Will the Bio-led government implement the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Report? Op ed

Amin Kef Sesay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 October 2020:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 2002 urged the Government of Sierra Leone to give “serious consideration” to the creation of a “new constitution”, in order to contribute to human rights and democracy in the country.

All the political parties agreed that the 1991 Constitution does not reflect the modern values of the country, and requires amendment in order to facilitate the continued development of a democratic and stable country.

As such, the mandate of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) which was launched by the former President Koroma, was to review the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone and the Peter Tucker’s Constitutional Commission Report (PTCR) submitted to the Government in January 2008 as a working document.

The CRC took particular note of PTCR, the TRC recommendations, position papers submitted by different stakeholders and recommendations from the public, during its nationwide consultation exercise.

The Chapter on State Policy defines the overarching relationship between the State of the Republic of Sierra Leone and its citizens and institutions. It outlines the State’s goal and aspirations towards securing basic rights and development for its people.

In the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, none of these provisions are justiciable which means if there was a breach of these undertakings and promises in the Constitution they are not enforceable by the courts.

During the Consultation process there were many calls for the provisions contained within Chapter II to be made justiciable. This was a major consideration for the deliberations of the CRC.

Other key areas recommended for inclusion were devolution of power, integrity, transparency, accountability and sustainable development as an additional National Value.

In addition, proposals were made to remove restrictions on provisions relating to health, safety, welfare, medical facilities and educational opportunities. So phrases like “having due regard to the resources of the State and “as and where practicable” were deleted.

The CRC also accepted the imperative recommendation by the TRC which had been reiterated by the PTCR to add “human dignity” into the country’s National Values.

The CRC suggests strengthening the provision relating to discrimination by changing “discourage” to “prohibit” discrimination under Economic Objectives.

The CRC reviewed the provisions of Chapter  III, The Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of  the Individual of 1991 Constitution.

The CRC took particular note of the TRC recommendations, those contained in the  PTCR and especially the submissions and  recommendations received during the nation-wide public consultation exercise.

All human rights are fundamental – life, liberty, security of person, the enjoyment of property, the protection of law, the protection of environment, education, health, dignity and shelter as well as a right to a public apology, as well as compensation for unlawful detention. Numerous position papers reiterated the call by the country’s Human Rights Commission  for the abolition of the death penalty.

“From a Political to a  Developmental  Constitution” as in Ghana, the CRC presented the idea of National Development Planning Commission to the people of Sierra Leone and all relevant national stakeholders to consider the establishment of a  constitutionally guaranteed institution to specifically address Sierra Leone’s long term development challenges.

Key among the recommendations made was that national development is not cantered on sectional political party manifestos; manifestos must rather be aligned to the Plan.

The Implementation Plan recommended by the CRC should be binding on all successive governments for the following reasons: This will ensure that projects initiated under a previous government are not abandoned where there is a change of government. The CRC recommended that the National Development Planning Commission should be enshrined within the Constitution.

President Ernest Bai Koroma is no longer in office – president Bio is now in charge.  So, what happens now to the Report of the 80 –member Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) which former President Ernest Bai Koroma established in July 2013? The Committee completed its work on 12th October 2016 and presented its Report to the former president.

“We (the Constitutional Review Committee) have completed our work, the mandate to review the 1991 Republican Constitution and not to write a new Constitution. The whole exercise, from what we have been hearing, the people are satisfied that we have done a good job and we do recognize that fact. Posterity will judge us kindly,” the late Chairman of the 80-man CRC Honourable Justice Edmond Cowan told journalist Clarence Roy-Macaulay on October 26, 2016 – four years ago.

Will president Bio now dust off the Report and lay it before his cabinet to decide upon a Plan of Action for its implementation, as he promised over two years ago – during his 2018 election campaign? Or will he renege on that promise?

5 Comments

  1. The constitution reform commission recommendation should serve as a template to reform our outdated constitution, which in majority of cases has mirrored our colonial era constitution since we gained independence from the British almost sixty years ago. Our 1991 constitution has not adapted with the times. It needs to be recalibrated to reflect the 21st century we are living. A good example is the recent ditching of the 1965 colonial era libel laws.

    When that law was passed, no one back then would have predicted how social media will come to dominate our age as we know it. Yes there are other colonial era laws that need little tweaking, but they have to reflect our times and have to be part of the constitutional package of reforms as we go forward. For me the one that jumps out is the use of the death penalty. It can only justify its use like when a heinous crime, example human sacrifice, and mass murder. The next one on the reform agenda is the right of women and children.

    The spate of rape cases in Sierra Leone is on the rise and a worry trend. We need stricter laws to arrest this trend. The need for the state to compensate individual citizens for wrongful arrest, and detention needs urgent reform. The law can even go further to force the state to offer apologies to its victims. As for treason cases against the state, unless of course they involve individual citizens declaring war against the state, a long and specified prison tariff should serve its purpose.

  2. Fantastic analysis there by Dje on some points in my view. This was what Dje said – “The second group, which comprises elements of the “true democrats” and “progressives”, has failed, abysmally, to effectively present or promote a structured demand for its implementation.” When we heard that men like Dr Kandeh Yumkella are entering politics, many people had hope that change is going to come. But he disappointed many people including myself.

    Should the APC have implemented the TRC if Dr Samura Kamara had won the 2018 elections? Maybe yes or maybe no. It’s true that former President Ernest Bai Koroma did not implement the TRC during his time as President, which I disagree with him for failing to do and they were kicking the can down the road. That’s a fair point to raise. What about men like Dr Kandeh Yumkella, Honourable Emmerson Lamina and all the people appointed to that well, called the well of Parliament.

    None of those blokes are even dreaming of that. SAD. The bigger magical and lottery question of this new decade is this – Will President Bio implement the TRC? My answer is NO. But sometimes, he proves me wrong. I hope he proves me wrong again this time. God bless Dje.

  3. I have long agreed that all political parties come together to mend the broken 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone that is not serving its purpose towards stability in the country. While the constitution continues contributing to the development of peace and stability in the country, the laws do not reflect the modern values of the country and require an amendment to expedite the continued advancement of a democratic and stable Sierra Leone. I pray the president serves the interest of democracy and the cry for freedom by the people of Sierra Leone.

  4. In my estimation, there are two ideologically opposed groups whose differences affect the implementation of the TRC recommendations. We have the “constitutionalists”, for whom an overhaul of Sierra Leone’s constitution totally obliterates their relevance and exposes their complicity in maintaining an obsolete system whose very survival is made possible by the twisted tenets of pre 1991. The second group, which comprises elements of the “true democrats” and “progressives”, has failed, abysmally, to effectively present or promote a structured demand for its implementation. This failure stems from misdirected approaches to local politics (APC and NRM, SLPP and Paopa). These two ideological antagonists (represented in all major parties) are in a stalemate that arrests any action toward a new Republic, founded on the recommendations of the ‘91 review.

    For this reason Kef, I doubt the current administration will attempt to open this “Pandora’s Box” of recommendations. Ernest Koroma, true to his unfamed “world best” moniker, succeeded in kicking the proverbial ball a little further down the road. The consequences would be uber-problematic for a long list of political and civil operatives since 1991. The 1991 review and the TRC recommendations are in essence, a ticking time bomb of reckoning. It is not for the faint of heart.

    It would take sheer grit for our ideologues and political leaders to shred the “blueprint of the old order” and quite frankly, I don’t think the Bio led government is adequately equipped to effectively create this “new republic” the recommendations proffer. His government is becoming increasingly hamstrung in the tried and true methods of the “old guard” that has successfully, and to national detriment, kept this document dust-bound.

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