Political interference in Sierra Leone Supreme Court ruling?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 September 2015

sam sumana and president koroma at war

There was drama in the corridors of Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court in Freetown yesterday, after the marathon reading of judgement by the five Supreme Court Judges, in the constitutional case involving the former vice president Sam Sumana and president Koroma.

And it is not yet over. The Judges continue today to read out their full judgement.

But sceptics say that today’s judgement is purely academic. President Koroma will be told by all five Judges that he has the supreme power to sack the elected vice president.

Background to the case 

On the 17th of March 2015, president Koroma announced in a statement read out on national television, the sacking of vice president Sam Sumana from the office of vice presidency – with immediate effect.

The president’s decision to summarily dismiss the country’s vice president without recourse to parliament, raised serious questions of constitutionality and legal due process.

But his lawyers have argued that he has ‘supreme executive powers’ to sack the vice president, though critics say that these are imaginary powers, he has falsely arrogated to himself.

So what does the country’s constitution says?

The constitution of Sierra Leone clearly states that ONLY parliament has the power to impeach or sack the vice president.

But in justification of his decision to sack the vice president with immediate effect, this is what president Koroma told the people of Sierra Leone:

“On the 6th day of March 2015, the National advisory Committee (NAC) of the All Peoples Congress (APC) took a decision to expel Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana from the APC, and by letter dated 6th day of March 2015, Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana was duly expelled from the APC.

“As president of the Republic of Sierra Leone and guardian of the constitution of Sierra Leone, pursuant to Section 40(3) of the constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991, I have taken note of the decision of the APC.

“The public will recall, and I have also taken note of the fact that on Saturday, march 14, 2015, Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana sought asylum from a foreign embassy, demonstrating a willingness to abandon his duties and office as vice president of our beloved Republic.

“And whereas Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana is no longer a member of a political party in Sierra Leone and therefore does not have the continuous requirement to hold office as vice president of the republic  of Sierra Leone, as provided for in section 41(b) of the constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991, I hereby relieve Alhaji Samuel Sam Sumana of the duties and from the office of the vice president of Sierra Leone with immediate effect, pursuant to my supreme  executive authority as president of the republic of Sierra Leone as enshrined in Section 40(1) of the said constitution of Sierra Leone.

“I am in consultation with the leadership of the APC, the party under whose ticket I was elected president, in relation to the appointment of another person as vice president.

“I shall appoint and announce the name of the vice president of Sierra Leone shortly, pursuant to Section 54(5) of the constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991.”

President Koroma, his Attorney General, his lawyers and ruling APC party executives, are convinced of the legitimacy of the controversial decision to set aside the provisions enshrined in the country’s constitution, which clearly dictates the circumstances and procedure for relieving the vice president of his duties.

The main point of their argument rests on their very wide interpretation of Section 41(b) of the country’s constitution, that following his expulsion from the ruling party, Sam Sumana ceased to enjoy continuity of tenure of vice presidential office, and hence automatically lost his right to stay in that office.

This is what Section 41(b) says: “No person shall be qualified for election as President unless he a member of a political party”.

Does the president’s argument safely meet the requirements of Section 41(b)? Does this section not solely relates to qualification for election?

Given that the country’s constitution does not make provision for the principle of continuity of membership of the ruling party, in order to continue to serve as the elected vice president, why has the Supreme Court bought into such lame argument?

The constitution of Sierra Leone is unequivocal as to what to do in circumstances where the vice president is found to be no longer fit for office, due to misconduct.

Section 54(8) says that: “The provisions of sections 50 and 51 of this Constitution, relating to the removal from office of the President, shall apply to the removal from office of the Vice-President.”

And if vice president Sam Sumana had committed an act or omission that was deemed tantamount to gross misconduct – as the president has been trying to convince the people of Sierra Leone in believing, then why did the president refuse to use Section 49(1) of the constitution to get rid of the vice president?

Why has he relied instead on the whims and caprices of the Supreme Court Judges to rubber stamp his appallingly poor judgement?

Section 49(1) of the constitution, says that: “The office of vice president shall become vacant where the incumbent ceases to hold that office in pursuance of section 51 of this Constitution” – (i.e. gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office).

This provision must apply where there is gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, and 50% of parliamentarians have signed and handed a petition to the speaker of parliament for the vice president’s impeachment.

Was the president afraid of the fact that he no longer has the majority in parliament needed to support his call for a vote of no confidence by parliamentarians?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph had learnt in March, that after weeks of rancour and acrimony involving the parliamentary members of the ruling APC party and the party executives, over the expulsion of the vice president from the party, the president was unable to get the majority of his APC parliamentarians to sign a petition for the impeachment of the vice president.

And, with some of his parliamentarians and the opposition parties supporting the vice president and threatening an open rebellion in parliament, should a motion for impeachment be brought before them, president Koroma decided on the 17th of March to personally stick the knife into his vice president.

President Koroma’s failure to follow constitutional due process in relieving the vice president of his duties is glaringly obvious. But the Supreme Court Judges think otherwise.

If president Koroma was confident of the veracity and reliability of the charges made against the vice president by the party’s NAC and their reasons for expelling him from the party in the first place, Koroma should have pursued an impeachment order in accordance with Section 51 of the country’s constitution.

Poor tax payers hard earned cash has been used by the president to fight his court case, rather than pursue that which is honourable and constitutional.

Clearly, any petition for impeachment by a majority in parliament must have been supported by the evidence of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his vice presidential office.

And this body of evidence, president Koroma and his party executives had found extremely difficult to submit to their parliamentarians, and hence his decision to push the vice president under the bus himself.

vice president Sam Sumana has been unconstitutionally removed from power, after a State House coup d’état that began after the 2012 elections.

And from all accounts, it seems the Supreme Court Judges have today helped the Koroma government to once again get away with injustice and impunity.

Sam Sumana was thrown under the bus, quite simply and callously by president Koroma, so as to clear the field for the ruling party’s leadership contest in 2016. But it need not have happened this way.

Have justice, the rule of law and more importantly – ruling by the law, been seen today to have taken precedence over political imperatives in Sierra Leone? sadly not.

Lawyers for the sacked vice president have argued in the Supreme Court that his sacking was unconstitutional and unlawful.

But the president says that he sacked his vice president because he had been thrown out of the ruling party, and therefore cannot continue to serve as vice president.

The Supreme Court Judges are all expected to sing from the same hymn sheet in delivering their final judgement today.

Yesterday, the Acting Chief Justice ruled that president Koroma has the power to sack the vice president without recourse to parliament, and that he had acted lawfully by sacking Sam Sumana.

No doubt, tomorrow, the very same five Supreme Court Judges will stick their necks out and tell the people of Sierra Leone that, president Ernest Bai Koroma has the right to stand for presidential office for another term in 2018.

Mark my words – we live in strange times.

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