In emerging democracies and also in established ones it is not uncommon for opposition political parties to claim that the ruling party is misusing state resources for political party gain. Opposition parties in many African countries have complained that they are effectively competing against the State when they participate in elections.
While some African countries have legislation to control state funding of political parties there are not many examples of specific laws regulating party use of state resources. This is clearly an area where more research and advocacy is required. In March 2018, Sierra Leone scheduled to hold its elections. The issue of the ruling All People’s Congress Party using its incumbency advantage has already come up and is bound to resurface.
In 2007, when former Vice President Solomon Ekuma Berewa was contesting against current President Ernest Bai Koroma, his trips to several regions sparked controversy in the media as some of his speaking engagements were at party rallies. He was accused of using taxpayers’ Leones for party political activities rather than government purposes.
Commentators stated that the playing field must be leveled for all political contestants in that year’s elections if Sierra Leone was to uphold its democratic credentials.
In response, defenders of the former Vice President’s trips said it was difficult to establish a dividing line between when former Vice President’s itinerary was purely party political as he had to discharge his duties as a Vice President all the time.
The constitutional responsibilities of the President and Vice President of the Republic of Sierra Leone dictate that the incumbent shall be on duty 24 hours per day and seven days per week. This, in effect, means that former Vice President Solomon Berewa worn his hat as the former Vice President and Head of the Police Council 24/7.
But the same constitutional responsibility made it impossible for the former Vice President to separate his party’s political responsibilities from his official government responsibilities.
Such gaps and ambiguities in the country’s electoral laws governing the use of state administrative and other resources make it extremely difficult to separate legitimate actions by the incumbent from potential abuse.
In 2012, President Ernest Bai Koroma was caught in the same act. When he was campaigning for his second inning, he travelled the length and breadth of Sierra Leone using his official vehicles and evidently, state resources to canvass support and get the security sectors on his side. He had the money, he had the power and he had everything that gave him the advantage over Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. He won with over 60% of the total vote cast.
Now, the power of incumbency is about to show itself in the politics of Sierra Leone. Elections are here. Dr. Samura Kamara will be contesting against other candidates. Dr. Samura Kamara is sitting minister holding the country’s external affairs on his desk. As I write, he is currently in Brussels enjoying the power of incumbency. He has as his campaign manager the sitting president Ernest Bai Koroma.
Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has vowed to fight these elections as his last battle, while on record for saying he will create a level playing field for other political players. There is a huge difference between being a politician and a statesman. Can that difference be shown during these elections with the concept of the winner takes it all?
Sierra Leone is notorious for abusing the power of incumbency both the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (when in power in 2002) and the ruling All People’s Congress party are guilty of this. Today, across the country every government office including State Lodge and State House is full of party supporters every day. They praise sing the candidates of the APC-Dr. Samura Kamara and Hon. Chernor Ramadan Maju Bah.
These are two people holding public offices. Dr. Samura Kamara is the sitting Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Hon. Chernor Ramadan Maju Bah is the current Deputy Speaker in the House of Parliament. Will they abuse the power of incumbency?
My answer is yes they will.