this matter, complainant Alpha Sesay was represented by his legal team headed by Doris Mavis Kargbo of the Macauley, Bangura & Co, Barrister & Solicitors, Legal firm whilst Standard Times the Respondent newspaper was not present for the hearing. The matter was adjourned to Tuesday 7th May 2022, after which ruling will be given.

Abdul Rahman Mahdi Vs. Prime Times Newspaper

During the hearing, the complainant Abdul Rahman Mahdi was asked to restate his complaint in the presence of Kemoh Saidu Sesay the respondent editor of the said newspaper. Mr. Mahdi said he is aggrieved by the newspaper’s defamatory and slanderous contents relating to his person in its publication dated Wednesday 9th March 2022 with caption: “As Alleged…The Evil Trinity at RCB Scheming against the Managing Director”.

Responding to the complaint, the Editor Prime Times Newspaper Kemoh Saidu Sesay said he no longer stands by his publication; thereby informing the Committee that he had published a retraction to the said publication which copy was submitted to the Committee for verification. He also apologized to the complainant Abdul Rahman Mahdi. IMC rulings on this matter will be communicated as soon as possible.

Honourable Emmanuel Sahr Gbekie Vs. Tumac Radio FM 89.3

During the hearing on the complainant from Hon. Emmanuel Sahr Gbekie of constituency 116 against Tumac Radio FM 89.3 “Report Card” programme aired on Thursday 12th May 2022, in which the presenter Charley Mahoi alleged used insulting languages against the personality of the complainant, the Complainant informed the Complaints Committee that the matter had already been resolved and they were only at the Commission to withdraw the said complaint.

The committee respected the views of the complainant and admonished the presenter of the “Report Card” programme Mohamed Charlie Mahoi to be responsible in future programmes.

Daniel Kaitibie Vs. The Comment Newspaper

During the session, both complainant and respondent newspaper editor did not show up for the hearing. The committee was informed that the complainant Daniel Kaitibie had approached the Commission for withdrawal of the said matter which the Committee noted.

Lastly, the Editor of the Night Watch Newspaper Alpha Tholley was also invited by the Complaints Committee following a report from the Monitoring Unit on the newspaper’s front-page publication of Tuesday May 31st 2022, captioned ‘A Recipe for Coup’. The editor was warned by the committee against inflammatory headlines, and admonished to always use attribution in his stories for accuracy

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