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.”

One comment

  • Abdul R. Kabia

    The attempt to silence pro human rights and good governance advocates with intimidation tactics by the established political class in parliament, for inquiring into malpractices committed by parliamentarians and public authorities cannot scare away those who really care about the country’s progress and well-being of the citizens.

    It is a responsibility to civil society leaders to question and hold accountable the people’s political representatives, for suspected irregularities in the discharge of their duties.

    The arrest and detention of Mr. Fatoma for taking strong stance in defense of good governance, demanding accountability of public authorities and representatives of the people in parliament, to clarify the way they spend taxpayers’ and donors’ monies was a flagrant abuse of power and disregard of his legitimate right as a citizen and civil society leader to fulfill his duty.

    Until government address the reports of the state accountant general, on the misappropriated ebola funds and other cases in good faith, with its consequences, the citizens wouldn’t stop demanding the alleged embezzlers to face justice.

    Parliamentarians and government should engage in solving problems that most concern the citizens, instead of going on witch hunt against civil society leaders and attacking freedom of expression for fear of losing power. The people feel insecure with this government for their livelihood and social well-being.

    The government has proved incapable of putting in place sound policies conducive to the economic well-being of the society.

    If government’s performance is on average satisfactory whose result is felt by the citizens, there will be no sort of social media propaganda that would tarnish its good name. So, freedom of expression should be given a chance where administrative policy shortfalls are highlighted with urge to redress them adequately.

    A decade is on the verge and the people are yet to see the result of the business management approach promised by President Ernest Koroma to run his government. In short, there has been no substantial progress, in terms of economic and social transformation in the country.

    Generally, things have worsened than ten years ago, the people are much poorer today than they were and, scarcely bear any hope for improvement in the near future with this government.

    Mismanagement and corrupt practices by government authorities and those responsible for service delivery to the citizenry escape control, so, civil society organizations should play a more proactive role in educating and sensitizing the populace on their democratic rights to question and demand accountability from their political representatives, on matters that concern them, observing the tenants of the rule of law.

    Government should facilitate the right to information, for the citizenry to monitor community programs and services delivery, allow community appraisal based on a result oriented performance of their representatives. Government must make public budget allocations and project specifications and also schedule project completion deadline.

    If the government has goodwill to tackle corruption in public offices, this is one effective way to empower the citizens to join the fight against corruption at all levels.

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