Honouring our honourable honourables – a sequel

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 July 2021:

This “honourable” debate has reared its ugly head again! The Speaker of Sierra Leone Parliament has weighed in anew on the debate and ruled that Cabinet Ministers should not go by the title of “Honourable”.

According to the Speaker, “honour” belongs only to Parliamentarians and the top tier of the judiciary. History keeps repeating itself.

Minister of Social Welfare in the government of President Koroma, Dr Sylvia Blyden and the Clerk of Parliament Honourable Ibrahim Sesay at that time, had a disagreement on this same issue during the last Parliament.

I wrote thus in an article with the same title: “My attention was drawn recently to a tiff between the Minister of Social Welfare Honourable Dr. Sylvia Blyden and the Clerk of Parliament Honourable Ibrahim Sesay over the use of the title “Honourable”. In her letter titled “Use of Honourable and flying of flag as symbols of Authority”, Dr Blyden challenged him to justify his assertion that it was “criminal” for a sitting Cabinet Minister to use the title Honourable in front of his/her name as well as it being “criminal” for a Cabinet Minister to have his/her official jeep fly the national flag. “If indeed those were your words, I will be very grateful if you could kindly cite me the exact law or legal statute that says a member of Cabinet exercising Executive Authority…… cannot fly the national flag……” Hon. Dr Blyden challenged him.”

But what is the reason for this fight over titles?

An article “SLPP Parliament, SLPP Ministers & the “Honourable”” in Awareness Times might give us a clue. It suggests that this may be a “needless slur on Ministers and a further sign of SLPP infighting with Parliamentarians at loggerheads with SLPP Ministers” and attributes to one commentator the following statement: “Back then under APC, it emerged as a denigration of certain presidential aspirants and other powerbrokers in the then Cabinet. It was a sure sign of serious infighting in the APC back then with APC MPs leading the charge to denigrate APC Ministers. That it is rearing its ugly head once again, and so needlessly, is just another sign of the serious nature of the infighting inside SLPP today. This time, it is SLPP MPs leading the charge to denigrate SLPP ministers,”.

But what is this thing about titles anyway?

Titles are thrown around everywhere. It is a surprise that anyone would take umbrage to titles in Sierra Leone. I have seen “servicemen”, “Doctor” or “Professor” – who have not even darkened the walls of a Secondary school. Titles get thrown on people as a sign of respect.

Frankly, one has heard so many people called “Honourable” that you can hardly fathom the rationale for this.

The Church also has its share of titles from Deacon to Reverend to Venerable Archdeacon to Right Reverend to Most Reverend etc. To the uninitiated these titles may seem confusing. These are however all “jazzy” titles and one wonders, since Christ actually sought people that he called “fishers of men” whether it would not have been more appropriate to title some of these people “Fisherman” or “Chief fisherman”. On second thoughts this may sound too demeaning to us worldly people! Come to think of it, Bishops are “Chief Shepherds”.

My only advice to our Parliamentarians is that to be fully deserving of the title “Honourable”, they should:

  • Find time to interact with their constituents at regular intervals – otherwise they will become “Former Honourables” at the next elections.
  • Ensure the real dictionary meaning of “Honourable” applies to them – “possessing or characterized by high principles”.
  • Resist the urge to exchange blows, push or shove each other in the well of Parliament; and
  • Not hesitate to call out acts of corruption, even where they are caused by their “honourable” brethren.

The Speaker in his wisdom (which has sometimes been mistakenly said to be infinite) should also realize that he should mete out equitable and fair treatment to his Parliamentarians as an “honourable” obligation on his part.

He should “honourably” allot enough time to dissenting voices from Parliamentarians (not feigning myopia to overlook vitriolic critics) and accord them the privileges befitting of their positions. This is the “honourable” thing to do.

In the final analysis, people will judge you on how honourable they think you are. If you have unsavoury tricks, they may refer to you out of earshot as “that crooked Honourable” or “Tiffman honourable” – they will still leave the “honourable” in place.

Spare a thought for our honourables – appropriately titled or not, and honour the honourable honourables!

“Good player nor ba fet for vest” – Krio proverb meaning: “A deserving player has no need to fight for his jersey.” Ponder my thoughts.

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