One woman’s plea for justice in Sierra Leone – Is anyone listening?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 July 2019:

Hariyatu Bangura is a young woman in Sierra Leone, fighting for justice, after her parliamentary seat won at the hotly contested general elections held in the country in March last year to represent her local constituency 116, was unconstitutionally taken away from her, and then handed to a ruling party candidate without any right to appeal.

According to the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) who filed a High Court petition against her electoral victory, Hariyatu had contravened the country’s constitution and was therefore unqualified to contest the election, on allegations that she did not resign her public service job at least twelve months before the election was held.

But investigations carried out by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, proves that Hariyatu was indeed qualified to contest the election.

Evidence was obtained by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, showing that Hariyatu had resigned her full-time paid job, on the 6th of March 2017, working for the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to become a politician – representing her community in the country’s male dominated parliament.

General elections were held in Sierra Leone on 7 March 2018, which means that Hariyatu had gone for at least twelve months, without receiving salary from the public purse. Yet, she is being unfairly accused of violating electoral laws, and worse – electoral fraud.

Sierra Leone’s parliament consists of a total of 146 members, of which only 17 are Women. Hariyatu’s dream was to one day become a member of parliament to represent her constituency and fight for the empowerment of women in public life.

Though her ambition was achieved on the 7th of March 2018, when she was overwhelmingly elected by her community as member of parliament for constituency 116, that dream was cut short by the High court and the ruling SLPP last month, based on what clearly appears to be falsified evidence presented to the High Court.

So, was Hariyatu unqualified to contest the 2018 elections? 

Section 75 of the 1991 Constitution says that: “Subject to the provisions of section 76, any person who is a citizen of Sierra Leone (otherwise than by naturalization); and has attained the age of twenty-one years; and is an elector whose name is on a register of electors under the Franchise and Electoral Registration Act, 1961, or under any Act of Parliament amending or replacing that Act; and is able to speak and to read the English Language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him to take an active part in the proceedings of Parliament, shall be qualified for election as such a Member of Parliament”.

Hariyatu met all of those qualifications.

Secondly, the constitution also says that: “No person shall be qualified for election as a Member of Parliament; if he/she is a member of any Commission established under this Constitution, or a member of the Armed Forces of the Republic, or a public officer, or an employee of a Public Corporation established by an Act of Parliament, or has been such a member, officer or employee within twelve months prior to the date on which he seeks to be elected to Parliament.”

General elections were held in Sierra Leone on 7 March 2018 and Hariyatu ceased to be an employee of the state on the 6th of March 2017, according to a letter from her employer – the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission, certifying to that effect.

In order to ensure full transparency of the nomination process before elections are held, Section 62 of the 2012 Public Elections Act requires that: “A list of candidates delivered by a political party shall be accompanied by a statutory declaration made by the National Chairman and Secretary of that party, stating that– (a) each candidate has accepted his nomination in writing; (b) every candidate on the list is qualified to be elected as an ordinary member of Parliament under section 75 of the Constitution; and (c) no candidate on the list is disqualified for election as a member of Parliament under section 76 of the Constitution.”

Furthermore, Section 63 requires that: “(1) A voter of the electoral area in which a candidate intends to contest an election may at any time up to five o’clock in the afternoon of the last appointed day for the receipt of nominations, object to the nomination of that candidate on any of the grounds set out in subsection (2).”

The political party to which Hariyatu belong and under whose ticket she contested the 2018 election, had fully complied with the above legal requirement which was evidently accepted by the Electoral Commission.

Furthermore, other candidates contesting the same election had the opportunity to raise the Red Flag against Hariyatu’s nomination, if there was any irregularities. But they failed to do so, clearly because they had no evidence of wrongdoing.

The letter from the Anti-corruption Commission which clearly shows that Hariyatu had left her job at least twelve months before the election, was signed by the Head of the Anti-Corruption Commission – Mr Francis Ben Kaifala, who no doubt would have warned Hariyatu of any possible breach of the constitution, had she failed to resign her job with the commission, at least twelve months before the elections were held.

Was the Anti-Corruption Commission subpoenaed to testify before the High Court? No.

Did the High Court examine the evidence from Hariyatu’s Bank? No.

The only evidence considered for judgement by the High Court, was that which was brought to the court by those who wanted to grab Hariyatu’s hard won parliamentary seat. And with the help of the High Court, they succeeded.

All the evidence investigated by the Sierra Leone Telegraph regarding Hariyatu’s case, suggest a gross miscarriage of justice and a serious violation of the country’s constitution that must be overturned very quickly, as justice delayed is justice denied.

But it was the behaviour of senior officials of the country’s Parliament that has raised eyebrows and brought much disrepute to the institution, after they hurriedly sworn-in ruling party candidates, who were replacing those MPs whose seats had been taken away from them by the decision of the court, including Hariyatu.

The swearing-in of those ruling party MPs benefitting from the court’s ruling, just hours after the ruling was announced, was a mistake, unnecessary, unconstitutional and a provocation to the opposition parties who felt injustice had been done.

So, was the speaker of parliament right to immediately invite ruling party MPs to fill those annulled seats without the completion of legal due process through the court of appeal?

According to the Public Elections Act 2012: “If the High Court determines that a candidate returned as elected was not duly elected and that the election was void, then the candidate’s seat shall become vacant from the time of the notice of decision of the High Court and if notice of appeal from that decision has been given within fourteen days, the seat shall remain vacant for the period until the determination of the Court of Appeal is given on the appeal or the appeal is abandoned.”

Clearly the Speaker of parliament was wrong to have filled those vacant parliamentary seats before the Appeals Court hearing.

So how does Hariyatu feels about this miscarriage of justice?

This is what she said to the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph – Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas:

“I Hariyatu Ariana Bangura of Constituency 116 was duly elected as member of Parliament – polling 15,884 votes, representing 63.1%, has been thrown out of parliament on the erroneous submission to the court that I have been receiving salary from the consolidated fund up to 23rd April, 2018 against the laws guiding elections.

“Sad to say that even where never a thing like that occurred, a fake document was presented to the court making that assertion. The Bank statement presented in court is not mine.

“Pay slips from the ACC and letter from the ACC Commissioner Mr. Francis Ben Kaifala which I have sent to the Sierra Leone Telegraph for investigation, clearly states that I last received public salary in February 2017. So where did this mischief come from?

“Why should somebody be so cruel to destroy my determination and the people’s mandate to represent them and give the leadership we deserve? Do I deserve a bad reputation nationally and internationally for choosing to serve my constituency and the people of this country – more especially the women folk?

“Justice is all I ask for now, trusting that God will intervene on our behalf.”

This is Hariyatu speaking to Abdul Rashid Thomas:

 

1 Comment

  1. I hope the legal luminaries in court would hear her case and give justice where it is due. But as a layman, I am trying to understand what the constitution says about when one should stop receiving money from the consolidated Funds if you want to vie for elective office.

    Is it 12 months to the date of election? Or 12 Months to the date you are nominated and given symbol by your party to compete in the election?

    The reason I am asking is that we all know that nominations by political parties and award of symbols took place two or 3 months before the elections were held after so many postponements. Be it as it was, does it suffice to say that this petitioner did not satisfy the 12 months period stipulated in the constitution for when a candidate should stop receiving money from the consolidate funds?

    May common sense and the truth prevail.

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