Mohamed Kunowah Kiellow
The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 October 2013
In an article published in August 2010, I wrote that Ernest Bai Koroma “has the potential of becoming a ‘constitutional’ dictator”.
In that article I defined a constitutional dictator as a person who cleverly uses constitutional and democratic means to attain power.
But while in power, he appoints ‘not so smart’ legal gurus, who are giving him distorted interpretations of the constitution, in order to justify his unconstitutional actions, thereby forcing the opposition into parliamentary procedural oblivion.
Three years on, we have started to see the true colours of our president as he starts to exhibit his dictatorial traits.
Last week the Government issued a press release, condemning the country’s civil society for ‘issuing ultimatums’. In the press release, the government said that:
It “wants to make it abundantly clear that the programmes and projects that are the subject of these ultimatums are government initiatives that were designed in response to the needs of the people of this country, and are being implemented in their favour. Therefore, no single organisation or group of organisations can pretend to be seeking the interest of the people more than the elected government which has initiated and is implementing these programmes”.
The government’s issuing of a press release condemning CSOs for giving it ultimatums is a blot on the image of the country’s budding democracy. It is a slap in the face of democracy and a kick in the teeth of the people’s constitutional rights.
The president considers civil society as mere foreign invaders who are trying to overthrow its government by issuing ultimatums.
Who are in these CSOs? Are they not Sierra Leoneans? Did they not vote? They did not play a role in electing EBK and the MPs?
If they are Sierra Leoneans, don’t they have the constitutional right to check the government if it doesn’t do what it promised to do, or when the lives of the dormant majority are at stake because of the government’s ineptitude and ineffectiveness?
Of course, the CSO members are Sierra Leoneans who have every right to question the government on areas that are affecting ninety-nine percent of Sierra Leoneans.
As an opposition leader, Ernest Koroma made perfect use of the civil society in order to win power and embarrass the previous government. This action by the then APC opposition caused public consternation to the extent that Sierra Leoneans lost confidence in the SLPP-led government.
As a result the ruling SLPP lost the 2007 elections. So why all the fuss now over CSOs giving the government ultimatums?
Is the government afraid that it will suffer similar fate experienced by the SLPP?
By law, it is the country’s parliament that should do this work. However, if our parliament is dormant and the opposition rendered ineffective, should the CSO shirk its responsibility as the fourth organ of state?
In a country where the people are left at the mercy of a government that does not seek their interest, other interest groups must step in to pressure the government so that it can honour its promises.
By virtue of Section 5 (1) of the Constitution, “The Republic of Sierra Leone shall be a State based on the principles of Freedom, Democracy and Justice.” Secondly: “It is accordingly declared that; a. “sovereignty belongs to the people of Sierra Leone from whom Government through this Constitution derives all its powers, authority and legitimacy.”
Now, according to the Constitution, the government is our servant and we are its master. That press release is therefore usurping our rights as master over their power, authority and legitimacy.
A servant cannot condemn its master if he is scolded for not cleaning the house properly. So, members of CSOs, who themselves are citizens of Sierra Leone are exercising their constitutional rights in accordance with Section 5 of the constitution.
They have all the right and freedom to monitor, evaluate and criticize the government.
Moreover, they have the right to give the government ultimatums if it fails to make good on its promises.
The issuing of ultimatum to a poor-performing government is made in order to pressure the government to perform in the interest of the people of Sierra Leone.
After all, CSOs are pressure groups who work in the interest of the silent majority poor, in a country where the opposition is there to be seen and not to be heard.
The government should retract the press release and apologise for trampling on the toes of its masters.
I also advise that in the future the government should seek legal advice from the Attorney General before issuing such a press release in a country where the constitution stipulates that ‘The Republic of Sierra Leone shall be a State based on the principles of Freedom, Democracy and Justice.’
The author is Dutch-Sierra Leonean human rights Lawyer. He is the Director of Human Rights and Democracy Alert (HuRiDA).