Speaker of Sierra Leone’s parliament pours cold water on proposed constitutional changes

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 January 2022:

Speaker of Sierra Leone’s parliament, Dr Abass Bundu last Thursday spoke out strongly against the proposed constitutional changes put forward by the government of his ruling SLPP party, outlined in the government’s response to the Report of the Constitutional Review Committee.

Speaking at the launch of the government’s response, Dr Bundu said there will be no change in the country’s constitution without parliamentary approval, which in his opinion is highly unlikely to achieve.

He said that a change in the constitution not only also require a people’s referendum, but a two-thirds majority of votes by the electorate.

“The Bill in which the alteration is proposed will not become law unless, after it has been expressly so passed by Parliament, has additionally been approved at a referendum by the people of Sierra Leone. For such a referendum to be valid, the votes cast must not be less than one-half of all persons qualified to vote in a Parliamentary election and not less than two-thirds of all the votes validly cast.

“Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, from the perspective of Parliament, therefore, I would say that the challenges faced by our nation today are as alive as they were in 2008 and 2017 and they behove us all to maintain for now our unflinching fidelity to the 1991 Constitution and allow it to grow and mature to full blossom, except for a few ordinary mundane provisions able to galvanise a common interest for change amongst all the parties represented in the current Fifth Parliament. The rest can wait for more propitious circumstances to prevail,” Bundu said.

This is what he told the people of Sierra Leone:

Your Excellency the President of the Republic, Hon. Vice-President, My Lord Chief Justice & Justices of Judicature, Ministers of Government, Honourable Members of Parliament, Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic & Consular Corps, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good afternoon. I feel honoured to be invited to make a statement on the Role of Parliament in the Constitutional Review Process during this Launch by His Excellency the President of the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Process. And I would like to do so from the perspective of Parliament by making six cardinal points.

First, that Sierra Leone is a constitutional democracy and has been for the most part since she recovered her independence and sovereignty from Britain in April 1961. The promotion and maintenance of peace, security, order and good government in Sierra Leone is the primordial duty of every organ of State, including Parliament, the organ in which solely the power to make laws for the Republic is expressly and emphatically vested.

Second, that in the discharge of this primordial duty Parliament must take cognisance that not all the laws it makes are of equal value and quality. Some laws are, by definition, in a higher category than others. This differentiation of the laws passed by Parliament is clearly enshrined in Paragraph 15 of Section 171 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 (Act No.6 of 1991).

That Section reads: “This Constitution shall be the supreme law of Sierra Leone and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no effect”. Thus stated, Section 171(15) gives supremacy to the Constitution of 1991 over all other laws, and it is incumbent upon all State   organs to give primacy to the Constitution at all times.

Third, that in keeping with this doctrine of supremacy of the Constitution, not as much as a word can be altered in the Constitution unless it has received approbation on the second and third readings of the Bill purporting to make the alteration by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament.

Furthermore, such a Bill must be duly published in at least two issues of the Gazette before its first reading in Parliament and not less than nine days must elapse between the first publication of the Bill in the Gazette and the second publication.

This procedural requirement is succinctly and mandatorily stated in Section 108 of the Constitution and it applies to the alteration of all the provisions of the Constitution.

Fourth, that where it is proposed to make a new Constitution or to alter any provision in the existing 1991 Constitution which is characterized as extraordinary or entrenched, there is an additional, even more stringent, procedural requirement that must be satisfied.

The Bill in which the alteration is proposed will not become law unless, after it has been expressly so passed by Parliament, has additionally been approved at a referendum by the people of Sierra Leone. For such a referendum to be valid, the votes cast must not be less than one-half of all persons qualified to vote in a Parliamentary election and not less than two-thirds of all the votes validly cast.

Fifth, that the Bill must not be submitted for Presidential Assent unless it has been certified by the Speaker of Parliament that all the referendum requirements have been satisfied and the Speaker’s Certificate is not only final and conclusive on the matter but is also given immunity from judicial scrutiny.

And sixth, that the framers of the 1991 Constitution were in no doubt about the centrality of the role of Parliament in the constitutional review process to the extent that the Constitution condemns as Treason any alteration, suspension or repeal of the Constitution that is made by means other than under the authority of Parliament.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, what I have just stated represents the law of the Constitution relating to its alteration. Whether a proposed alteration is doable or not, is a separate issue altogether. If, for example, an alteration is proposed to be passed by the present Fifth Parliament then it’s do-ability has to be judged relative to the composition of Parliament at the time. Let me now dwell on this briefly.

The Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic started its life after the Parliamentary Election in March 2018 with a total composition of 146 Members comprising 68 Members representing the APC Party; 49 Members of the SLPP; 8 Members of the C4C; 4 Members of the NGC; 3 Independents and 14 Honourable Paramount Chiefs.

Today, through the natural effluxion of life alone, Parliament has lost to eternity no fewer than 6 Members of Parliament including an Honourable Paramount Chief and its current membership has dwindled to 144 Members comprising 58 from the SLPP; 57 from the APC; 8 from the C4C; 4 from the NGC, 3 Independents and 14 Paramount Chiefs.

Now any amendment requires a vote of two-thirds majority in Parliament before it can be passed into law. This means at least 96 affirmative votes. With the composition just indicated, except for Bills for the alteration of mundane ordinary provisions of the Constitution in which all the major parties represented in Parliament have a shared interest, all other Bills face a tall order in the present Hung Fifth Parliament, and it is well-nigh impossible to predict the outcome with any degree of certainty.

For example, if there is a Government Bill to amend the Constitution, even if it is able to attract all 58 votes of the SLPP, all 14 votes of the Paramount Chiefs, all 8 votes of the C4C, all 4 votes of the NGC and all 3 votes of the Independent Members, it would still require 9 votes from the APC to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority.

In these circumstances I can only express my utmost best wishes to any person desirous of passing a constitutional amendment in this Fifth Hung Parliament of the Second Republic particularly in these most exacting times.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to further adumbrate one other salient observation. The framers of the 1991 Constitution were, in my humble opinion, quite deliberate and calculated when they made extraordinarily stringent conditions for the alteration of the provisions of the Constitution, even to the extent of declaring it an act of treason if any alteration or repeal of the Constitution didn’t first obtain the authorisation of Parliament.

I think they must have been inspired by their own unique experience and knowledge of history to make that kind of prescription. They deemed it to be inimical to the interests of the people of Sierra Leone to make it easy for anyone to tinker with the sanctity and sacred nature of our Constitution.

Strong reasons must be given for any alteration of the Constitution and they must not only be reasonable, sound and powerful but overwhelmingly so if not absolutely necessary. In other words, it was their way of admonishing future generations to make haste slowly in any attempt to introduce alterations to that sacred document.

In this regard, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is instructive to recall the history of previous attempts that have been made to amend the 1991 Constitution since its promulgation in October 1991. The first attempt was in 1993 by a Commission set up by the NPRC under the chairmanship of the late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the second was in 2008 by a committee led by Dr. Peter Tucker. Neither attempt came to fruition for want of a referendum.

The third attempt was in 2013 by the Justice Edmund Cowan Commission established by former President Ernest Bai Koroma. It turned out to be the most trumpeted and the most costly and yet it came to nothing because even though the Commission’s recommendations found strong resonance with the will of the people, Koroma’s Government issued a White Paper cherry-picking what it was comfortable with while rejecting the rest. Nor did their draft Constitutional Amendment Bill of 2017 find favour with the Parliament that was hurriedly summoned on the eve of its dissolution on 6 December 2017.

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, from the perspective of Parliament, therefore, I would say that the challenges faced by our nation today are as alive as they were in 2008 and 2017 and they behove us all to maintain for now our unflinching fidelity to the 1991 Constitution and allow it to grow and mature to full blossom, except for a few ordinary mundane provisions able to galvanise a common interest for change amongst all the parties represented in the current Fifth Parliament. The rest can wait for more propitious circumstances to prevail.

With that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you all for your kind attention.

10 Comments

  1. I concur with speaker of the House of Representatives. He is on the money on this one. I am not an apologist to no political party in Mama Salone because I belongs to none. God bless

  2. Mr Seneth Brown, you either read Dr Bundu’s rebuttal of Bio’s intentions to hijack our 1991 constitution, and mold it to his own liking, so he and his poapa one directionless government stands to gain in any of the amendments he is proposing, and you didn’t grasps the seriousness of the proposed changes, and how they are going to undermine our democratic experience, in which case I suggests you spend little more time and read the article again. I hasten to add the only sensible proposal that caught my eyes is the reformed of our electoral system. If we can ditch first past to post and adopt, proportional representation which majority of Liberal democracies around the world use to elect their political representative, and in the process gives smaller parties a fighting chance the way we elect our Parliamentians and have a greater say in Parliament is welcome by me.

    As of the rest of Bio’s proposal, is just full of hot air. Majority of his socalled proposals are embedded in our 1991 constitution.The role of the judiciary is clearly defined.And there are clear checks and balances between all three branches of government. The issues is not what is written and agreed upon, is the peoples that are entrusted with the powers to interpret our constitution. The problem then becomes the people not the paper it is written on. They just have to interpret the laws of our land without fear or favors. The recent pardoning of a convicted murderer and his accomplished doesn’t leave us much hope that our judiciary is anything but independent. Women’s rights and minorities are part of the 1991 constitutional arrangement. And I can see why one might conclude to themselves women’s rights and participation in our political debate is never written in our 1991 constitution hence the proposed changes.

    Because Bio continues to trampled on women’s rights, whilst claiming he is respecting our 1991 constitution. Dr Blyden and former Auditor General comes to mind. My suspicion now, you have read this article and confirmed your beliefs that Bio is on a mission to change the constitutional arrangements we all agreed upon in 1991 at the end of 26years of one party state APC dictatorship. Is called the 1978 constitution. Right now you found yourself in the unlikely position of supporting the propose constitutional changes, by Bio, on the recommendation of justice Cowan, and the EKB government,and at the same breath defending Dr Abbas Bundu that have come out and expressed his opposition to the proposed constitutional changes. As for Dr Abbas Bundu continue services to our nation, I suggest he hang up his booths.let the young generation of,political leaders take up the baton! He’s gone passed his sell by date. If President Obama, once the most powerful man in the world can leave politics and pursue other interests, I see no reason why Dr Bundu cannot spend his Golden years writing his memoirs. He is part of our countrys history.

  3. Those that are blessed with wisdom are thought to also be gifted with discernment — the ability to judge well and analyze a given situation in the highest level of moral rectitude. In the context of the current debate, we have a president with a history of impulsive dictatorial tendencies, whom upon boasting about the alteration of several laws, present to our nation a proposal to make huge changes to our nation’s supreme law of the land. Among the numerous changes proposed, here is what he said about a few of the m— “ Our approach is different. We will take practical steps to implement the non entrenched ones immediately. The entrenched provisions will be addressed within an exclusive and uncluttered timeline – and in all likelihood, after extensive consultations, engagements, and public education on those provisions.”

    So if you are not a ‘lazy reader’ (borrowing the words of Mr. Seneth Brown), you should be quick to discern the angle at which speaker Bundu is coming from. Being the 3rd most powerful consequential political leader in the nation, it appears the PAOPa wing of his party left him in the dark on this particular issue. So in light of his judicial background, couple with his decades of partaking in politics, how dare the PAOPA wing to sidestep him! He was left with no option but go give them a public lecture, including his boss, president Bio, regarding the sanctity of our constitution; though himself (Abass Bundu), has time without number turned a blind eye to such pertinent matters when his personal ambitions are involved.

    Now on the issue of being gifted intellectually; of what use is it, if a man is endowed with such knowledge and wisdom, yet has nothing to show for it? If you have a career, and have been employed for professional work, is a personal resume or curriculum vitae (CV) good enough to help you maintain your position if, year in, year out, you are producing abysmal result according to company expectation? So if your answer to my rhetorical questions is resounding NO, what’s the beneficial aspect of maintaining old, crooked politicians in running our nation’s affairs?

  4. What a sweeping and irresponsible statement yours is, Mr Seneth Brown! Are you sure most forumites are lazy readers, stunted in mind and outlook, incapable of understanding our country’s constitutional review process and its history, all too ready to cast aside for instance Abass Bundu’s brilliant message, going instead straight as it were for the messenger’s jugular? If such wilfully lazy and blind readers do exist here at all, you will in all probability be one of them. For I can assure you that were you to take the time and pain necessary to go through all the reactions to Honourable Dr Bundu’s speech, you would come to the conclusion that due attention has been paid both to its author’s brilliant and articulate grasp of our country’s constitutional history and review process.

    However, it is the case that for some of us, intellectual acuity counts for little in the absence of moral rectitude in public office. Character – good character for that matter – is what really counts. Dr Bundu’s forays into politics from his APC days through his dalliance with the NPRC boys to his current spell with Bio’s PAOPA regime, should give us pause for thought regarding the content of his character. Indeed, for all his dazzling – dare I say sizzling – intelligence, of which you are so enamoured, there remains a gaping void: a cruel absence of solidity in his moral centre. This brings to mind this apt and timeless observation of Shakespeare’s: ‘All that glisters is not gold’. Any perceptive observer of our country’s politics and politicians should be very mindful of the English bard’s point. A lazy forumite is therefore one who is incapable of seeing through the glittering and alluring outward appearance of a fruit that is rotten at the core. He ends up biting into it gluttonously, only to be repelled by its nauseating smell and taste.

    Finally, your are right in saying that Dr Bundu is simply expressing a personal view. However, as the leader of the House – an institution of exceptional significance in the way our country is governed – his view does matter; it has consequences. This is because laws passed in the place over which he presides have the potential to impact lives right across our country. Is it asking too much then to say that it would be great if Dr Bundu’s record in politics was as brilliant and impeccable as his intellect?

  5. “Good afternoon. I feel honoured to be invited to make a statement on the Role of Parliament in the Constitutional Review Process during this Launch by His Excellency the President of the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Process. And I would like to do so from the perspective of Parliament by making six cardinal points.”-Dr. Abass Bundu

    This is a very brilliant speech by Dr. Bundu. As usual several of us look at the messenger and not the message and so we miss important gist in national issues. Dr. Bundu was call to talk about the role of Parliament in the constitutional review process, and I believe that he did so eloquently. The insinuation by most of us here (especially the lazy readers) that Dr. Bundu has suddenly become a PAOPA apostate is an indication that some of us did not read the article above and secondly did not know the history of the constitutional review process was all about. All of the changes adopted by the Bio Government were from recommendation made since 2008 first by the Dr. Peter Tucker commission and the Justice Edmond Cowan Commission that was set up in 2013. In fact some of the recommendation s has been adopted here and there by the Koroma and Bio Government including the recent abolition of the Death Penalty.

    The Bio government is proposing constitutional changes in response to the Report of the Constitutional Review Committee. The fact that they are PROPOSING does not mean that they do not know that any changes have to go through Parliament and a referendum. It is therefore surprising that people here are claiming otherwise. Or are they just feigning that they do not know the process. For such individual, Dr. Bundu’s speech above is very timely and educative. The last point I would like to clarify is the issue of attacking people’s personality. As bad as Dr. Bundu might be, there is no denying that he is one of the brightest minds that have come from our country. At age 33 he already had his PhD in law from the University of Cambridge, England. At 35 in 1982, he was appointed Minister of Agriculture by President Stevens. He is only 73 years old this year. Why would anyone insinuate that because Dr. Abass Bundu worked with the likes of Dr. Adulai O Conteh, Hon Musa Kabia, Vice president SI Koroma, Hon CA Kamara Taylor, Former Mayor Alfred Akibo Betts, Hon Bambay Kamara. Hon ABM Kamara, Hon SB Marah, Major Jumu Jalloh, Major General Toraonka, Hon Kawusu Conteh, Hon Thaimu Bangura, Vice President Minah, Mo Bash Taqi, Jim Forna, and Hon Dr Banya, he should resign and retire from public life.

    Dr. Banya for example celebrated his 91 Birthday this year. He is 18 years older than Dr. Abass Bundu. Dr. Bundu was brilliant enough to start his career in his early 30 and so dined with men 20 or more years older than him. Let us stop this Pull Him Down Syndrome

  6. Is Honourable Abass Bundu’s stance on the issue of constitutional review and modification his own road to Damascus moment, that is, his unexpectedly unequivocal conversion from the PAOPA doctrine of putting narrow party-political interests first and wider national interests last to a praiseworthy belief in prioritising national interests at the expense of party-political ones? His exceptionally brilliant and articulate submission seems indeed to lend credence to such a dramatic conversion. Has he then become all of a sudden, a PAOPA apostate? Are he, President Bio and the rest of them no longer singing from the same hymn sheet? In other words, has Abass Bundu the brilliant student of law got the better of Abass Bundu, the dodgy, self-seeking politician who, chameleon-like, has shifted allegiance over the years to APC-, SLPP- and military-led regimes, laughing all the way to the bank each time he has done so? When he invokes the sanctity of our constitution to call into question the wisdom of the current administration’s wish to amend it radically, is that a sign of him realising at long last that blind allegiance to the whims and caprices of political regimes comes at a cost: the sacrifice of what is best for his country? And is a straightforward ‘yes’ the answer to all these questions?

    I am not so sure, sadly. The difficulty in my rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s has to do with what I see as a clear-cut convergence between Bundus’s and Bio’s apparently divergent positions. The former’s negativity and the latter’s positivity on matters constitutional lose their distinctiveness when both emphasise that there is no need to rush things after all. Change according to Bundu, should be gradual given inherently sacred nature of a nation’s constitution and the fact that Parliamentary mathematics needed to push any modification through is at best uncertain. Perhaps even the sanguine, not to say naïve and clueless, Bio knows that. Hence his point that the constitutional changes he wishes to see happen may well wait after the next general and presidential elections – assuming that he and his administration survive these and that that they remain in power.

    The question then is: why the hullabaloo at this point in time about a large-scale revamping of our constitution? Is the President simply posturing? Is he more in love with the how well his vibes will be received by our international partners in development than with what is actually deliverable on the ground back home? I think the is issue here is not a wholesale recalibration of our constitution since that is obviously a pipe dream but with tinkering with it, making changes here and there in consonance most probably with an as yet unknown party-political agenda. This is because not even the very sceptical Abass Bundu is averse to such tinkering. He is very clear about that in his speech. Well, he accuses President Koroma and his administration of constitutional ‘cherry picking’ – their wanting to bring in changes in line with key political objectives of theirs. Is our dear Speaker of the House therefore covertly setting the stage for the PAOPA administration’s own programme of constitutional tinkering or cherry-picking? One way or another only time will tell.

    • Dr Bundu epitomised everything that is wrong with our country. Whilst most of his compatriots are either dead or had hung up there booths, Dr Bundu is still hanging on in there. I don’t wish him death but I for tge good of Sierra Leone, I wish he can reflect on his position and retire for good. Because the way it looks, he never let political opportunities pass him bye, without asking that dodgy question :how can he take advantage of the situation presented to him, for his own selfish needs. Given his roller-coaster and chequered political career from the times of the Stevens days, right to the present time under the one directionless Poapa Bio dictatorship. His history is interwovened with all the political calamities that have visited our country since independence. You can’t separate the autobiography of Dr Bundu to that of the sorry history of our country. They are two sides of the same coin.

      I grew up hearing about Dr Abbas Bundu, Dr Adulai O Conteh, Hon Musa Kabia, leader of Sierra Leone Labour Congress Mr Kandeh Yillah, Vice president SI Koroma, Hon CA Kamara Taylor, Former Mayor Alfred Akibo Betts, Hon Biokoh Betts, Hon Bambay Kamara. Hon ABM Kamara, Hon SB Marah, Brigadier MS Tarawalli, Major Jumu Jalloh, Major General Toraonka, Major Kanu, Hon Kawusu Conteh, Hon Thaimu Bangura, Vice President Minah, Mo Bash Taqi, Jim Forna, Hon Dr Banya, and many others that Hon Abbas Bundu used robbed shoulders with. Yet this political dinosaur continues to play political wrecking ball in our countrys passed and present.

      Today he is the last man left standing. Causing more problems for our country, than he ever contributed in advancing our experiments with democracy since independence. For the good of our country, we implode you to leave the political stage and go and write your memoir. Leave the young generation to clean up the mess you’ve helped create. You have done enough damage. It will take an other generation to recover from the disaster and the economic mess you’ve helped create in our country. I suggest the title of your Memoir. HOW I HELPED DAMADGED A WEALTHY NATION RICH IN EVERYTHING BUT CURSED WITH POLITICAL LEADERSHIP, CALLED SIERRA LEONE . BY Dr Abbas Bundu. I supposed you will be a best seller on Amazon prime.

  7. Dr Abbas Bundu will oppose the constitutional changes proposed by the Bio government. For him is like asking the turkey to vote for Christmas. Proportional representation is just one strand of the proposals that will give smaller parties more powers the way Parliamentary procedures are carried out. That in itself is chipping away the powers he exircise over parliament. That for Dr Bundu is definitely a No, No. Also if this constitutional amendments of the 1991 Sierra Leone constitution is carried out, it will give greater powers to the president who is the head of the executive branch, one of the three arms of government. Rightnow we have the spectacle of the Chief justice, the head of the judiciary firmly in support of the changes proposed by the executive branch of government. And this is the other arm of government that is supposed to interpret our laws, and defend the constitution of Sierra Leone.

    Then you have Dr Bundu the father of the Sierra Leone Parliament, putting his head above the parapets, defending the existing constitutional arrangements, and making it clear to Bio this changes his government proposed, will never see the light of day.If it is not broken why fix it. I suspect, this is all cooked up by Bio and Dr Bundu, to play the good cop and bad cop circus games they have been playing all along. Because they take Sierra Leoneans as the biggest fools walking in the face of this planet. Otherwise, Dr Bundu coming out forcefully and pouring cold water on Bio’s pet project, we know what happens to people that are opposed to Bio’s proposals. They usually get a special invitation by the Sierra Leone police to CID headquarters to explain themselves. We all recalled what happened to Dr Bright and Mrs Cole on the census proposals.

    The fact that Dr Bundu is still exercising his powers as the speaker of Parliament, when asked by his western backers why had the proposed constitutional changes fell flat, Bio will always take the aid money and point the finger of blame at Dr Bundu for not seeing through the changes. So everyone is kept happy. And the looser is Sierra-leoneans.

  8. The government of Sierra Leone aka Paopa govt is just wasting their time on this so-called govt White Paper with regards the Constitution Review process which we the people of Mama Saline are not going to accept. All they’re doing is to their own detriment not ours. This is so sad for a democratic state like Sierra Leone a despotic and an authoritarian ruler to impose on us what is illegal and unconstitutional to wholly accept. Paopa govt is a complete mess and failure to this nation.

    • The new constitution would render Abass Bundu ineligible for the position of Speaker in the parliament of Sierra Leone, hence his stance.

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