Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 January 2017
After months of speculation and debate about the content and spirit of the national constitution review report, the review committee has finally handed its findings and recommendations to president Koroma. What happens next?
The expectation now is that the report will be tabled in parliament as well as opened up to public discussion, following which, there will be a referendum on the key question of whether the people want to adopt the recommendations or not.
The draft report of the review committee published last year, was quite clear about what key changes to the 1991 Constitution must be made, if the people of Sierra Leone are to build a peaceful, fairer and just society.
Some of those recommendations are about citizenship, local government and decentralisation; lands, natural resources and the environment; information, communication and the media; fundamental principles of State policy; the recognition and protection of human rights; the representation of the people; the Executive; the Legislature; and the Judiciary.
But with such a vast array of subjects covered by the report, how then does parliament narrow these down for a national referendum, to one simple big question – YES I accept; or NO I do not accept?
70 percent of the population cannot read or write in English. How will the questions be framed?
And, with most of the recent debates about constitutional change having focused directly on presidential term limit, parliamentary term limit, clear separation of powers between the presidency and parliament, and the definition of presidential executive powers, the framing of the referendum question becomes even more complex, if parliament is not to lose the essence of what they will be asking the people of Sierra Leone to decide upon.
Receiving the report on the constitution review yesterday at State House from the Constitution Review Committee (CRC), president Koroma outlined the roadmap leading to the national referendum, though he did not specify a timeline.
According to statements from State House Communication Unit, president Koroma said that the remit of the CRC was to provide direction and scope within which the review process should take place, saying that he mandated the committee to ensure that it carried out its mandate in a fair, open, transparent and participatory manner, as well as ensure the final outcome reflects the tolerance of the people of Sierra Leone amid “our political, ethnic, cultural and religious diversities”.
The objective of the exercise, the president stated, is to insulate “our nation from repression, from war and to align our laws with our aspirations of becoming a middle income country and a donor nation.”
President Koroma described the CRC process as a “baby” that should be cared for and nurtured too.
“My Government therefore funded the constitutional review process because it is our baby; it is the initiative of my Government to respond to the long standing recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to review our instrument of governance; it is my Government’s response to the call by the Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation to bring our constitution up to speed with our current and future development aspirations,” he emphasized.
President Koroma assured of government’s commitment to the process and promised to quickly look into the report and come out with a White Paper which will be submitted to Parliament and subsequently put before the people for a national referendum. “This will then give way for the people, in whom sovereignty lies, to decide the fate of this proposed covenant,” he said.
The president expressed appreciation of the efforts of every single member of the CRC, the various sub-committees, the stakeholders and the general public. He also thanked the United Nations Development Programme, the European Union and the Department for International Development for their support to see the process through.
The Chairman of the CRC – Justice Edmond Cowan, said that the CRC was given the responsibility to review the constitution taking into consideration emerging issues, ambiguity of laws, democratic gains, the TRC Report and the Peter Tucker Report. He added that his committee traversed the length and breadth of the country and held consultations with all stakeholders. The people, the chairman said, are sovereign and the constitution is supreme; and therefore expressed hope that the views of the people are contained in the report.
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice – Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, said that the submission of the report marked another milestone in the democratic process of Sierra Leone, as the country steps forward in engaging her people in the decisions that directly affect their welfare.
He stated that democracy is about creating the enabling space and environment as far reaching consultations were held on issues, but not limited to the eligibility criteria for the Office of the President, the justiciability and recognition of human rights, citizenship, and unicameral system of parliament among others.
The Minister noted that the enactment of a new constitution will improve good governance, political and economic stability and contribute public confidence in governance systems and processes; strengthen human right protection and improve Sierra Leone’s international standing as a progressive and democratic country leveraging peace and security in the sub region.
But now that the report is at State House, what the people of Sierra Leone would like to know is: When will the national referendum take place?
Will it take place before the 2018 presidential, local and general elections?
And what question or questions will they be asked to decide on?