Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 June 2018:
The Parliament of Sierra Leone yesterday, Friday 1st June 2018, concluded five consecutive days of debate on the “Motion of Thanks to President Bio” for his debut Statement to the House, delivered at the State Opening of the First Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone last month.
According to report from the Parliament’s Communications Unit, the Speaker of Parliament – Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu Congratulated MPs for what he referred to as their ‘brilliant contributions’ during the course of the debate. He said that “the tone and temperament in respect of the agenda for the new Parliament has been properly set in motion”.
He called on the Ministry of Finance to strengthen parliamentary oversight, with a view to discourage the “habit of receiving handouts from MDAs”, but to strengthen Parliament so it can effectively hold the executive to account for the actualization and fulfillment of President Bio’s grand vision.
The Leader of NGC – MP Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella commended President Bio for the presentation of his detailed Speech to Parliament, by clearly outlining his vision aimed at addressing the challenges he has inherited.
He called on new MPs not to be partisan and defensive of laws that had been passed, but rather be concerned with the national interest. He told the APC not to lay claims on Bumbuna, because its development began when he was still at school.
He said that the country’s development can be seen from the poor performance indicators and structural challenges, as he re-stated the importance of effective oversight on the activities of the executive.
In support of President Bio’s initiatives, he called for collective efforts, collaboration, speaking truth to power, and promised to later submit to the president – a document that will help him succeed in achieving his vision for free education, “which is partially in existence but has to be scaled up”.
He said that his party “will support the Government to attract additional funds for the implementation of the free education programme”. “$41 million is a drop in the bucket and therefore not enough,” MP Yumkella advised the government.
He also spoke against examination malpractices, sexually transmitted grades, and the need for high enrolment at universities, expensive university forms, and the need for online application to gain access to tertiary education.
Speaking about what he referred to as “rankanomics”, he called on the SLPP to copy good laws, and put an end to under-performing and bloated contracts. He said there is need for a serious review of the recommendations of the Auditor General’s Report.
In respect of economic diversification, he called on the Government to improve and add value to the country’s agricultural and marine products; in particular to gain access to the EU market, and increase investment in horticulture. He said that the Government is using “$10 Million” for the importation of onions alone.
MP Yumkella called for active surveillance of the country’s seas, where it is losing over “$50 Million” to poaching and other illegal and unregulated fishing methods. Speaking about justice, he said that “it should not be used in a predatory manner”. He called for a review of the laws relating to dual citizenship. Government should also look to diversifying energy sources.
MP Hassan Sesay of the APC and the Opposition Whip, commended President Bio and warned that “if ideas are not put into action, it will only remain as ideological attraction”. He called for the examination of the public service that has been put together since independence.
He said that the President has reneged on his promise of de-politicizing NATCOM by appointing the Chairman of SLPP to that office, after criticizing APC’s Momoh Konteh, whom he said was appointed to that office and later made Chairman of APC in Koinadugu District.
“It was the APC that created the institutions that are now generating huge funds for SLPP, that is few days in governance,” he said.
In response, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament – MP Segepoh Solomon Thomas, commended President Bio and corrected “that it was the late President Tejan Kabbah who created the institutions that are generating revenues for the country”.
He also recalled the politics of fear and intimidation “when political opponents were arrested, locked up, and their seats declared vacant, allowing others to go un-opposed”. He called on MPs to serve the people well, describing the policies on health and roads as “good but were misdirected and bloated with inordinate costs”.
In spite of the huge funds spent on energy, he blamed the past government for electricity outages in the country. He spoke about ensuring effective revenue mobilization, the need to improve agriculture, civic education, political tolerance, and to remove beggars and children from the streets.
The opposition APC MP – Chernor R.M Bah, thanked MPs for their fruitful deliberations and recalled his chairmanship of the PAC, in line with transparency and accountability. He referred to the Auditor General as “a staff of Parliament and that the President was ill-advised to review Section 119 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone”.
He also said that “if the queries of the Auditor General are directed to the ACC, then we don’t need to have the PAC in Parliament”. He also said that before 2007, one could hardly hear about the Auditor General’s Report to Parliament.
He referred to “austerity and fiscal discipline as one and the same”, and spoke about the debt waivers by the Paris Club and the $1.5 Billion debt left by the late Tejan Kabbah SLPP government, and how donors lost confidence prior to the 2007 general elections”. He lauded the credit worthiness of the past government.
He said there is need to improve tourism by positively promoting the country so as to attract investors; and pointed to the experiences of Rwanda and South Africa, which he said can be replicated.
Supporting the call for a review of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2009, he said it is necessary to address mines related issues, which he said have been in existence since 1930, when diamond was first discovered in Sierra Leone.
He said that “funds have been secured already from ECOWAS for the construction of a university in Kono District”. He called for national cohesion and that “special attention be paid to the military”, with a view to improving their conditions of service.
MP Bah encouraged the Government to create land banks as the land tenure system is driving investors away. He said “that the people voted President Bio to State House and the APC to head Parliament”.
Concluding the debate, the Leader of Government Business – MP Mohamed Sidie Tunis commended MPs for their contributions and described the debate as “very constructive and informative”. He assured Dr. Kandeh Yumkella of Government’s support to ensure that Sierra Leone gains access to EU market.
He said that the “President’s intention of de-politicizing NATCOM is not in respect of appointment, but rather to free it from “orders from above”, saying that the “APC did not benefit from debt waivers because of the mismanagement of the economy”.
He expressed his support for the review of Section 119 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone to enhance prosecution by the ACC, without waiting on Parliament, recalling that the APC watered down the Auditor General’s Report on the real time audit of the management of the Ebola funds, by punishing “small boys”.
Speaking on Bumbuna and alternative energy, he blamed APC for the current electricity outages despite huge funds that have been spent over the years. He also said that the APC had spent Billions of Leones on fuel for generators and assured the public that measures are being put in place for Freetown to enjoy 24 hours electricity. He mentioned the huge arrears of domestic and external debts that have been inherited by the SLPP Government.
He said that the “IMF and World Bank left the country because of the mismanagement of the economy before the 2018 general elections”. He decried the past government for the unlawful sacking of the former Vice President of Sierra Leone.
He also acclaimed the President’s initiative calling for the owning of a farm before getting into public office. He promised that a blue print will be brought to Parliament for approval before the commencement of President Bio’s free education policy next academic year, as he applauded the reversal of the 6344 to 6334 system of education.
Interesting end to the debate on the President’s speech on the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament. The Leader of Government Business Hon. Mohamed Sidi Tunis called for the repeal of section 119 of the Constitution to enhance prosecution by the ACC but very few mention was made of the review of the entire report of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) headed by the late Justice Edmond Cowan.
We don’t need a piecemeal amendment of the Constitution. it is time to consider the recommendations of the CRC and address issues that came to light during the last election as well as clauses dealing with ‘Supreme Executive Authority’; independence of the Judiciary; representation in Parliament vis a vis the rights of Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora; and other issues relating to public appointments.
The Speaker of the House Dr Abass Chernor Bundu summed it all up in this statement – “…the Ministry of Finance to strengthen parliamentary oversight, with a view to discourage the “habit of receiving handouts from MDAs”, but to strengthen Parliament so it can effectively hold the executive to account”.
To achieve this, we need to provide our MPs with technical support in the form of specialist Research Assistants to provide them with the information that will help them to make meaningful contribution to debates in Parliament.
This was evident in some of the contributions by rookie MPs during the recent debate on the President’s priorities that was geared towards scoring political points, rather than addressing the needs of their constituents and/or matters of national interest.