Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 February 2019:
Parliamentarians in Sierra Leone return to parliament today, after last week’s controversial and unprecedented decision by the Speaker of the House – Dr Abbas Bundu, to grant parliamentary assent to the president’s proposal to declare a state of public emergency on rape, without seeking a two-thirds majority vote through ballot – as provided for in the country’s constitution.
This decision has angered the opposition APC, who are accusing the Speaker of undemocratically conferring sweeping state of emergency powers on to the president, without recourse to the judiciary in rape and sexual violence cases. The president they say, will effectively become the Judge, Jury and Executioner.
According to the opposition APC, such sweeping state of emergency powers is open to abuse and can be used to intimidate, harass, and worse – incarcerate opposition politicians.
But the government disagrees. Yesterday, Monday 25th February 2019, the Leader of Government Business in the House of Parliament – Sidi Mohamed Tunis MP, presented President Julius Maada Bio with a Parliamentary Certificate of Approval of the Proclamation of a State of Emergency on Rape and Sexual Violence, at State House.
Presenting the controversial Certificate, Sidi Mohamed Tunis said: “Your Excellency sir, having gone through Parliament, I hereby present you with the Certificate of Approval of the Proclamation on the State of Emergency on Rape and Sexual Violence.”
Receiving the Certificate, President Julius Maada Bio said he is pleased that Parliament has done their bit of the work to translate his words into action.
He said he is very passionate and cared about the welfare of everyone in the country, adding that he has already made a commitment on rape and sexual violence, which according to the president has been well received both locally and internationally.
President Bio thanked Members of Parliament for approving the Declaration and expressed hope for their continued support in implementing the other parts of the Declaration.
But the opposition APC members of parliament – commanding a majority in the Houses of Parliament, say that they never gave their assent to the president’s proposal to declare a state of emergency.
The speaker of parliament says that he has granted approval for the declaration of a state of emergency because when members of parliament where asked to indicate their approval, the majority he said shouted‘Ayes’ – meaning yes.
But many listeners of the BBC Focus on Africa recording of the event in parliament, said that those MPs shouting ‘No’ clearly shouted loudest, adding to the controversy and political intrigue.
And this is what the opposition APC are complaining about, along with the refusal of the speaker of parliament to grant MPs a ballot vote, so as to ascertain whether two-thirds of MPs had given their assent to the Bill.
As the political row continues, the opposition APC will today return to parliament, expecting the debate on the state of emergency Bill to continue – followed by a meaningful vote.
Yesterday, the APC party published a letter – signed by Ibrahim Ben Kargbo MP, Acting Leader of the party (Photo), stating their position on the declaration of state of emergency. This is what they said:
“We the APC Members of Parliament wish to inform members of our Party, the International Community, Civil Society, the Media and the general public that, Parliament has not approved His Excellency’s Proclamation of a State of Public Emergency. Section 29 (3) of the 1991 Constitution provides that such a proclamation must be approved by a vote of two-thirds of Members of Parliament present.
“Parliamentary sitting was abruptly adjourned to Tuesday 26th February 2019 without votes being taken as prescribed by the Constitution and the Standing Orders.
“While we applaud President Julius Maada Bio in his determination to combat sexual crimes, it is in the legislative competence of Parliament to make laws for good governance. In this respect, our Constitution emphatically states in Section 105:
“Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament shall be the supreme legislative authority for Sierra Leone.”
“Accordingly, we the APC Members of Parliament made our position abundantly clear in the Well of Parliament that we support the fight against rape and all forms of sexual violence against women and girls and that more punitive measures ought to be adopted to control same.
“In addition, we the APC Members of Parliament hold the view that such measures are not beyond the reach of the President, as such can be adequately achieved by strengthening the Sexual Offences Laws and their enforcement followed by stronger regulations.
“If President Bio wishes to have Parliament amend the Sexual Offences Laws and enact stricter laws and regulations, he should commence the initiative rather than pre-empt Parliament by proclaiming a State of Public Emergency.
“We, the APC Members of Parliament strongly consider the proclamation of a State of Public Emergency as an overreach by the Government in the fight against rape and sexual offences. A State of Public Emergency may be declared by the President under only the following circumstances:
a. Sierra Leone is at war;
b. Sierra Leone is in imminent danger of invasion or involvement in a state of war; or
c. there is actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the whole of Sierra Leone or any part thereof to such an extent as to require extraordinary measures to restore peace and security; or
d. there is a clear and present danger of an actual breakdown of public order and public safety in the whole of Sierra Leone or any part thereof requiring extraordinary measures to avert the same; or
e. there is an occurrence of imminent danger, or the occurrence of any disaster or natural calamity affecting the community or a section of the community in Sierra Leone; or
f. there is any other public danger which clearly constitutes a threat to the existence of Sierra Leone.
It is clear our Constitution reserves these specific circumstances to declare a State of Public
“Emergency in Sierra Leone and the present societal menace doesn’t constitute one. We believe a declaration of a State of Public Emergency is a wrong manner to approach a societal problem for which appropriate laws and regulations may be enacted by Parliament.
“A State of Public Emergency may provide temporary measures but it cannot stop a scourge of sexual offences in our communities in the long run when the period of emergency expires. As the Proclamation of a State of Public Emergency is at variance with curbing sexual crimes, so is the ‘collection of voices’ in approving it by Parliament.
“We refer our objections to the International Community, Civil Society Organizations, the Media and all men and women of goodwill, that we share President Julius Maada Bio’s quest to fight sexual offences but we do not share his Proclamation of a State of Public Emergency and we frown on the heavy-handedness of the Speaker in attempting to carry the Motion for the approval of the State of Public Emergency by a mere ‘collection of voices’ contrary to the mandatory Provision of Section 29(3) of the 1991 Constitution and Standing Order 44(4) – for a two- thirds vote for its approval.
“We therefore wish to reiterate that the Debate for the approval of the said Proclamation was inconclusive; hence a Public State of Emergency does not exist. The Debate on the Proclamation is to continue on the next sitting of Parliament.”
With president Bio yesterday receiving his Certificate of Parliamentary approval of the declaration of state of emergency on rape and sexual violence at State House, and the opposition APC denying that such an assent was granted by the majority of MPs in parliament, today’s sitting by MPs will determine the shape and tone of politics in Sierra Leone for the next few months.