Conditions for proportional representation do not exist – says leader of the opposition in Sierra Leone’s parliament Chernor Bah

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 October 2022:

As President Bio of Sierra Leone and his head of the country’s electoral body face a barrage of criticisms and accusation of usurping the Constitution to usher in District block proportional representation ahead of the 2023 elections, the leader of the opposition parties in parliament – Chernor Maju Bah, has today added his voice to what is fast becoming an untenable situation for President Bio and the Chief Electoral Commissioner whose credibility is now zero.

Writing in a press statement published today, this is what Chernor Maju Bah said:

I have read with consternation a Press Release dated 21 October 2022, issued by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL), in which it is stated that the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Julius Maada Bio, has directed the ECSL to conduct next year’s multi-tier elections using the District Block and Proportional Representation (PR) system. This is a serious constitutional breach that will significantly reverse the gains we have made in strengthening democracy in post-war Sierra Leone.

When this idea of using the PR system was initially introduced in Parliament in the Public Elections Bill 2022, it was heavily criticised and rejected by Members of Parliament, leading to its eventual withdrawal.

Amongst members of the public, the civil society and the media, the proposed PR system also generated considerable controversy, given its potential to limit the participation of citizens in the country’s democratic process.

It is therefore disappointing that after its rejection by Parliament, the executive would still give directives for this system to be imposed on the people of Sierra Leone. It is even more disturbing that such a change of the electoral system is being attempted on the eve of the multi-tier elections. Using the PR system in place of the constituency system would amount to taking away the rights of the people to choose their representatives directly and hand that power over to political parties.

While I acknowledge that the Constitution of Sierra Leone (Amendment) Act, 2001 Section 38A of the 1991 Constitution, grants ‘THE PRESIDENT discretionary powers to consult with the Electoral Commission and direct them, to conduct elections on the basis of the ‘EXISTING DISTRICTS’ in a manner to be known as the district block representation system instead of constituencies, the same amendment [Section 38A. (1)] specifies the condition precedent to the exercise of such discretion and directive:

S. 38A (1): – “Where under any law for the time being in force, a date for a general election of Members of Parliament has been appointed but constituencies have not been established in accordance with subsection (3) of section 38 for the purposes of such election, …….”

Inarguably, the condition precedent to the exercise of such Presidential discretion is non-existent. As it is, constituencies already exist and by Section 38 subsection (4) of the 1991 Constitution, the Electoral Commission SHALL only review such constituencies at intervals of NOT LESS THAN FIVE YEARS and NOT MORE THAN SEVEN YEARS. It is still less than five years since the present constituencies were established, taking into consideration Section 38 subsection (5) of the said Constitution:

S. 38 (5) – “Where the boundaries of any constituency are altered in accordance with the provisions of this section, that alteration shall come into effect upon the next dissolution of Parliament, after the alteration has been approved by Parliament.”

Therefore, it is shocking that the ECSL has, without consideration of our laws and based on the dictates of the Executive, decided to switch to a PR system.

Even more shocking, the ECSL has gone further to state that it will also conduct the local council elections on a District Block/Proportional Representation System. These pronouncements by our Electoral Commission and its pandering to the whims and caprices of the Executive have the tendency to undermine the independence and credibility of the ECSL.

In view of the above reasons, and for the protection of the supremacy of our Constitution, I call on His Excellency the President, to reverse his directive to the ECSL. The primary right of the people of Sierra Leone to elect their Parliamentary representatives is through constituency- based elections, as enshrined in the Constitution.

I already know that the amendment of the Constitution then, which allows for such exercise of discretion by the President, was necessitated by the prevalence of a civil war in Sierra Leone, and the impossibility of establishing constituencies across the Country.

Circumstances have since changed, the country is no longer at war, nor is any part of the country inaccessible. It is also important to note that after the end of the civil war, the then President immediately reverted to the Constituency Based Elections system in 2007, as it promotes participation and democratic good governance.

Tied to the above, constituencies already exist across the country, and we have held three successive successful general elections using the constitutionally prescribed Constituency system. It would therefore be illogical, unprecedented and unconstitutional to revert to a PR system whose introduction was necessitated by the conditions of a raging war in the country.

I would like to assure the public that should we sense a desire to not reverse this decision, we will use all legal remedies to ensure that the rights of the people of Sierra Leone are not denied them, and that provisions of the Constitution are upheld.

Signed: Chernor Maju Bah, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament

9 Comments

  1. Mr Med Sillah with all due respect , I respect your opinion ,but on this point I disagree with you about your assertion that only legal experts have the knowledge to interpret our constitution .And for me this have been the fundamental mistakes that we Sierra Leoneans and Africans in general have got it wrong .When it comes to our constitution , it is the rule book that we as a nation agreed to be guided with and govern with .Your rights , the rights of individuals with in the state, when to call elections , who is qualified to put themselves forward for public office , the way we conduct our election and how we determine the out comes of those election , the respect of rule of law , free speech, the right to peaceful assembly , the right to life and protection of property , the powers of the executive , President ,the legislative , Parliament, and judiciary , the right to free press , the protection of arbitrary arrest from the state , the right of fair trial by jury by your own peers and many more , and one is innocent until proven guilty ,are all written and forms part of our constitution arrangements which we all agreed to be govern with .

    I am not suggesting I am a constitutional expert , but I have always have an interest on the way our country is govern .Iam not suggesting Sierra leoneans who are not students of politics or even if they happens to be students of politics to cram or keep a copy of our constitution , l the Bible next to their bed , but it is the right of every citizen to know their Consitutional right .American citizens educated or not educated, Rich ,or living in a “GETTO ” knows their constitutional rights by the back of their hands .From the right to Free speech , to abortion rights , to gun ownership , any average American you stop randomly in the streets in any corner of America will tell you about their constitutional rights. It will do our country good if the police, the military , politicians ,public servants and yes us the ordinary Sierra Leoeans citizens knows our fundamental rights as is written in our constitution. Even African Parents living in western societies find it hard to reconcile in their brains the way they are brought up in their villages, you are seen not to be heard to the way their western born children are brought up .Because those children knows their rights .So if the police knew the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly as embedded in our constitution , it will have made a world of difference with the August 10th cost of living demonstration .But because the citizens that came out to demonstrate were not aware aware of their rights and responsibilities and the Sierra Leone police don’t know their powers how to police such demonstrations in peaceful manner , it was like the blind leading the blind , which unfortunately led to the deaths .

    Our mistake has always been we trust in politicians and experts .And sometimes they don’t often get it right .And in the case of Bio and his government they pick and choose that part of the Constitution that fits their agendas .And it is always the case they will find qualified constitutional expert to confirm their own interpretation of the constitutional arrangements of our country .I have always said the more we are aware of our rights the better for us to establish a peaceful and harmonious society where every citizens knows their rights and duties towards the State .Sometimes is not always the case the state is the bad guy , but is individual citizens committing crimes against the state .To expand on that , there are laws against corruption .And is written in black and white in our 1991 Sierra Leone constitution .So if everyone obey those laws , our country will be in a better. In other ,words we don’t need constitutional experts to tell us corruption is against the laws of Sierra Leone.

  2. What I find interesting is when lawyers and others try to interprete the meaning of constitutional provisions when they have no authority to do so. Authoritative interpretation of the Sierra Leone constitution should be left with the competent authority in this case the supreme Court. The supreme Court justices are very well paid and should be kept busy. Instead we chose to have public debates that are not helpful
    Being a lawyer does not qualify you to authoritatively interprete constitutional provisions in actual fact your opinions are no better than lay people as far as the constitution is concerned.
    The issue of poor legal advice is something for another day which is imaking a mockery of our democracy.

  3. The current Elections Commission Of Sierra Leone (ECSL) must continue to perform their constitutional duties as the then National Elections Commission (NEC) did when the APC was in governance. The link below shows that Chernor Bah continues to speak from both sides of his mouth -https://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/sierra-leone-parliament-edges-towards-postponement-of-presidential-and-general-elections/

  4. This Proportional Representation (PR) system will definitely eliminate the problems that the APC party created 8 months before the 2017 elections, which gave them extra 20 seats in parliament with only 1% difference from the then opposition SLPP party. Fortunately, the SLPP respected the constitution and followed the processes and procedures of NEC. I hope and pray that the “ Tolongbo and Munku” section of the APC will allow peace to reign this time around after their August 10th insurrection. The link below proves that the PR system will make the electorate process a level playing field for all political parties to be fully represented in parliament next year: https://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/legal-proposals-aimed-at-changing-the-electoral-boundaries-in-sierra-leone-laid-before-parliament/

  5. To use a football analogy, moving the goal post because you are two neil down when you are expected to win the match ,or was confident to win the match is not a sign that you are confident to win the match. Once again Bio have shown his lack of democratic credentials .If the system is not broken why bother to fix it . Proportional representations (PR) is mostly used in countries like Germany and for the US House of representative. And is not always perfect reflection of peoples vote .Democarcy is not pefect but it is the closest representative system of government that express the will of the electorate .Proportional representation is a form where elected representatives are allocated not by population but by the amount of vote casts for parties by groups or subgroups of people .So far the first past to post have served us well .The case for single transferable vote system , a form of proportional representation was made by John Stuart Mill in his 1861 essay :Consideration on Representative government .”In a representative body actually deliberating , the minority must of course be overuled :and in an equal democacy , the majority of the people, through their representative will outvote and prevail over minority and their representative .But does that follow the minority should have no representative at all? It is necessary that the minority should not be heard ?Nothing but habit and old association can reconcile any reasonable being to the needless injustice .In reality equal democarcy ,every one section would be represented , not disproportionately , but proportionately “Even John Stuart Mill ,that advances this theory , of PR representation ,caution it use for party political purposes. If it is done in good faith then minorities parties that have never secured position of power in a government is their best hope to be part of a grande coalition government .Italy and Isreal are good example where multiple political parties holds a dominant control of the Counyry’s political fortunes .The trouble with Bio’s proposals no one voted for these changes .It was certainly not in the SLPP manifesto on which he stood on and was voted by the Sierra Leonean voting public .To try and conceived or smuggle these purpose ideas with the help of the inept Sierra Leone National eletorial commission through the back door , and once again ignoring our constitution , amounts to undermining the very concept the way we elect our house of representatives .It will create more chaos , confusion and quiet rightly doing all the wrong things for the wrong reasons .We should focus more on how to address the economic challenges facing the country than start an other political cisises .Bio’s thrives in Chaos .Once again he have lived up to his reputation .The Commander in chief of political Chao

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