Recommendations by the CRC – the ones the Government cared to put in the White Paper – were dismissed at least 93 times. 36 recommendations were accepted but they were mostly procedural necessity; complying with international statutes or superficial. For instance, Government accepted that the ‘Chief Justice shall by statutory instrument create such Divisions of the Court of Appeal as she/he may consider necessary’. (Procedural necessity). Or, Government accepting that section 134 of the Constitution ‘should be amended by changing “inferior” to “subordinate” in respect of how lower courts should be referred to (superficial). Government also accepted that ‘Chapter 3 on the Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights of the Individual be renamed “The Recognition, Protection, and Promotion of Human Rights and Freedoms of the Individual” (compliance).
But, the big-ticket items of the CRC were all rejected and dismissed without any consideration to the work that had gone into the report over the past three years, or the over four million dollars ($4 million) spent on the Commission. The recommendation on social security and social assistance was rejected. Educational objectives recommendation, dismissed. On a new chapter titled “Information, Communication and the Media” with detailed provisions on freedom of the press, media freedom and independence, no state interference etc. that was summarily dismissed and will not be added into the Constitution. Furthermore, the Government White Paper deliberately failed to comment on the CRC White Paper recommendation to give Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora the right to vote. They didn’t even countenance or comment on it. The White Paper just ignored it. This affects approximately 300,000 eligible citizens who could be registered to vote.
But the most obnoxious and cynical rejection of the CRC recommendation was this: that ‘loss of Party membership should not nullify or cause the removal of a sitting President from office but that in such event, a section 51 procedure for misconduct shall follow: section 49(1)’. In rejecting this perfectly reasonable recommendation, the Attorney General interjected most cynically that ‘the Office of President and Vice-President shall become vacant where the incumbent ceases to be a member of the political party of which he was a member at the time he was elected to or assumed the office of President or Vice President, as the case may be’. Reference was then made to the Sam Sumana case in the Supreme Court ruling 4/2015 in which the Court ruled that the loss of party membership by Sumana and his subsequent sacking was somewhat legal.
The Attorney general brings a new and dangerous meaning and interpretation to the Sam Sumana ruling, which for all intents and purposes should have been a one off. It is dangerous uncharted territory if political parties can effectively sack a President who has been duly elected by the people. That is not even allowed in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Mugabe remained the President of Zimbabwe when the ZANU PF expelled him. The process to remove him as President was to advance to the impeachment stage and could have taken longer before Mugabe himself decided to quit. Because of the Supreme Court ruling against Sam Sumana the AG feels emboldened. But that same ruling has been deligitimised by the ECOWAS court in its ruling Monday 27th November, 2017. The ECOWAS court ruled Sam Sumana was illegally dismissed and ordered the Government to pay up.
Sources familiar with the CRC process have intimated the disappointment of the Chairman of the Committee Justice,Edmond Cowan over the Government’s White Paper. Chairman Cowan expressed his dismay with how the CRC Report, which he sees as the views of the people, and the subsequent recommendations have been treated. But the CRC must share some of the blame for the awful outcome of what started as a promising exercise. They failed in their task to take account of the views of all Sierra Leoneans, yet allow partisan interests to permeate their deliberations and recommendations. Therefore, when the CRC Chairman said they listened to the people and the Report reflects that, he was clearly not being honest. The Committee failed to listen to the representation and clamour for a Parliamentary form of Government. At the British Council in Freetown last year, Sierra Leoneans for Parliamentary Democracy issued a statement and produced a film to mark World Democracy Day, describing how the system would both respect the constitution and promote a structure of transparency and accountability. The film, representing a snapshot of various segments of the community, showed support for the system. It is disappointing that all those views were dismissed summarily.
One of the spurious reasons given by the Committee for ignoring the Parliamentary Democracy submission was that it was not in their mandate. Accepting Parliamentary Democracy, they argued, would be tantamount to changing the Constitution; they can only review but not change the Constitution. It was clearly a lie, as the Committee recommended proportional representation, a pet project of Dr Habib Sesay of the PMDC who’s also the political group chairman of the CRC. Proportional representation would have also been a change to the Constitution, but one favoured by the chairman for political reasons.
The partisan interests of the CRC, was also reflected in the Sam Sumana issue, which happened after the Commission had received its mandate, but then felt that to reprimand and spite the President, it had to make the issue a central plank of deliberations and recommendations, even though, the Supreme Court had ruled on the matter. Furthermore, on the Committee’s visit to brief State House on their activities in 2015, President Koroma suggested enhanced powers for the Presidency or reverting to the simple, as he called it, Parliamentary System. The Committee chose to ignore the President. Notwithstanding the fact that the President commissioned the CRC exercise, the Chairman believed the President’s input is irrelevant, not out of principle but because of political and other considerations.
The Government having presented the White Paper in the floor of Parliament on the 28th November, 2017, will be hoping to pass the bill quickly before Parliament closes December 7th 2017. Due to the ‘Sumana’ clause, passing the bill effectively gives President Koroma as Leader and Chairman of the APC party, control, at least on paper, over Samura Kamara in the event the APC wins the election. Samura will have the Sword of Damocles, the APC party and the Chairman and Leader, hanging over his head to kick him out if he steps out of line. However, the President should not be tempted by that. It is a ruse. He is being played. Playing the President is the only reason one can think of for inserting that ‘Sumana’ clause. The reality is that you cannot lend power; the moment it is gone, that’s it. To think otherwise is a folly.
We know that when he initiated this constitutional review process, the President wanted a system that will make politics better. He said so on record. However, the outcome now seems to be far from what he hoped for or wanted. There may not be time for the President to do anything about it now. But he can distance himself from the AG’s dangerous and undemocratic White Paper to avoid sullying his democratic credentials.