Sylvanus Koroma (What A Man!): Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 November 2023:
Sierra Leone has witnessed an increase in concerning rumours about what the Government intends to do, and most of that have come to pass, particularly over the last five years, relating to matters of national public interest. These include, but not limited to the Abolition of the Death Penalty, the Census, the District Block Representation System (often called the Proportional Representation System), and the Publication of election results.
Today, the rumour on the ground is that the Bio-led Government intends to change the constitutional tenure of the Presidency from 5 years to 7 years, and it is expected to be done in this current Parliament.
I pray that this rumour is not allowed to put out its ugly head for the Parliament to solely determine, as it did with the Abolition of the Death Penalty Act of 2021, which in fact, led to the usurpation of the function of the court as per section 16 subsection (1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone!
I am therefore encouraging well-meaning citizens and parliamentarians to kill the idea long before its ugliness continues in our discussions, that Parliament can on its own change the presidential tenure without a referendum.
We must ensure that this rumour about changing the Constitution, cannot be done without a referendum and that the said Constitution is very instructive in section 108 of the same as to how the alteration(s) or amendment(s) is/are made especially in subsections (3) (4) and (5).
Failing to comply with the Constitution will result in chaos.
Section 46 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 (Act No. 6 of 1991), is one of the ‘entrenched provisions’ of the Constitution as listed in section 108 (3). These entrenched provisions have special ways through which they can be altered, amended, or changed.
Failure to adhere to the special ways of these entrenched provisions shall be deemed to be an act of Treason. Section 46(1) states: “No person shall hold office as President for more than more than two terms of five years each whether or not the terms are consecutive.”
Any attempt to change this provision of the law outside what is provided for in section 108 (3) of the Constitution shall be stoutly and openly resisted to protect the Constitution.
Section 108 (3) of the Constitution states: “A Bill for an Act of Parliament enacting a new Constitution or altering any of the following provisions of this Constitution, that is to say –
- this section
- Chapter 111
- sections 46, 56, 72, 73, 74(2), 74(3), 84(2), 85, 87, 105, 110 – 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 128, 129, 131, 132, 133, 135, 136, 137, 140, 151, 156, 167, shall not be submitted to the President for his assent and shall not become law unless the Bill, after it has been passed by Parliament and in the form in which it was so passed, has, in accordance with the provisions of any law in that behalf, been submitted to and been approved at a referendum.”
The above Constitutional Provision is central to this article. In essence, Section 108(3) establishes a safeguarding mechanism, ensuring that substantial changes to the Constitution receive broad support from both Parliament and the citizens, as reflected in a referendum. In fact, three things that this provision explains are:
- Referendum Requirement: This section emphasizes the importance of obtaining public approval through a referendum for significant constitutional changes. It ensures that the people have a direct say in decisions that fundamentally affect the Constitution. This is why the list is referred to as the entrenched provisions of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 (Act No. 6 of 1991).
- Parliamentary Approval: Before reaching the referendum stage, the Bill must first be approved by Parliament. Section 108(2)(b) states, ‘the Bill is supported on the second and third readings by votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament. Thus, this underscores the dual process involving both elected representatives and the public in the entrenched constitutional provisions/matters.
- Presidential Assent Exclusion: Unlike regular Bills, which require the President’s assent to become law, Bills related to a new Constitution and the list of the specific Constitutional provisions set in section 108 (3) of the 1991 Constitution bypass this usual step. Instead, their legitimacy hinges on parliamentary approval and public endorsement through a referendum.
Subsections 108 (4) and (5) collectively establish a stringent yet fair procedure for constitutional changes. Eligibility criteria, approval thresholds, and the oversight role of the Electoral Commission work in concert to ensure that any significant alterations to the Constitution reflect broad and substantial support from the electorate.
Specifically, 108 (4) deals with Eligibility Requirements, Approval Threshold, and Adjustments to Eligible Voters. This subsection provides that only those entitled to vote in parliamentary elections can participate in a referendum under Section 108 (3).
Furthermore, in this subsection, the Bill is considered approved at the referendum if it receives votes from at least one-half of all valid votes cast.
Finally, certain adjustments are made to the total number of eligible voters, excluding deceased persons, disqualified electors, and duplicates certified by the Electoral Commission.
Subsection (5) of section 108 designates and explains the supervisory authority of the Electoral Commission for referendums related to Section 108 (3), emphasizing the Commission’s crucial role in ensuring a fair and transparent process.
Section 108 (5) also addresses the applicability of Section 38 provisions of the same. Referring to specifically Section 38 (4), (5), and (6) of the Constitution, this provision extends the legal framework governing the Electoral Commission’s functions during parliamentary elections to its role in overseeing referendums.
From the above Constitutional provisions, it can be deduced that a referendum must be held to change any of the Constitutional provisions listed in section 108 (3).
Any attempt to bulldoze the Constitution outside what the law provides for will be stoutly resisted this time.
The public will be informed of any attempt to bypass the due process of the law, and at the appropriate time, defaulters of the law will be brought to the attention of the appropriate body for the law to take its course accordingly.
In essence, potential defaulters are now forewarned and expected to consider this timely article, taking preventive actions to avoid more significant difficulties or consequences in the future.
On that note, I encourage all Sierra Leoneans and friends of Sierra Leone to remain steadfast in their commitment to uphold adherence to the Constitution, particularly in relation to Section 108 (3) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone (Act No. 6 of 1991.)