Sierra Leone’s Dual Nationality – Tapping knowledge and resource of Diasporans

Anthony AK Kamara, Jnr.: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 August 2018:

Kandeh Yumkella’s “Thank You” tour of the United States has gone well. He has covered an additional four states – Philadelphia, PA, where he attended joint events organized by NGC supporters of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Boston, MA to celebrate Eid-ul- Adha.

He also took part in joint events of the New England wing – Los Angeles, the sprawling Southern California city in the West Coast and Atlanta, GA, the capital city of the Southeast, organized by NGC members and Friends of KKY.

At very meeting with Sierra Leoneans in the US, Dr. Yumkella made great emphasis on the critical importance of tapping into the knowledge networks and resources of the Sierra Leone Diaspora to boost economic recovery and development back home.

(Photo: Hon. Yumkella speaks to Sierra Leoneans in Philadelphia including members of the NGC Chapters from Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey and Delaware).

In many developing countries, diaspora remittances have surpassed both donor aid and foreign direct investments. According to World Bank estimates, in particular the bank’s latest brief on Migration and Development, remittances continue to increase.

In 2017, remittances broke a new record of USD466 billion with expected growth of USD 485 billion forecasted for 2018. In all these cases the cash flow comes with knowledge, technology and vital management and business partnerships.

The Sierra Leone Diaspora has shown immense interest in giving back and contributing to nation building. Take the case of education, a lot of alumni associations are giving back to their alma mater.

One alumni association that comes to mind that Hon. Yumkella recently supported in their Annual Dinner and Fundraising Dance is the Old Kolenten Students Association (OKSA). OKSA has embarked on the construction of a large multi-purpose building which will house a library, an auditorium, and other amenities. The same can be said of many other groups investing in other spheres besides education.

All nations aggressively court and facilitate the Diaspora involvement in the governance and economic transformation of their countries. The question is: Is Sierra Leone doing more to court its Diaspora constituents for this new wave of inclusive governance?

During question and answer sessions at each stop of his tour, Hon. Yumkella explained the purpose, content and process of the proposed bipartisan parliamentary Bill to amend sections 75(a) and 76(1a) of the 1991 constitution, which limits the right of Sierra Leoneans to contest elections.

He also explained the possible mechanisms that could be set up to achieve voter registration and voting in the diaspora by 2020.

Migration has led to a quantum leap in the flow of Remittances across the world. In 2015 total flow of remittances was $432 billion (India-$69 billion, China -$64 billion, Philippines-$28 billion and Nigeria-$20.7 billion).

Dependency on remittances is becoming very pronounced in many countries. For example, in Lesotho remittances accounted for 43% of GDP in 2006, and 18% in 2014; Liberia 13% in 2006 and 24% in 2014. In Nigeria and Senegal remittances financed 25% and 20% of imports respectively in 2014.

(Photo: Hon. Yumkella meets with Ed Kennedy and Karen Cirillo in Lowell. Ed Kennedy is candidate for the MA State Senate and Karen Cirillo is Lowell City Councillor).

In 2010 the World Bank estimated the stock of emigrants from Sierra Leone worldwide was about 267 thousand and official remittances about $48 million.

However, a more in-depth study by UNDP Sierra Leone in the same year estimated that 86% of overseas Sierra Leonean send money home regularly to an estimated amount of $168 million annually (about 12% of GDP); the Sierra Leone government estimates are that remittances are between $250 to $400 (or 20-25% of GDP).

If the latter is correct, in some years, our diaspora send more finance into our country than aid and FDI combined.

Given this significant financial contribution of the diaspora to economic development, Yumkella, the Samu Chiefdom MP argues that they also deserve to be gainfully employed by government, fully participate in politics, and also should be empowered to vote in their countries of residence.

To this end, during the past two months, Kandeh Yumkella has had consultations with the parliamentary leadership and some senior government officials on the dual nationality locally called Two-Sim.

His conclusion is that all the four political parties in parliament (SLPP, APC, C4C and NGC) agree on the need to amend the 1991 constitution to allow dual nationals who are Sierra Leoneans by birth to hold public office and become Members of Parliament without relinquishing their second nationality.

There are two main approaches to pursue this goal. First, a Private Member Bill to be sponsored by the four party Leaders of Parliament. The second is by submitting amendments to the report of the Justice Cowan Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) Report through a Government White-Paper. His conclusion is that each approach has merit and could be pursued simultaneously.

A draft private member bill has been presented to all the political parties for consultations since July. The APC and NGC have already signed the proposed Bill as sponsors while the SLPP and the C4C are still engaged in internal consultations with their party respectively.

The bill has also been sent to the Government Printing Department for publishing in the Gazette as required by Standing Order (SO)47 of the parliamentary protocol which states that “…every Bill shall, before its introduction into parliament be first published in an issue of the Gazette…”

Yumkella expects that he and his colleagues will serve a “Notice of Motion” when parliament resumes in September calling for the first and second reading of the Bill and an open debate.

Passage of the Bill requires a two thirds majority of members of parliament. Thus, the support of the SLPP and APC will be crucial for the passage of the Bill. This could be a wonderful Christmas present for the hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean Diaspora and their descendants.

The second approach, through the CRC process is cumbersome, time consuming and expensive because it will require a national referendum to consider “all the amendments” to the 1991 Constitution proposed therein. First, the government must set up a committee to prepare a white paper. Then parliament must debate the entire CRC report.

A new constitution would then be drafted and placed for a national referendum. This will take at best three years and will cost millions of dollars for a nationwide referendum.

Responding to questions about voting rights, Hon. Yumkella cited section 18 of the 2012 Public Elections Act which states, “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Act, the Electoral Commission may make provision for the registration outside Sierra Leone of non-resident citizens of Sierra Leone who may wish to be registered as voters.”

So why have the mechanisms not been established during the past five years and the two past electoral cycles?

Yumkella further noted that if the Diaspora can be registered in their countries of residence, then they can vote in those countries and avoid the average travel cost of $4-5 thousand dollars per person each voting cycle.

In his view, the issue is merely administrative and availability of resources, rather than legal.

He discussed his intention to consult the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the Minister of Finance, and the donor community to discuss funding possibilities and modalities to establish mechanisms for diaspora voting.

He proposed that phase one could involve the establishment of a total of 18-20 registration and voting centres around the world including: seven in the North America (California, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, Atlanta, Dallas and Toronto. Another five in Europe for example Centers could be selected cities in the U.K., Germany, Belgium, France and Holland; then one centre each could be in Sydney, Canberra, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana and Gambia (total of 6).

The number of centres could be increased worldwide as more resources become available. The above are suggestions for the consideration of NEC.

Since 2006, a total of 93 countries around the world have made provisions for their citizens to vote abroad. It is noteworthy that 21 of the 93 countries are countries in the African continent including Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa among others.

Other countries such as Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, have recently passed laws for Diaspora voting to be afforded to their citizens and are making frantic efforts to actualize it during their up-coming elections. Will Sierra Leone follow next?

You can follow Hon. Yumkella and Anthony Kamara on Twitter @KYumkella and @kamaraanthony1

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