Opposition SLPP leader in parliament must go

Elias Bangura

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 December 2013

Bernadette LahaiThe Opposition Sierra Leone People Party’s minority leader in Parliament should be kicked out of her position – with jackboots, if possible, even though the courts have issued an injunction making that unlikely.

Dr. Bernadette Lahai is good wine gone sour, and before it gets worse than that, the honourable Member of Parliament representing Constituency 13 in Kenema District, should be shown the exit door, for the sake of decency, and for the progress of Sierra Leone.

Because now, more than ever, the nation needs better service, both from the government and the opposition members of parliament. And the government’s MPs seem to be doing their part, while the opposition MPs are busy walking out on each other and stabbing each other’s back.

How, for Pete’s sake, can an able and highly qualified doctor in agriculture who is smart like paint, and clear like a bell in her speech, lose the following of colleague MPs who a year before unanimously voted her into the minority leadership position?

Is it a matter of character or one of principle or style of leadership?

Well, it may not be my business to know, but it is my business to request better service from the opposition members of parliament, while their term lasts as representatives of my compatriots who saw in them sincerity and voted them as their mouthpiece in Parliament.

It is not too much to ask, really – besides, they ought to justify their pay cheques with honest work, and their conscience, if they have any at all.

The question marks against these opposition MPs are so many, and you wonder where their interests lie – whether it is for personal gain, or is it their party’s policy to rob the nation of valid representation, or is it just sheer ineptitude?

And talking of their oversight roles, Parliament as a whole must buckle up. They must not only say it, but must be seen to be done – and they have the press gallery to help them let the nation see that they are doing it.

But this was not the case during last week’s scrutiny of the 2014 Budget by parliament.

ParliamentariansParliamentarians kicked the press out of the debate, by activating a standing order of ‘premature publication,’ whilst at the next breath saying: ‘but you can interview the committee chairpersons about what happened during their scrutiny of different MDAs, on how they spent their 2013 allocations.’

You wonder whether they know about the donor community’s scorning of this kind of behaviour by politicians, including the executive arm of government.

Ironically, the ministry of finance had spent millions of Leones in training the press gallery in reporting on the budget process, with the Clerk of Parliament being one of the trainers, only for the whole honourable House agreeing to shut out the press during such an important debate.

They hid behind a standing order they have not used in previous years. The press was regarded a part of the process, and performed so well that the whole House applauded the press gallery, albeit to the chagrin of those defaulting MDAs whose indiscretion with their allocation was duly exposed.

And, yes, in the midst of that decision to keep the press out, the opposition SLPP was sitting right there, like a lame duck – supporting the decision.

In fact, the Opposition Leader – Dr. Bernadette Lahai’s apparent dislike of the press gallery is world famous. She regards the press as inept, money-chasers, and lord knows what else.

Let’s agree we are all that, for argument sake; so why not you use the press – the people you call the fourth estate, to take your message back to the people who voted you into parliament?

And like I told the press gallery in my capacity as their President, that: ‘The excuse not to do well after all the training the press had received is getting thinner, if not already’.

Instead, we have a minority leader who struts about like a peacock saying she ought to be the leader, and everyone should agree, including the courts which have issued an injunction to that effect.

If you ask me, this minority leader should be taken out of parliament now. Give her a job if possible in agriculture or the fishing ministry; otherwise she is going to have a hard time henceforth in Parliament, with many of her colleagues not sleeping until she is kicked out.

And the press does not have any sympathy for her, because of her lack of tact and unchecked remarks.

But then, she is not all that bad – she is an asset, a precious and well polished pearl that has shone in many different dark corners, both here and abroad.

I like her – like I do Dr. Sylvia Blyden, with whom she shares smartness, braggadocio and wild temperament.

But like an English judge of the 17th century said at the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh; ‘Stars must fall when they trouble the sphere in which they inhabit.’ And like the Readers Digest also says, ‘Life is like that.’ True indeed, today’s villains can be tomorrow’s heroes, and vice versa.

Now isn’t this the parliament that is calling for the principles of separation of powers and for what is proper in governance?

That’s good, and talking about best practice, shouldn’t Parliament provide office space for the press gallery, just like other parliaments around the world and the continent have done, instead of ordering us to go and sit in the visitors’ area to call us up as and when it sees fit to do so?

Even State House now has a press unit, with all the relevant paraphernalia to do its work and which they are doing marvellously; whereas the parliamentary press gallery, in spite of all the constraints and ill equipment – plus negative behaviours from many MPs, are fighting day and night to do the same thing in trying to show the remainder of the nation that their representatives are up to the task. But we will continue to do our best.

Now, it grieved me sorely to see only 16 out of 42 opposition MPs in Parliament last Friday 20th December, 2013, when President Koroma opened the second session of the second republic – and the president while there was right to say the government cannot wait for them to bring development to the people.

President Koroma told parliamentarians last Friday, that there are several bills pending enactment by Parliament – a parliament that has an ineffective opposition who, like the soldiers that crucified Jesus Christ, are fighting or is it throwing dice for the minority chair position, forgetting about the primary reason of representing their constituents in a robust and effective way.

I don’t know how a divided house can go to war and expect to win, or they don’t know that the rest of the nation doesn’t want perpetuity of any party in governance in this country anymore, because the reality is that it led this nation to a ten year protracted war.

In truth, we want this government to be opposed in every responsible way possible, so that it can always be on its toes to do the right thing.

Another thing, isn’t this the parliament that has earned the nickname of ‘a rubber-stamp parliament’?

Can it for God’s sake, redeem itself from that inappropriate epithet and put its feet down and become an institution that means business, especially the opposition MPs who ought to have their say even if the government MPs have their way?

I am tired of sitting in parliament having nothing worthwhile to write except reporting about MPs visiting a wedding, a funeral, building a market or a bridge, and other irrelevant sundries, when their primary role is being carried out with sloppiness, or secretly as if parliament is a secret society in an age of ICT.

Praise and criticism, like the two wheels of a bicycle, should go hand in hand, which the opposition and the Press should use to keep any government in check.

Do you wonder whether that role is being carried out in an effective way? I wonder too.

Whatever one might say of the last parliament’s opposition MPs, and irrespective of their slapping each other and their several walk outs, they were a robust team, whom the government MPs and the government as a whole were unable to blow off the field, because they stood their ground on many an issue.

But this present opposition MPs, they are mostly rookies who are still learning the ropes from their older colleagues, who are today beset and hungry for power and position.

We don’t deserve this as a nation at all, and we are telling them it’s high time they come to the plate fully ready and prepared to work.

Given the relevance of time and the necessity of its role in a democratic society, Parliamentarians should come back in the New Year with renewed vigour regarding their task, and take in good faith the outgoing speaker’s continuous advice: ‘Don’t let your target be your host;’ and the Majority Leader’s constant refrain: ‘To thyself be true’.

And for Dr. Bernadette Lahai, I wonder why you are insisting on being the minority leader, if at all you know your worth.

But even so, you are not indispensable, although to my own estimation none of those who want your position can match your output or robustness.

Or maybe I am wrong, so can you kindly step aside and let them prove me and yourself wrong about their leadership qualities?

You have sung as lead vocalist many times both at home and abroad, and very marvellously one must admit. But can you step aside now and let another person sing? Time will tell who was right – whether you or they.

Abel StrongeWell, if you won’t listen to this ‘irresponsible and bega-bega journalist,’ then know it that they do mean to kick you out – ‘Aunty Bernie’, just as you all wanted to kick the Speaker – Justice Abel Stronge out.

You succeeded in doing so, with a rushed up bill, which showed your greed for position and not for best practice.

I want to see how the new speaker will perform, because for all one might say, the outgoing speaker was a man who ruled parliament as it ought to be ruled, although he was very magisterial, most times harsh. He stuck to the rules like the God of the Old Testament and he was very humourous.

Everyone, including the press gallery, has their anecdotes about him and he is one man who will not be forgotten so quickly.

And if you ask me, if the government can post him to represent us at the Court of St. James or to head the Judiciary, why, dear Jesus, that will be good use of a man whom Time has blessed with leadership qualities.

But for Dr. Bernadette Lahai, she must be kicked out now – with jackboots if possible.

John O BenjaminBut the choice to bow out honourably is still open, and she should have no bitterness about it. After all, her party has a history of kicking out its leaders – the past chairman of the SLPP party – John Oponjo Benjamin being one, who after all the dirty work of restoring the party after the 2007 defeat at the polls, was hounded out, plastering him with all sorts of vain adjectives. Pity.


About the author:

Elias Bangura is President of the Sierra Leone Parliamentary Press Gallery; an LLB II Student at Fourah Bay College, USL, and Author of Waiting To Be Rich; French Versus English; The Drummer, etc.