Alan Luke: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 February 2021:
Sierra Leone is at cross-roads. For the first time in recent memory the opposition leaders in Parliament are holding the Presidency to account. It seems Chernor Bah and his colleagues in the Africanist Press have caused a seismic shift in our polity, and they will have their day in the people’s court soon.
When I read the joint-letter from Hon Chernor Maju Bah and Hon Kandeh Yumkella addressed to the parliament of Sierra Leone, I wondered whether the two leaders were merely bluffing and did not have the authority to ask the presidency to subject itself to further parliamentary probe.
Some legal friends helped me understand that because the 1991 constitution is a high breed of the United States and Westminster traditions, Parliament was given a lot of powers as a co-equal arm of government, to hold the executive branch to account.
Parliament is also the sole body that can appropriate money to any entity, including the Presidency.
So it begs the question, did Parliament ever appropriate money to the Office of the First Lady? Did the government use illegal means to allocate over $3 million to that office, a sum higher than the combined funding allocated to three government ministries and agencies put together (Labour and Social Security, Gender and Children’s Affairs and Youth Affairs)?
Can the Office of the Chief Minister authorize spending beyond what was approved by Parliament? Can the Minister of Finance or the President authorize extra budgetary spending as they see fit, without Parliament’s approval?
Well, under section 93, the framers of the constitution were worried about executive overreach, especially given the horrible one-party state experience, so they vested in Parliament “all such powers, rights and privileges as are vested in the High Court at a trial” to investigate and subpoena persons and documents in exercise of their oversight function.
The relevant subsections in Section 93 are: Sub-section (3) “It shall be the duty of any such Committee as is referred to in sub-section (2) to investigate or inquire into the activities or administration of such Ministries or Departments as may be assigned to it, and such investigation or inquiry may extend to proposals for legislation”.
Sub-sections (4) “Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1) and (2), Parliament may at any time appoint any other Committee to investigate any matter of public importance”.
Sub-section (6) “For the purposes of effectively performing its functions, each of the Committees shall have all such powers, rights and privileges as are vested in the High Court at a trial in respect of: (A) enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, affirmation or otherwise, (B) compelling the production of documents; and (C) the issue of a commission or request to examine witnesses abroad”.
The above gives Parliament the responsibility to investigate these serious allegations including interviewing all those institutions cited in the allegations (both domestic and abroad), and to examine the documents they might possess.
Africanist Press stand ready and stand by; your day has come. The revelations which you have made public is one that Parliament will have to review. It is not just for the Anti-Corruption Commissioner to paper over the cracks.
EDITOR’S NOTE: LISTEN TO RADIO DEMOCRACY INTERVIEWS THE EDITOR OF THE AFRICANIST PRESS CHERNOR BAH: