Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 November 2019:
Sierra Leone’s president Julius Maada Bio is today being praised for his refusal to sign into the country’s law books, a Bill approved last week by parliament, which would have granted him, the vice president and the speaker of parliament the privilege of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on overseas visits, without accounting for the cash.
The Bill, known as the Finance Bill 2020, was today returned to parliament by president Bio after refusing to give the Bill its presidential assent, in line with the constitution of Sierra Leone.
State House Media today said in a statement: “The general public is hereby informed that His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio has returned the Finance Bill, 2020, to Parliament unsigned following a Minute Paper dated Friday 22nd November 2019 from the Clerk of Parliament requesting the President’s gracious assent for the Finance Bill, 2020, pursuant to Part V, Section 106(1) of The Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991 (Act No. 6 of 1991).
“His Excellency the President has returned the Finance Bill, 2020, through a Memorandum to the Clerk of Parliament. Pursuant to Part V, Section 106(7), in the Memorandum, the Secretary to the President stated the reason for the refusal of the signature of the President: “His Excellency the President has perused the document and has expressed grave concern over the open-endedness of the ‘non-accountable imprest’, as provided for in the said Act. He is of the view that this is prone to improper use of public funds”.
The controversial parliamentary Bill which has prompted many in the country to describe it as “bold-face corruption”, has provoked a national debate about the role of parliamentarians in holding those in power to account, as well as in helping to address some of the deep causes of abject poverty in Sierra Leone.
In a fierce national radio discussion programme held a few days ago in Freetown, the Clerk of Parliament – Paran Tarawally, locked horns with SLPP parliamentarian – Ibrahim Tawa Conteh, over the issue of parliamentary budget and lack of accountability.
Ibrahim Tawa Conteh MP, who is now held in very high esteem by many in the country for standing up for transparency and accountability, accused the Clerk of Parliament of failing to ensure that oversight committees are performing their task as required by law, providing due diligence.
Ibrahim Tawa Conteh said that millions of dollars are being spent by parliament without accountability. This has prompted call by civil society groups and the country’s media, for the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to conduct an investigation into alleged corruption in parliament.
A letter written to the ACC Commissioner by the Chief Executive Officer of Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) – Mr. Abdul Fatoma, said: “we are extremely concerned about allegations presented on national radio (Radio Democracy 98.1) on the 22nd November, 2019 by two Honourable Members of Parliament who were engaged in accusations and counter accusations of corrupt activities.”
“We at CHRDI know that accountability and transparency are support systems for success in any society. We are equally aware that in a democratic society like Sierra Leone, accountability to the public by its elected representatives is vital because policies will not be made by officials with little or no connection to the public,” the letter stated.
It added: “Our flagship campaign, the Accountability Campaign, successfully raised public awareness around the Constituency Development Fund and the administration and operations of the Parliament of Sierra Leone and also implores citizens to ask their Parliamentarians to give account of their stewardship and all monies received for and on their behalf in 2018 to 2019.”
Last week, the Anti-Corruption Commission said it has invited both the Clerk of Parliament Paran Tarawally and Ibrahim Tawa Conteh – MP of Constituency 132, to assist the Commission with their investigations into alleged corruption in parliament.
Today, it seems president Bio has listened to the growing public outcry against the Finance Bill 2020, as well as forestall the ACC investigation by refusing to sign the parliamentary Bill, which could seriously have damaged his credibility and anti-corruption image.
But president Bio has not gone far enough. Rather than quash the entire section of the Bill that makes him, the vice president, and the speaker of parliament unaccountable for their foreign visit expenses, he has asked parliament to amend the section by setting an expenditure ceiling below which they will not have to give account.
“Therefore, to address the carte blanche provision of Section 42, His Excellency the President has proposed to Parliament that Section 42(6) be amended so that it makes provision for a ceiling for the non-accountable imprest,” the statement from State House reads.
The president is regarding his refusal to sign the 2020 Finance Bill into law as it stands, as evidence of his pro-transparency and accountability image. But some would disagree.
“Unlike the past, the fact that Parliament and members of the public are now discussing Presidential imprest demonstrates the President’s avowed stance on transparency,” says State House.
There are those in the country who would argue that by half-heartedly rejecting the Bill in order to calm public disquiet, shows that the president is not as tough on corruption and accountability as he says.
But the president says that once and “if amended by Parliament, imprest of such nature and the proposed ceiling will now be guided by law”.
“Members of the public are reassured that His Excellency the President has an unwavering commitment to democratic accountability, transparent governance and prudent management of public funds,” the statement from State House concludes.
You can listen to the Paran Tawally versus Tawa Conteh radio debate here: