In a late night broadcast on both radio and television to the Nation on February 14, 2017 (Saint Valentine’s Day) when President Ernest Bai Koroma announced dates for the General Elections on March 7, 2018, he also said that the Government is now in the concluding phase of the Government White Paper for a new National Constitution which will be presented to Parliament as required by Law, in due course, and if enacted by Parliament, in line with the ECOWAS Protocols on Democracy, will be followed by a National Referendum to be conducted before the end of September 2017.
On Tuesday January 24, 2017,, the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), which reviewed the 1991 Republican Multi Party Constitution from 30th July, 2013, presented its Final Report to President Koroma and since then a Cabinet Sub Committee chaired by the Learned Attorney General and Minister of Justice Honourable Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara has been considering its contents for preparation of the Government White Paper which will form the basis for the Legal Draftsmen in the Law Officers Department to prepare the Amendment Bill to the 1991 National Constitution which the Attorney General & Minister of Justice will pilot through the different stages in Parliament, First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Stage and Third Reading..
It is interesting to note that in the published NEC “key electoral dates and activities for the forthcoming Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections” no mention is made of a “National Referendum to be conducted before the end of September 2017” and it is the responsibility of NEC to conduct Referenda.
Does it mean that the proposed referendum on the Government White Paper for a new Constitution has been postponed until after the March 7, 2018 General Elections? or has the Government White Paper on the CRC Report become a Blank Paper on the CRC Report, even though the Government has started implementing piecemeal some of the CRC recommendations – reference the removal of the Gender Bias in the Citizenship Laws of Sierra Leone on 5th July, 2017 when Parliament enacted into law the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2017, providing for citizenship by birth to be granted through the mother whether the birth happens inside or outside Sierra Leone. This gives the right to Sierra Leonean women, who have children with foreign fathers, for all such children to become Sierra Leoneans.
This amendment of the law was advocated for in the position paper to the CRC by the Women’s Forum Sierra Leone.
Highlights of the NEC Press Release include 7th December. 2017 is the date for the Dissolution of Parliament which first sitting was on 7th December, 2012. Nomination period for Presidential and Parliamentary Elections is scheduled for January 17th – 26th, 2018 (ten days) and campaign period for Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections is 4th February, 2018 – 5th March, 2018. 6th March, 2018 is “cooling off” day – no campaign.
7th March, 2018, according to the NEC Press Release, is confirmed as Polling Day for the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections. 24th to 28th March, 2018 is scheduled for a “possible Presidential Run-Off” between the two candidates with the highest number of votes polled in first round within 14 days of the announcement of the certified results of the previous elections as per section 42 subsection 2 (e & f) of the 1991 Republican Constitution of Sierra Leone, that is
(e) “no person shall be elected as President of Sierra Leone unless at the Presidential election he has polled not less than fifty-five per cent of the valid votes cast in his favour; and
(f) “in default of a candidate being duly elected under paragraph (e), the two candidates with the highest number of votes shall go forward to a second election which shall be held within fourteen days of the announcement of the results of the previous election, and the candidate polling the higher number of votes cast in his favour shall be declared President.”
On Tuesday January 24, 2017, when President Koroma received the Constitutional Review Report of the 1991 Sierra Leone Republican Multi Party Constitution at a State House ceremony, he said, among other things, “there is no need for speculation and no need for unnecessary tension. The issue of the announcement of the date for the General Elections will be made in accordance with the Constitution. Let me assure us all that the elections will go on as stipulated in the 1991 Constitution”.
President Koroma added “be assured that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) will conduct the elections in accordance with the Constitution and the Government and all Stakeholders connected with the conduct of the elections are working together so that everything falls in place in a timely manner for the conduct of the elections”.
He also stated “we will work quickly to look at the CRC Report and come out with a White Paper and the necessary Amendment Legislation to the Constitution which will be sent to Parliament for us to have a National Referendum. Until a decision is taken by the people at the Referendum, I will not sign it into law. We are nearing the end of the review process just as we are getting nearer the elections. It has been a tough process but a worthy path to tread.”
What is happening to the Government White Paper on the CRC Report?