Sierra Leone parliamentary debate – they came, they spoke, they conquered

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 June 2018:

Who would have guessed the debate by Parliament on the President’s speech would have gone off to such a dream start?

Social media went into overdrive analysing the maiden speeches of two APC MPs who made a good, if unusual start to their parliamentary career of analysing the state of the nation.

Even though it was difficult to exactly make out what they were saying, their supporters are adamant they punctured holes into the SLPP’s record so far, whilst defending APC’s record.

One recalls there was talk about oil wells and the drop in oil prices from one of them who also complained about exploration or mining or whatever.

The lady was particularly critical of SLPP’s record, so far in the area of good democratic governance.

People found it difficult to understand what they were saying and subjected them to ridicule, but I am a bit sympathetic of their plight.

What if they were confused by the Cambridge educated Speaker with a doctoral degree who had long shelved his Temne-Fullah accent for an Oxbridge English one? What if the temperature in parliament was too hot?

Yes, too hot! Temperature often affects some people. I recall the case of my cousin-a dunce in mathematics who stayed with us.

My teacher mum would ask him a simple question- what is seven times six? He would as usual flunk the answer, with my mum threatening to give him a good hiding. He often had a credible excuse -“Dis mamy ya, e lek for gi posin sum way di san wam.

I have never fathomed what the hot burning sun had the do with being a fool at mathematics. In case I hear SLPP supporters chuckling, let me remind them that in the last parliament, one of their MPs took three years to make his maiden speech.

Everyone knew that he was only comfortable speaking in Mende but after following a particular debate closely, he thought he would be able to at least make a modest contribution to the topic, but someone made the debate slightly complex for his liking.

“Mr speaker, I want the Honourable member to minify his statement, he exclaimed. “Minify it?”, the speaker asked. Amidst a chorus of laughter from the other MPs, he sat down and never continued his unusual maiden speech.

Further enquiries by his bemused colleagues indicated that “minify” was actually a new word for “simplify”. He never spoke again.

One would be excused for wrongly thinking it was all about these two speeches and the need perhaps for free education for some MPs. The debate actually gave us a good insight into what we should expect with this parliament-a mixture of lively partisan speeches, interlaced with fairly good and helpful comments on national issues.

Some very helpful suggestions were made by MPs. Paramount Chief Kangbai Macavoray spoke on the need for a timely distribution of agricultural inputs and for supporting Paramount Chiefs to engage in agriculture.

Hon. Bernadette Wuyatta Songa (SLPP) from Constituency 008, Kailahun District, who had earlier impressed me with her maiden speech on women’s empowerment immediately after the election of the speaker spoke this time passionately on the dual citizenship issue, explaining that she renounced hers to serve her country.

She was a good advocate for the right of Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora in her speech, calling for the amendment of legislation to expunge odious aspects that put them at a disadvantage.

NGC’s leader, Hon. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella of Constituency 062 in Kambia District, in commending President Bio’s speech noted that some of the problems facing the country were structural and have been in existence for a long time.

He supported the new government’s education drive and said he would present his party’s official position on several salient national issues in a report which he would present. Others like Hon.

Hassan Abdul Sesay of APC called for re-examining the public service.

The need for national cohesion and paying special attention to improving the conditions of service of military personnel featured in the debate.

Partisanship obviously creeped in and both SLPP and APC MPs traded jibes at each other. The debate has indicated that there may be a few stars in the making. One has to be particularly impressed with lawyers Osman Timbo of APC and Hindolo Gevao of SLPP, both good public speakers that presented the position of their respective parties well whilst in an erudite fashion exposing the “excesses” of the other party.

There was the usual relapse into praising the successes of “the good old days” with Hon. Sengepoh Solomon Thomas, the Deputy Speaker commending late President Tejan Kabbah for creating notable institutions like the NRA and the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Chernor Bah fondly recalling his chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, which he said ensured transparency and accountability.

The main SLPP accusations levied at the APC included a roads programme that had inordinately high costs, a poorly implemented free health care system, mismanagement of the economy, the lack of sustainability of electricity and the huge domestic and external debts left behind.

The APC MPs in turn were critical of what they termed the new government’s missteps on several issues including the burning down of market women’s stalls, unlawful and untimely sackings, encouragement of political violence and unlawful orders.

Despite these, things ended on a high, fairly reconciliatory note. The Paramount Chief Member of Parliament Bai Kurr Kanagbaro Sanka lll, representing Tonkolili District, was on point when he said-“We can’t afford to fail, whether you are APC or SLPP we should work towards development.”

The Speaker, Dr Abass Bundu, whilst commending the deliberations called on the Ministry of Finance to strengthen parliamentary oversight. He promised to discourage the “habit of receiving handouts from MDAs” and enhance the capacity of Parliament to effectively hold the Executive to be accountable.

One, not surprising area of agreement by all was education. There was almost unanimous acceptance that the President was right in prioritizing education. Speaker after speaker spoke of the parlous state of our education system. The statistics given and bad examples cited are mostly common knowledge.

Whilst commending the free education initiative some MPs however cautioned about the need for a stage-wise approach and for defining the extent of the “free”. Does this apply to fees only or additionally to books? learning materials? uniform? food?.

No doubt further clarification will be sought by the MPs in the ensuing months. There is also the concern that increase in access may not necessarily lead to increase in quality of education. It would appear this is an area that will be incessantly discussed by our MPs over the ensuing months and years as it takes significant resources and effort from the new government.

One educationist has cautioned that ‘however well-intentioned the free education project might be, if its implementation is done without a well thought out road map, our entire education system will be heading for a disaster of epic proportions.” We hope this does not happen.

The World Development Report (WDR) 2018-Learning to Realize Education’s Promise points out that the lags in primary education will affect the children’s preparedness for future job prospects, which are increasingly demanding in skills quality.

It warns of a learning crisis in global education; after several years of schooling, millions of children are unable to read, write, and solve basic math problems.

The report states that in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 7 percent of students in late primary school are proficient in reading, against 14 percent in mathematics. Sierra Leone identifies with these statistics.

There is little doubt our MPs appreciate the enormity and complexity of the task at hand with revamping our education system and it is heartening to note that they all seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

It is early days yet but this Parliament promises to be interesting. There will undoubtedly be heated debates and partisanship displayed. The help of MPs from the smaller opposition parties and Paramount Chief MPs will be needed to pass of reject Bills.

This all assumes that the habits of poor parliamentary oversight, “brown envelopes” to approve and pass Bills and ” receiving handouts from MDAs”, as suggested by the Speaker himself would stop.
MPs will need to properly perform their roles if we are to move ahead as a nation.

Such roles encompass making legislation, passing the budget including taxation measures for raising revenue, oversight (financial, administrative and management scrutiny of public officers and public institutions), representation of constituents etc. They should also be able to make the Executive accountable.

These are daunting tasks, and judging from the debate and the quality of some MPs who come from all professions and backgrounds they are mostly competent to carry out their roles as long as they are mindful of those “little foxes that spoil the vine” including the brown envelopes.

This however brings me to the small matter of our two unfortunate MPs who had problems putting their case across and any others who may have the same problems but have not yet spoken. I have some simple pieces of advice for them:

• Choose your debate topics carefully and don’t veer into difficult topics. Teenage pregnancy and youth violence are things everyone is familiar with.

• Learn from erudite speakers-listen to them or take lessons from them. On public speaking Lawyers Timbo and Gevao come in well recommended. On the APC side if you really need lessons, Kotor I.B. Kargbo is a retired educationist of repute. There could be a TWW (Teacher wova wova on the SLPP side).

• Should you venture to speak, write down what you want to say and read aloud privately several times. Should your colleagues heckle you and you stumble over words, jump directly to the next sentence. Keep your sentences short and don’t use big words.

• Pay attention to your speech and not the noise from other MPs-they are aften worse than market women.

That said, the parties bear all the blame for their choice of MPs. This mishap perhaps calls for official “extra lessons” for them-over to you Paran Tarawalli. After all President Bio‘s New direction Education programme could equally apply to our lawmakers.

Charity begins at home. They would certainly find it difficult carrying out their role and no amount of “minification” will help them unless they are upgraded.

What we have is what we have. There are no specific education requirements to become a parliamentarian, but it helps to have a broad educational background. Most parliamentarians have already established successful careers in other fields before standing for election.

To be ef¬fec-tive, a rep¬re¬sen¬ta¬tive must be able to com¬mu¬ni¬cate at three lev¬els namely: the con¬stituency, the na¬tional and in¬ter¬na¬tional lev¬els. A rep¬re¬sen¬ta¬tive must be ca¬pa¬ble of analysing poli¬cies, pro-grammes and leg¬is¬la¬tions. These may be difficult to “minify”, as we have seen.

Congratulations however to our Parliamentarians. They came, they spoke, they conquered.

Ponder my thoughts.

2 Comments

  1. You playing the role of an ignorant clown by mocking parliamentarian,s command of the English Language. I wonder if you first of all ask yourself whether English is our language or are you so brainwash to now start making fun of non-English people who can’t speak good English?

    What would you say of the Chinese who speak only their language in parliament? You are the victim of a brainwashed society.

    Instead of suggesting how we in Sierra Leone should be speaking our local languages in parliament, you are there ignorantly mocking a parliamentarian who cannot speak good English. Surely, you are one of those who are of great impediment to the advancement of Africa and our culture.

    • Prince Kosseh,
      Advancing Africa and her culture does not mean that we in Sierra Leone should not articulate ourselves properly in English. English is Sierra Leone’s official language and it is the medium of instruction in schools. It follows that a parliamentarian that cannot freely express himself/herself in English has no business being a parliamentarian.

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