SPEAKER ABASS BUNDU MOVES MOTION TO MANAGE DISSENSION IN PARLIAMENT

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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.

FoRUT ON 16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM TO END GENDER VIOLENCE  

By Alhassan Jalloh

The 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Based Violence Against Women commences today with the theme “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women Now”

According to UN statistics 1 in 3 women have been abused in their lifetime. In times of crises, the numbers rise, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and recent humanitarian crises, conflicts and climate disasters.

So let’s end violence against women now!

As part of its campaign to end violence against women and girls, FoRUT invited Dr. Claudine Hingston, a Consummate Gender Activist and Women’s Empowerment Icon to interact with staff and volunteers of the organization to understand the significance of  #16DaysofActivism To End Gender Based Violence Against Women and the Role of men,  women, and the community to end Gender Based Violence Against Women and Girls.

Join the campaign!! Together we can End Violence Against Women and Girls.

MoPED Rolls-Out Orientation for District Development Committees

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Minister Francis M. Kaikai and partners on the high table making statement

By: Amara Kargbo

The Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, with its partners, has conducted a day-one orientation rollout for local district officials on the District Development Co-ordination Committees (DDCC) which aims to provide key orientation for the new districts on the revised DDCC model and create a platform for districts members to share their experience and lessons learned during the DDCC implementation in June 2021. The event took at the Civil Service Training College, Freetown on the 23rd November 2021.

Bai M. Thuray, Deputy Development Secretary of MoPED in his opening remarks gave an overview that the Ministry received support from UNICEF to strengthen District Development Coordination Committees in eight districts namely Fabala, karene, Pujehun, Bonthe, Moyamba, Tonkolili, Western Area Rural, and Kalaihun Districts. The DDCC has been reactivated in the aforementioned districts and it was an initiative commenced in December 2020.

He noted that the ministry and development partners recognized the importance of district development coordination was a need for DDCC to be a permanent coordination structure at the district level anchored in the Local Council.

Andrew Tamba Sellu, Chief of field office UNICEF jointly said that strengthening local government is important because of its central role in delivering social services to the population, and it is closer to the people. He emphasized that it is imperative to support coordination between the actors at the district level; this enhances improved service delivery, accountability, and ownership.

The DDCCs will provide the population a platform where they can voice their opinions and discuss matters that are affecting them, which equally also provides an opportunity for the people to hold accountable those responsible for the delay of services or the shortfall of any project in the districts.

He registered that UNICEF will continue to support the DDCCs, and attend committee meetings as much as they can.

Dr. Francis M. Kaikai, Minister of Planning and Economic Development addressed participants and partners that the further roll-out of the DDCCs to the four additional is a critical milestone in the implementation of District Development plans and Medium Term National Development Plan. And, he encourages the leadership and team of these additional four districts to leverage on the experiences of the eight existing districts that have reactivated their own districts coordination platforms and build on their own District Development Coordination Committee

The minister added that the National District Development Coordination Secretariat at MoPED has provided the necessary technical backstopping and coaching support to the DDCC teams in all eight districts. Additionally, they serve as nexus between the DDCCs and MoPED leadership providing it with empirical reports and feedback in terms of service delivery in these districts.

Minister Kaikai urged the leadership and management of the Local Council to perform proficiency and by owing the DDCC concept and ensures it succeeds.

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