Dr. Yumkella speaks about Sierra Leone’s judiciary as parliament approves Appeals Court Judges

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 June 2020:

Democracy was at work in Sierra Leone’s parliament yesterday, when the main opposition APC party, led by  Honourable Chernoh Ramadan Maju Bah voted against two of the eight presidential nominees put forward by president Julius Maada Bio for MPs approval.

The two nominees opposed by the APC members of parliament were – Justices Komba Kamanda and Alhaji Momojah Stevens.

According to the opposition APC, both Justices currently serving at the High Court are highly instrumental in helping the ruling SLPP in what the APC regard as the continuous abuse of the constitution and judiciary powers by the SLPP government.

One APC MP said to the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “Why should we approve them? Afterall, Justice Komba  Kamanda is the infamous judge who removed ten of our elected APC MPs from their parliamentary seats and replaced them with unelected SLPP MPs. To this day we have not received justice, despite our appeal to the courts, for over two years now.  Justice Alhaji Momojah Stevens is of course the High Court Judge who is presently presiding over the alleged treason charges brought by this government against our former APC minister of defence and internal affairs – Retired Major Palo Conteh. We will not approve those two.”

But with a slight parliamentary majority wielded by the ruling SLPP, other minority opposition parties – C4C, NGC, Independent MPs and Paramount Chief Members of Parliament voted to approve the two Judges, along with the following six presidential nominees:

Sheikh Alhaji Yayah Sesay-Deputy Bank Governor 2, Bank of Sierra Leone; Mrs. Hawah Humu Wurie-Member, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency; Ms. Constance Bockarie-Member, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency; Mrs. Maude Regina Peacock-Member, Board of Directors, Sierra Leone Local Content Agency; Major General Sulley Ibrahim Sesay-Chief of Defence Staff; Hon. Justice Fatmata Bintu Alhadi-Justice of the Court of Appeal.

After their approval, the Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu called on the nominees to deliver on their respective appointments by President Julius Maada Bio for the advancement and development of the country. He encouraged them to execute their duties in earnest by upholding the confidence reposed in them by the President and Parliament.

But Honourable Dr. Kandeh Yumkella –  Parliamentary leader of the NGC and MP for Constituency 062 in the Samu Chiefdom, Kambia District, had this to say:

“Mr. Speaker, today we appoint another set of judges who are not only crucial to ensure impartial, efficient, fair, and transparent justice to our citizens but are also the bedrock of democracy and sustainable development.

The judicial system is central to respect for the rule of law and the protection of human rights. Listening to ‘Alusine’ (APC) and ‘Alhasan’ (SLPP), we realize that there has been significant miscarriage of justice in the past. This cycle must end.

Many of us are aware of the challenges that adversely affect the effective dispensation of fair and transparent administration of justice in our country. They include problem of access to justice, especially for groups such as poor people, children and women, the absence of both individual and institutional independence, judicial corruption, lack of adequate resources, huge backlogs of cases leading to long delays, inefficiency of staff, and the politicization of the judiciary. There still remains poor coordination of the justice sector institutions.

Our current situation can best be described using the words of the former Kenyan Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, who said in 2011: “We found an institution so frail in its structures; so thin on resources; so low on its confidence; so deficient in integrity; so weak in its public support that to have expected it to deliver justice was to be wildly optimistic. We found a judiciary that was designed to fail.”

In our 2018 party manifesto (page 55), we called for judicial reforms to protect human rights and promote the rule of law. Specifically, we stated that “Every Sierra Leonean shall have confidence that the country’s legal and judicial systems can support and protect them and that nobody is above law.”

We believe that there is an urgent need to reform our judiciary including by investing in the infrastructure, equipment, personnel, training, and management and restoring its financial independence by granting it self-accounting status. We must enforce respect for human rights and rule of law and ensure timely delivery of justice for every Sierra Leonean.

De-politization of the judiciary and protecting its independence and integrity is crucial. We can learn from best practices in other African countries that have similar problems with political interference in the courts.

For example, in Kenya, although the President appoints the Chief Justice, he or she is selected by the Judicial Service Commission following a competitive process involving a vacancy announcement, shortlisting of applicants and interviews and subject to the approval of the National Assembly. Kenya also set up an Office of the Judiciary Ombudsperson and strengthened Court Users’ Committees which opened lines of communication for citizens to register complaints, suggest changes, and receive responses.

Judicial appointment must be based on merit and not on discretion. There must be a formal process for evaluating judges who are seeking promotion.

We also need to reform our Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC). As has been pointed out almost all the members of the JLSC are appointed by the President in some way, either specifically to serve on the Commission, or to hold the public office that qualifies them automatically for membership on the Commission. In the words of one study, “the JLSC framework raises the risk that the ruling political party can dominate the pre-Parliamentary appointments process.”

Another important issue is whether the President should appoint the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a powerful office under section 66 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone. The DPP has the powers to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court in respect of any offences against the laws of Sierra Leone and the power to take over or discontinue any criminal proceedings.

Other justice sector institutions like the Sierra Leone Police and the Sierra Leone Correctional Services are also in dire need of reform to foster professionalism and to reduce executive interference in the functioning of these institutions.

Finally, my niece is in the gallery with other young people of the Child Advocacy Network to demonstrate their outrage of all child rape cases. We pray for baby Khadija Saccoh, and we pray that her family can cope with the tragedy and that justice will be done. We see the case of Khadija as symptomatic of a breakdown in morality in society and in the homes.

n spite of tough laws we passed in this parliament against sexual violence and the state of emergency declared last year, we see more and more heinous rape cases. Therefore, it should be clear that something more systemic, and maybe cultural, is thwarting our efforts to rid our society of this menace.

The NGC will support the effort of government, civil society, child rights groups, womens’ groups and others to rid our society of rape.”

11 Comments

  1. Dr Yomkella continues to demonstrate his deep and encompassing understanding of the maladies which have afflicted our nation. The symptoms and occurrence of these maladies go back decades. It would take unwavering leadership and courage to use the necessary medication to cure the maladies to set a new course for the nation.

    APC and SLPP have succeeded each other in office for almost sixty years; they have become an almost incurable disease; the most important treatment is opium to ease the pain. The opium is Dr KKY, who not only has an excellent grasp of our problems but revolutionary ideas to at least set them on the path to a solution. APC and SLPP like the scene as it is because it is consistently with their subliminal, sinister motives. They are very good in crafting slogans to win our votes; what they don’t tell us is the real meaning of the slogans. Earnest Koroma’s slogan of “running the country like a business” actually meant that all proceeds would end up in his and his gang’s pockets. Maada Bio’s “new direction” actually means all roads will lead to his office with the latest SUVs costing millions of dollars while doctors and nurses go unpaid while battling Covid 19.

    When the judiciary loses its independence in any country, that country is finished since those who interpret the law are always the last hope for individuals and institutions. At the moment KKY is the only hope we have to refocus our eyes on the road to success, where all our institutions are accorded their appropriate independence and expected to perform with impeccable professionalism.

  2. People have called many names, but I know that the Constitution of Sierra Leone has envisaged the Judiciary as an independent constitutional authority, free from political and executive interference in the matter of its functioning.  

  3. Nearly on every given occasion in the past 2 years, whenever citizens ask questions in regards to the continuous deterioration of the standard of living and the steep increases in prices of basic commodities in the nation, regime officials will waste no time in claiming the inheritance of a bankrupt economy. In light of this, can anyone rationalize the logic behind the rapid increases in political appointments with huge salaries allocations plus other benefits? I mean, where exactly is the fiscal discipline that delusional POAPA supporters from time to time bark about, if all the regime does is borrow money and utilize majority of those loans to compensate political appointed SLPP loyalists with an ever growing government wage bill? It makes no sense of whatsoever. With just over 2 years, our external debt has almost doubled, making these unpatriotic crooks looking silly in blaming the former regime of similar reckless and thieving behavior.

    Now in regards to KKY pointing out the much needed political and judiciary reforms, it is clear the current regime has no interest in doing so. As far as the POAPA alagbas are concerned, they are on top of the world at the moment, hence no amount of complaining and whining will convince them in making the tons of overdue reforms. All the judiciary and other political reforms written in their 2018 party manifesto are basically designed to scam our vulnerable citizens, none of them were meant to be implemented. What is certain however, all these bad policies being safeguarded by the regime, with subliminal guise to curtail political accountability and dissent, will still exist, when political fortune favors another political party. So, top regime officials will one day reap what they are sowing now.

  4. What can the APC tell the people about Justice Abdulai Charm, another high Court judge and magistrate?
    Their apportment was not based on any Political undertones. It was based on merits, trust and loyalty to the state.
    You never see these judges in political function. This is the new direction to transform the judiciary for the ordinary citizens to have justice.

  5. Am I right to say that we are having this debate on the confirmation of our fellow countrymen in parliament today, because of the way they mishandled the process in electing the speaker? Now, these two judges are the bad guys in the eyes of the APC. Will the career of these two judges come to an end if the APC comes to power? No Good.

    These two judges must listen to this sentence in the article – “Listening to ‘Alusine’ (APC) and ‘Alhasan’ (SLPP), we realise that there has been a significant miscarriage of justice in the past. This cycle must end. Have these two judges got the message loud and clear? God help our judiciary execute its decisions honestly and fairly.

  6. It is refreshing to have an adult in the parliamentary Chambers, in the form of Dr. Kandeh Yumkellah. As he rightly pointed out, we need our judiciary to be independent, fair, impartial and to interpret the laws of the land without any fear or favour. So finally the ordinary man and woman will have some faith in the system. When it comes to our judiciary, there has been a deficiency of trust for many decades. It is not getting better. Under the present climate, the stakes are too high. Surely, there must be a way out of this judicial quagmire our country finds itself in. The politicisation of this institution, is one of the most dangerous things that can happen.

    It undermines the rule of law and most importantly, the security of the state. The restoration of checks and balances between the three branches of government – the executive, legislative and the judiciary, should always operate independently, in order for true democracy to function. In the absence of this, there is receipt for disaster. Yes, the president as head of the executive branch, will appoint this judges, but it is the legislators that are elected by the people, that scrutinise and approve the appointments. The problem with president appointing the judges, they naturally think they owe the president a favour. Without, giving it much thought, I will think the same. This has being going on for decades. There should not be any political interplay. Take the politics out of the judiciary.

    The same way you do not expect the army and police to be in politics. Potential judges should be judged by their qualifications, not their tribal or party affiliations. If all these branches of government demonstrate to the people of Sierra Leone, that they are executing their duties without fear or favour, then we will say they have restored some semblance of trust in the way our country is run. The way things stand, I am afraid to say there is no trust. The whole thing is like a circus. As for the judiciary, the jury is still out.

  7. It is sad that in opposing Justice Komba Kamanda and Momoh Jah Stevens, the APC parliamentarians focused on the current cases the two judges had presided and are presiding over. No consideration was given to their previous works, qualifications and experiences. These judges did not advocate for the cases cited by the APC parliamentarians to be assigned to them. Justice Kamanda for example when he presided over the electoral petition cases found evidence of election malpractices which was not disputed by the defendants. His only crime in the eyes of the APC is that in passing judgement, he did not recommend for a rerun of the elections in the affected constituencies, but rather he followed the law of precedent, which unfortunately is what the common law system practice in Sierra Leone is about. And who set that precedent? Well a judge who the APC Minister of Justice and Attorney General assigned the 2012 electoral petition case to.

    Justice Kamanda as magistrate and later judge during president Koroma’s tenure presided over high profile cases, in which the outcomes were seen as favourable to the then APC government. He and Justice Stevens were nominated as justices by president koroma based on their performances as senior magistrates. The then opposition SLPP party did not opposed their nominations as the two were qualified, experienced and long serving magistrates.

    Are the APC parliamentarians expecting Justice Stevens to refuse to sit on the Parlo Conteh’s case, that was assigned to him by the Chief Justice? Is Judge Kamanda responsible for the non assignment of the APC petition or appeal cases? By their very opposition to the nomination of these two judges, the APC parliamentarians have politicised the judiciary. These two judges were darlings of the APC when they ruled favourably in the eyes of the APC, today; they are villains. This is nonsense.

  8. I understand the frustrations of the APC party, because the only way they will respect the decisions of the Judiciary is when the decision is in their favor, as was evidence when they won 6 out of 16 petitions against some SLPP parliamentary candidates. This includes the brother of the president at the constituency of the current APC minority leader in parliament. Inciting violence should not come from the legislative branch of government that drafted the law, that the judiciary only interpreted and made their judgments based on the evidence that they have.

    The whole world watched when the judiciary of the USA decided that former President George W. Bush won the election against former Vice President Al Gore, which was respected by all the branches of government. Even recently the whole world painfully watched the impeachment of President Trump, and all the branches respected the final decision without resorting to violence at the party offices. As legislators, the APC parliamentarians should learn to respect and uphold the law of the land and also respect the processes and procedures of the judiciary. Finally I hope and pray that the democratic process that has been displaced yesterday will not trigger another violence from the APC party.

  9. Devolution indeed. Great stuff and brilliant comments there by Mr Sallu Onesimus Williams. Constitutional reform on devolution and separation of powers, is the only way to prevent KONOEXIT and FREEXIT in the long run. Are they listening? God bless Mr Sallu Onesimus Williams.

  10. At times, one really wonders about the amount of relevance given to a 4-seat party leader in this medium – in Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella – who to a certain extent is part of the problem for a weak and dysfunctional parliament in the country. At times, it appears as if the NGC is the legitimate Opposition party in Parliament. Where is the APC party which had 68 seats (19 seats more than the ruling SLPP government) in the last elections? Something seems to be fundamentally wrong in the politics of the country. From day one of this parliament, about 2-years ago, it still ominously appears that the APC is the ruling party; and the rest of the other parties (SLPP, C4C, NGC, and Independent MPs) are in Opposition.

    Is Sierra Leone trying to enforce a situation that did not really materialise in the past electoral process? In other words, are the political elite and other institutions, including the media, still HOAXING the nation to believe that the ruling SLPP party really won the last elections, even though they are subconsciously hundred percent certain that it was all a fix; aided and abetted by international forces. If the political system is hell bent in disenfranchising the populace, then what is the point of conducting elections and running a parliament? Even when the present government is squandering the meagre resources of the country and hence not performing adequately towards it’s development, the notion is, ‘it is alright, as long as it is not the APC at the helm’. Something stinks badly … Cherinor Maju Bah, where are you?

  11. Until we have constitutional reform which must include devolution and separation of powers,there is no way we can move forward. I call on Yumkella to include this in his manifesto if he loves Salone and needs my vote.

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