Parliamentarians in Sierra Leone cannot be above the law
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 February 2017
Civil liberty and human rights took another massive blow in Sierra Leone yesterday, after the country’s parliamentarians clumsily ordered the arrest and detention of one of the country’s most vocal civil rights activists and chief executive of the Campaign for Human Rights and Democracy International (CHRDI) – Mr. Abdul Fatoma in the capital Freetown.
This unconstitutional bully boy’s tactics not only smacks of high-handed abuse of power, but a total disregard for the principles of probity, accountability and transparency, that are the bedrock upon which parliament itself is built.
Watching parliamentarians from the ruling APC party constantly abusing their parliamentary majority in the last ten years, has been painful enough for the people of Sierra Leone. But to also see that the country’s main opposition SLPP parliamentarians have not only become passive bystanders, but actively involved in unsavory parliamentary back scratching speaks volumes about those elected to protect and defend the constitution.
But such is politics in Sierra Leone, where every aspect of public life is merely seen as an opportunity to feed oneself, rather than an opportunity to serve the interest of the public with utmost integrity.
Abdul Fatoma has done no wrong. He was arrested simply because he persistently called on parliamentarians to account for millions of dollars, which they had received for the development of their constituencies. He had also called on the country’s anti-corruption commission to work with parliament to investigate how the funding had been spent.
Rather than respond positively to Fatoma’s call by producing and publishing auditable accounts, parliamentarians across the political spectrum took a lazy and clumsy way out by ordering his arrest and detention at the criminal investigations department.
This cannot be just, nor can it be constitutional. But in Sierra Leone, parliament is indeed above the law; and neither much of what it does makes any sense. (Photo: Abdul Fatoma).
Condemnation of Fatoma’s arrest has been fierce. Presidential hopeful Alie Kabba said this:
“There is no denying the fact that our country is moving through one of its most turbulent political periods.
“With a government that is singularly focused on prolonging its own lifespan by any means possible, while the main opposition party is sadly locked up in petty personality squabbles, our national institutions are disintegrating all around us and leaving the people unprotected, bewildered and disappointed.
“The arrest and detention of Abdul M. Fatoma, Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Human Rights and Development Internatiomal (CHRDI) yesterday at the Central Investigations Department in Freetown is another cause for alarm.
“Arresting Abdul Fatoma will not succeed in sweeping aside the many disturbing questions about transparency and corruption raised by his organisation.
“The outright consternation and the current outflow of negative emotions towards parliament is symptomatic of the general frustration experienced by the citizenry, who are increasingly feeling powerless in the face of institutions that were established to promote the interests of the people.
“Arbitrary arrests and detention of human right activists and perceived political opponents, under any pretext, is bound to have an unsettling effect on an increasingly volatile political environment. (Photo: Presidential hopeful – Alie Kabba).
“No one is suggesting that anyone should be seen as being above the law. But what I would like to insist on here is that any alleged breach of the law needs to be investigated and prosecuted in line with the law itself.
“In a democracy, neither the Executive nor Parliament should abrogate the role and functions of the Judiciary.
“Parliamentarians should not place themselves above questioning by the people they represent, especially where their conduct may be perceived as unaccountable, confusing or compromising.
“I sincerely believe that there are still many good men and women in our parliament who may find themselves hampered by the prevailing circumstances. Now is one such time for those good men and women to stand up for what is right and strongly speak out against what is wrong! The arrest and detention of Abdul Fatoma is wrong on all grounds.
“Although Abdul Fatoma has been granted bail today, I call for an end to the continuous intimidation of citizens who dare to question those in power.”