Parliament – omnipresent, omniscient and plenipotentiary

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 January 2019:

If anyone was in any doubt about the powers of Parliament, I would advise they check with Dr. James Vibby, the CEO of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board. Poor Dr. Vibby made the cardinal mistake of falling afoul of Hon. Veronica Kadie Sesay, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee of Trade, who visited Dr, Vibby’s office with a view to having him reinstate three suspended and expelled staff members. Her entreaties were rebuffed and Dr. Vibby is said to have been disrespectful to her.

According to Awoko, Hon. Kadie Sesay told her colleagues- “The same man boasted to me, he is not answerable to Members of Parliament, but only the President and the Chief Minister, who gave him the job.” One MP was so livid he said: “An attack on one Member of Parliament is an attack to every Member of Parliament……when Presidential nominees come to Parliament, they are so submissive because they want MPs to approve them. Once they have been approved they have no regards whatsoever for Members of Parliament.”

Vibby rushed to his own defense, saying it was impossible for him to have said that parliament is not relevant and he is only answerable to the President and Chief Minister- “I Have never said so and I will never say such words”, he said.

In any case Vibby was not allowed to explain further and was stopped in his tracks by the Speaker when trying to state his case, amidst shouts of derision from MPs. Vibby was eventually forced to apologise to Hon. Kadie Sesay for his “transgressions”, but despite this some MPs  “called for his scalp”.

According to Awoko: “James Vibbi however attempted to apologise but his diction and choice of words did not please the Members of Parliament including the Speaker, which prompted the House to open a debate on the subject matter. According to Hon. Abdul Kargbo, this is not the first time an MP is faced with insult and disrepute from members of the public, calling for the House to use Vibbi as an example by levying stringent action against him to avoid repetition.”

In the final analysis Vibby acceded to all their requests for contrition, on one count. Awoko reports Vibby as saying- “I am ready to comply with two orders but I will not withdraw my letter of suspension or dismissal of these two staff. I am ready to sacrifice my job and all other things.” Brave man indeed!

I cannot fathom how a democratic institution would not accord a party to a conflict with a Parliamentarian the right of reply. Even assuming the accusations against Dr. Vibby are correct, the fact that a Parliamentarian of whatever rank could ask a CEO to reinstate suspended or expelled staff is bothersome.

The excuse given by Hon. Veronica Kadie Sesay that the Produce Marketing Board does not as yet have a Board is questionable. Is it the Board that suspends staff? Should the MPs not be more preoccupied in sorting out the issue of the appointment of Board members? Is the Speaker right in ordering Dr. Vibby to reinstate the suspended and expelled staff members?

Dr Vibby was pilloried into apologising but was forthright enough to say that despite the apology he would not reinstate the staff. Some MPs asked for his detention (Yes-Parliament has its own lock-up facilities), but apparently he was given “stay of execution” till a day on which he will be recalled. The battle lines are drawn. We will see.

In another case involving the former Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana, the Deputy speaker acceded to a request made by the C4C Leader in Parliament, Hon. Emerson Lamina to call the Inspector General of Police Dr Richard Moigbeh to parliament to shed light on the issue of the withdrawal of security personnel from the former Vice President -an issue that has caused so much ire in the ranks of the C4C party and independent observers who are concerned about the seeming abrupt nature of the decision.

It seemed at first a relief to these people that the Inspector General was being called to clarify the situation and take questions from Parliamentarians and allay their concerns. Well, as we now know the IG did lecture the Parliamentarians-and a lecture indeed it was on the law! He went into the legal niceties, justifying the decision of the Police.

But alas when it came to question time-or so they thought, the Chairman Hon Dixon Rogers (specially co-opted from another committee) called the meeting to an end explaining that the IG had done what was expected of him and any future concerns should be addressed by the Attorney General. Not surprisingly Hon Lamina and C4C MPs are still fuming about this arbitrary taking away their power to question the IG.

New Citizen in an article “Moigbeh’s meeting with MPs was stage managed”, the writer Abdul Kamara states: “Hon Sahr Charles of C4C stated that the meeting was stage-managed as the Oversight Chairman of Internal Affairs, Hon. Alusine Kanneh, was in Parliament but was chaired by the Chief Whip, Hon. Dickson Rogers.

And after the Inspector General’s explanations, no questions were allowed to be asked by Members of the Committee, adding, ‘’I am disappointed with the political atmosphere in Parliament and they are not happy with the way and manner the meeting was held without any question from Committee Members as it was stage-managed. Where are we going as a nation and where is the democracy as no question was allowed to be asked during the said meeting? We are really disappointed with the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) as we need to know the complaint.’’

The MPs further stated that they would challenge the issue on Tuesday 15th January 2019 in Parliament as the meeting was stage –managed to allow Hon. Dickson Rogers to chair the meeting, leaving aside the Chairman of Internal Affairs Committee sitting quietly during the meeting.

The New Citizen article goes further:

“According to Hon. Sahr Charles, the decision to prevent them from asking questions including their C4C Leader in Parliament, Hon. Sahr Emmerson Lamina, is a bad precedent for the country’s democracy. “Just a few months ago SLPP were blaming the All Peoples Congress (APC party for bad precedent but now they are doing worse.’’

The article reported a defiant tone by the Chief Whip –“After the explanation of the IGP the Chief Whip, who also chaired the meeting, said that Parliament is satisfied with the explanation and whosoever does not feel satisfied should go through the Attorney General and Minister of Justice’s office for further clarification, quoting Standing Order 46 that gave him the power to chair the meeting; and that most of the MPs that are supposed to be at meeting were not there on time, adding, ‘’the IGP has other important issues to attend to especially with the President.’’

The questions most independent observers would ask are as follows: Why was the IG called up to Parliament to repeat what had already been espoused by the Police and what was in a Police press release if he was not going to be questioned? Why refer the aggrieved MPs to the AG? Why did the IG not confirm if the Police had the concurrence of the Minister in their Parent Internal Affairs Ministry or the AGs Office?

What is Government’s official position on this issue?  It does not seem to have one, judging by the response of the Information Minister on Radio Democracy who opined that this was a legal issue that needed to be clarified. If indeed this was, why the hasty action of the Police? And the final question for Parliament- Was calling in of the IG just a charade?

There can be no dispute to the assertion that we must respect out lawmakers, who are elected by us. If, however the impression is given that Parliament is used to muzzle issues and make decisions that should be within the domain of others, it gets worrisome.

It is also disconcerting that Parliament seems to be trying to adopt the maxim of “you touch one, you touch all” and probably become a kangaroo court in the eyes of many. Perhaps it is high time Parliament censored itself. Parliament needs to be careful. The last time I checked the only person who is omnipresent, omniscient and plenipotentiary is the Almighty above.

All things considered

Parliament amended the bill entitled the Finance Act 2019, to accommodate the comments made by President Julius Maada Bio. Presenting the Bill for possible amendment, the Chair of the Legislative Committee, The Leader of Government Business and the House, Hon. Sidi Mohamed Tunis, endorsed the statement made by the leader of the Opposition, disclosing they will expunge Section 31 completely from the 2019 Finance Act.

One report says- “In the President’s letter accompanying the Bill, read by Hon. Daniel B. Koroma, the President is concerned that Section 31 does not inject competitiveness into the Insurance Industry and has the propensity to stifle the growth of the Insurance Companies. It further stated, companies should endeavour to create their own comparative advantage and attract clients within a liberalized and business-friendly environment. This is a good decision that levels the playing field for all competitors.”

This issue had been raised by the President of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Christo Forster in his annual dinner speech last December, meant for the attention of Government. Mr. Forster expressed the private sector’s dissatisfaction with the clause requiring all Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, state-owned enterprises, state-owned banks, extra-budgetary agencies, Treasury Single Account Agencies and the National Social Security and Insurance Trust to insure all properties and assets with the National Insurance Company (NIC). With respect to this Mr. Forster stated:

“In view of the above, the Chamber is of the opinion that the Act will be detrimental to fair competition, and calls on Government to modify the provision. State-owned enterprises and banks, in which Government does not have 100% shareholding will be disregarding the opinion of minority shareholders. NASSIT is a social security entity, into which all businesses pay their staff contributions, and Chamber is of the opinion that this entity should also be part of the competitive market. The business consideration is the capacity of one company to handle the estimate 45+% of the market, with its associated risk and reinsurance burden.”

This time one has to congratulate the President for being a “listening President”. One however wonders how this escaped the scrutiny the Finance Ministry and of Parliament in the first instance.

On another note, I have been enjoying the fuel pricing debate on the airwaves and was particularly taken aback by the discussions on whether the reduction in price was translated into a reduction in transport fares, “Yes”, claimed the Secretary General of the Motor driver’s Union.

“Prices have come down”.  “Why are Taxis still asking for Le1,500 instead of the reduced price of Le1,400? asked the interviewer. “Simple – we don’t have one hundred Leone coins and when you pay Le1,500 there is no way we can give you change. In fact we sometimes have to buy coins with money on the street!”

His solution? He has asked his drivers to buy “diamints” and give them to passengers in lieu of coins.

One advantage I thought of, was that this would improve upon Natco’s profits. Elementary my dear Watson!

Then was the turn of the Keke operators whose Chairman complained that their prices had been brought down too low to the extent that they could not afford to pay the Le100,000 daily “Master money” to the owner. Well, in this age of arguing over “bread and butter” issues, one has to be mindful of “diamints” and master money issues as well.

Ponder my thoughts.

1 Comment

  1. What our parliamentarians are displaying in parliament is really unfortunate. Is this parliament really very weak? Our MPs must be busy legislating instead of doing the job of the law courts.

    What does the problem between Dr. Vibby and Hon. Veronica Kadie Sesay or the withdrawal of the security personnel from Chief Sam Sumana have to do with the people of Sierra Leone? Thank God I have never had OSD personnel around me.

    The MPs should not make these such matters an issue to be discussed in parliament.
    Chief Sam Sumana should just take the government to court if he knows that the government has wrongfully withdrawn his security personnel. Hon. Kadie Sesay should do likewise.

    But by using the precious time of parliament to discuss such matters is very unfair to the people of Sierra Leone. These parliamentarians should be busy legislating for example “THE ABOLITION OF THE DEATH PENALTY” or negotiating with the government for projects that will improve the lives of their constituents.

    It is a shame that the people of Sierra Leone have to hear these unfortunate grumblings and arguments by their parliamentarians in parliament. I hope that our parliamentarians will use every second in parliament to help improve the lives of the people of Sierra Leone.
    God bless our parliamentarians to help their people. AMEN and AMEN.

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