Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 April 2018:
The parliament of Sierra Leone was to have been opened with pomp and pageantry today Tuesday, 24 April 2018, for the swearing of newly elected MPs and the election of a new Speaker of the House.
Instead, there were dramatic scenes of chaos, as both the ruling SLPP party and the main opposition APC brought parliament to a standstill, after much confusion and suspense about whether parliament was indeed going to be opened today.
Today’s chaos, which marked the beginning of a bitter political struggle for the control of Sierra Leone’s affairs – despite the SLPP winning the presidential election last month, started last night when the current speaker of Parliament – Sheku S.B. Dumbuya, an APC party grandee, issued a public statement postponing today’s opening of parliament until further notice.
This statement was quickly followed by a contradictory public statement – this time issued by the new Clerk of Parliament – Paran Tarawally, who was last week appointed by the SLPP president Maada Bio. He informed MPs and the public that the current speaker of parliament’s statement postponing the opening of parliament was of no effect and must be ignored.
What is at stake is the decision as to who will become the new speaker of parliament. This is important because according to the Constitution of Sierra Leone, the Speaker of Parliament will act in the absence of both the president and the vice president.
The possibility of having a Speaker of Parliament belonging to the opposition APC deputising as president for the ruling SLPP is anathema to the principles of good governance and constitutional stewardship. It simply does not make sense.
According to the Constitution, the election of Speaker of Parliament is by a two-thirds majority of members of parliament, which currently is made up of APC 68, SLPP 49, C4C 8, NGC 4, Paramount Chiefs 14, and Independents 3.
In this political game of numbers to control the affairs of parliament – the legislature, the ruling SLPP is going to find it very difficult, as it failed to secure a parliamentary majority at last month’s elections.
The SLPP are now relying on the High Court petitions that they won yesterday, which debars fourteen MPs belonging to the main opposition APC from taking their seats in parliament, effectively reducing the APC majority to 54.
In response to the High Court petitions, the opposition APC Secretary General – Osman F. Yansaneh said: “The All Peoples Congress hereby informs the General Public and APC Supporters in Particular of the dangerous attempt by the SLPP and certain state functionaries to thwart the will of the people through frivolous injunctions against APC Members of Parliament.
“These are actions stage-managed to prevent our Members of Parliament from participating in the election of the Speaker of Parliament, and by default make way for a pliant SLPP Speaker to be imposed on the country and a parliament where the SLPP has only 49 of the 146 MPs.
“This means that 97 members of parliament do not belong to the SLPP. The SLPP applied for injunctions against 16 of our duly elected MPs in the Western Area and five in the North…….”
It was the High Court injunction against the opposition APC that triggered the indefinite postponement of today’s parliamentary opening ceremony by the current APC elected Speaker, and the counter statement by the SLPP appointed Clerk of Parliament – calling on all MPs to ignore the Speaker’s order and to report to parliament this morning.
Reporting to parliament his morning they did. Many MPs arrived as early as 9am, though the opening ceremony was not due until 10.30am as ordered by the SLPP appointed Clerk of Parliament – Paran Tarawally.
But after waiting for over four hours for the outgoing Speaker Dumbuya and the Clerk – Paran Tarawally to arrive amidst chaos and dramatic scenes of abuse being yelled across the aisle by some of the opposition APC and SLPP MPs, the head of the government business in parliament – Sidi Tunis, unofficially called on all the MPs present to go home as the opening ceremony will now take place tomorrow, 25 April 2018.
So, was the current outgoing Speaker constitutionally right to postpone today’s opening of parliament? And does president Maada Bio have the power to authorise his newly appointed Clerk of Parliament to order the opening of parliament today against the wishes of the outgoing Speaker?
The answers to these burning questions are open to interpretation of the relevant sections of the Constitution of Sierra Leone. And the interpretations depend on who you ask and their political colour.
This is what Francis Ben Kaifala – a legal luminary of the ruling SLPP says: “Section 84 (1) of the Constitution states who summons the first session of Parliament. It states as follows: ‘Each session in parliament shall be held in such place within Sierra Leone and shall commence at such time as THE PRESIDENT may by Proclamation appoint’.
“IT is the PRESIDENT and NOT the SPEAKER who can summon Parliament. Similarly, notices ought to be done by the CLERK OF PARLIAMENT who by Section 82(1) is the administrative Head of Parliament. The Speaker Presides in Parliament but cannot sign or circulate public notices.
“The Speaker of the Dissolved Parliament remains Speaker UNTIL the first sitting of Parliament is called to session by Section 79 (1)(c) of the Constitution. His role ends upon the start of that first meeting. He cannot even preside over the installation of new MP’s which is within the purview of the Clerk of Parliament.”
This is what the presidential running mate of Sam Sumana’s C4C – David B. Conteh says about the crisis: : “The speaker of parliament the S.B.B. Dumbuya has postponed until further notice the commencement of the first meeting of the 5th Parliament of the 2nd Republic, citing the current confused situation which has resulted in a state of uncertainty and unrest among many unsworn members of parliament scheduled to take place on Tuesday the 24th April 2018.
“The new Clerk of Parliament Paran Umar Tarawally has countered in a press release that he’ll go by the earlier instruction by the president to convene the parliament, pursuant to Section 86 (1) of the Constitution which reads:…’the president may at any time summon a meeting of parliament’.
“While it is partially true in what has been quoted as the relevant section of the constitution by the new Clerk of Parliament, it should be noted it applies only in a state of emergency which allows the president to summon a meeting of parliament and in this case that parliament will be the one preceding this one.
“As at now, until the current members are sworn in, the president can only summon the old or former parliament if a state of emergency exists. Since a state of emergency has not been declared, neither the president nor the clerk can summon a parliament that has not been properly constituted or sworn in to office, if the speaker who is the head of the legislature does not see it fit to do so.
“The president is also a member of parliament, but not one that sits in sessions of parliament. He is the head of the executive branch. The chief justice is the head of the judiciary. All three branches are separate but equal in the eyes of the law.
“The clerk of parliament assumes the role of a permanent secretary as it obtains in any ministry. Only in a military rule or dictatorship do you have orders coming from the executive, ruling by decree or fiat.
“It’s going to be an interesting 5 years of constitutional crisis of a magnitude that voters never envisioned; and are seeing the beginning of what might be the norm, especially in the absence of a coalition government .
“We are heading for a standstill and a war of nerves in protecting one’s turf as prescribed by the constitution. We are waiting for service to the nation.
“This is my two cents worth of contribution and I think the speaker of parliament as head of parliament and being third in command in the governing structure, in the absence of the president and vice president is right on this one. You be the judge.”
What do you think, as we wait to see whether parliament will be opened tomorrow for business? You can send your comments to the Sierra Leone Telegraph.