Yumkella says non-partisan Local Councils will lead to a One-Party State in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 February 2021:

Yesterday, at a meeting of representatives of 13 political parties held with the Parliamentary Committee on Local Government, the leader of the opposition NGC party in parliament, Hon Kandeh Yumkella, admonished the committee to treat the issues presented by the political party leaders with great seriousness.

“If 82% of all political parties in Sierra Leone (13 out of 17, including 3 out of the 4 in parliament APC, NGC and C4C), representing 70% of the Counsellors in the country have opposed the non-partisan local councils proposal from the government, why force it down their throats?” he asked.

Yumkella told the committee that their decisions and the next steps to be taken by the political parties will determine the survival of multiparty democracy in Sierra Leone.

You can listen to highlights of the discussions with the committee here and what Kandeh Yumkella said: 

A few weeks ago, a group of opposition parties including APC, NGC and C4C released a statement, voicing out their opposition to the government’s proposed plans to remove party-political democractic governance at the local level. This is what they said:

“We are aware that the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, during the Government’s Weekly Press Briefing on Thursday 26th November 2020 and other media engagements, informed the general public that Cabinet has approved a new National Decentralization Policy. We the undersigned political parties are vehemently opposed to the introduction of non-partisan local council elections in Sierra Leone and are of the opinion that the proposal should be abandoned with immediate effect.

We take this opportunity to hereby inform the general public and the international community that:

1. None of our political parties were informed or consulted with respect to the development of this National Decentralizaton Policy prior to the public announcement made by the said Minister.

2. Furthermore, none of the undersigned political parties are in receipt of either a draft or the final copy of the new National Decentralization Policy that the Minister of Local Government says has been approved by Cabinet. We consider it to be wholly unacceptable that our knowledge of the content of this critical policy is limited to key clauses outlined in the Press Statements made by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development and members of his review team and in related statements circulated on social media.

3. A key clause of the new National Decentralization Policy that has been trumpeted in the media by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development states that: “a person seeking to be a member of a local council as an elected councillor shall present himself to the electorate as an independent candidate; Councils are going to be non-partisan”;

4. Having engaged elected representatives within the Local Councils about the consultation process conducted by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the feedback from the Local Councils is that there was overwhelming rejection of the proposal of non-partisan elections by the local council stakeholders who were consulted by the Ministry of Local Government and their review team.

We the undersigned political parties are of the view that the introduction of this clause into the National Decentralization Policy is a direct assault on Sierra Leone’s multi-party democracy and a calculated move by the current SLPP government to illegitimately consolidate power in all Local Councils and to eliminate political opposition.

The existing Local Government Act 2004 clearly states in Part III, paragraph 4 (4) “A person seeking to be a member of a local council as an elected Councillor may present himself to the electorate as a candidate of a political party or as an independent candidate”. There is therefore already provision in the Local Government Act 2004 for candidates to run for office in the Local Councils as independents. The Government’s attempt to introduce legislation that makes being an independent candidate for local council elections mandatory is unacceptable for the following non-exhaustive list of reasons:

1. The Sierra Leone 1991 Constitution is founded on the principles of multi-party democracy and the right of association. Section 15(b) and Section 26 of the 1991 Constitution guarantee all Sierra Leoneans the right and freedom to assemble and to associate. The introduction of mandatory non-partisan local elections is contrary to both the constitutional principles and the constitutional rights of the citizens of Sierra Leone. The constitution cannot be overridden by subsequent legislation. The constitution is supreme.

2. The introduction of non-partisan elections will go against the provisions of Section 35(1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, which categorically states the role of political parties with regards to supporting the less wealthy (including women, youth and the disabled) during Local Government elections. Poorer citizens will therefore be excluded from participating in what should be the most inclusive election within our multi-party democracy should they be unable to pay nomination fees and campaign costs. The educational criteria included in the policy contradicts the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.

3. It is clear that non-partisan local council elections will in practice be subject to major interference from the ruling government. Recent examples of the overt interference of government in non-partisan, non-political elections, include: (i) the crowning ceremony at Victoria Park in 2018 of SLPP appointed market chairmen and chairwomen attended by the SLPP Western Area Regional Chairman; (ii) the interference of the Deputy Minister of Youth who, in an emergency meeting at the Sweissy Grounds in November 2018 personally pronounced that the then executive of Sweissy Jewellers Organisation was immediately dissolved and then proceeded to direct and influence new elections; (iii) the extensive involvement and interference by the Deputy Minister of Local Government and other government officials in the election of the Chairlady of the Gbense Market Women’s Association in Kono District in 2018.

4. Additionally, in the absence of political party participation, the process of short-listing potential candidates will be transferred from the political parties to the ruling government which will enable them to ensure that only candidates that are favoured by the government are allowed to contest. An election ballot paper cannot accommodate 100 candidates so if 100 candidates decide that they want to run for Mayor of Freetown, there will need to be a process of short-listing those candidates. In the current multi-party democratic system, the political parties play a major role in short-listing candidates within their party through the award of symbols. In the proposed non-partisan system, that process will move to the ruling government (potentially through the establishment of a commission appointed by the President and influenced by the ruling government).

5. With the level of interference demonstrated in the elections of ostensibly non-political organisations highlighted in paragraph 2 above, it is clear that the process of short-listing candidates will be used by the ruling government to hand-pick and give advantage to pro-ruling party supporters.

6. The proposed policy will unduly influence the ongoing review of the electoral laws.

We the undersigned political parties totally and unequivocally reject the introduction of non-partisan local council elections and hold the view that Government of Sierra Leone should abandon the proposal and focus on addressing more pressing issues, such as quality education, economic growth and job creation, that are affecting the daily lives of the citizens of Sierra Leone.”

It now remains to be seen whether the government will drop its plans to take away party political democracy away from local citizens, which many believe would ultimately lead to a One Party State in Sierra Leone.

5 Comments

  1. A one-party new direction indeed. Sad that such reckless political rioting and hooliganism is taking place in our country to sideline democracy by blokes who should know better. Thanks to our brave, smart, very active and serious-minded opposition to continue dialling up the political rhetoric but moderating the political tone on this issue simultaneously. God bless our opposition parties and their leaders.

  2. The idea that local councils should elect non-partisan independent candidates to run local councils, not only goes against the 1991 constitution on the right of assembly, and free association, but it goes against the core value of allowing local participation in our democratic dispensations. Sometimes, it is said local elections are far more important than the presidential election, because local councillors are involved with local issues affecting their communities. In the vast majority of cases, they live in the same environment like their electors. So they know what is required to improve the lives of their people. This national decentralisation programme in its current proposal, undermines the right of people’s voices to be heard.

    It also creates a massive road block, for when it comes to transparency and accountability . For instance, if the majority of local councils are being led by the party in power, and they are under-performing in delivering locally, that will give local communities a snapshot of what they will be like in running the National government. This idea is to blunt any blame game, so the ruling party don’t have to take the rap for the lack of development in local communities. If you have independent candidates, the voters have no party, whether it is APC or SLPP to direct their anger against. So the ruling party will always blame the independently run councils for their poor performance to an independent councillor. Political parties, whether in opposition or in government should be held to account locally. So if this proposal is enacted, what happens to the two major political parties and others?

  3. There is more to the SLPP’s intention on non-partisan local councils than may be quickly detected. They are testing the waters for a far grander scheme to squash the little democratic gains which the country has achieved in the last couple of decades. Their thinly disguised intention is to take us back to the days of Siaka Stevens, when a single Party (APC) completely dominated the political scene upon which it rode to shove all kinds of rubbish down our throats. Any opposition was met with ruthless, fabricated treason charges and execution.

    The real intention of SLPP is far removed from non-partisan local councils, but to become dictators as they smell defeat come the 2023 elections, which one hopes would be at the hands of KKY and NGC. Here we have a case of SLPP baring their claws and patiently waiting for the reaction of the public. Had the people, through their representatives, not stood up they would have bared their fangs to devour democracy. This is one occasion when the nation should be thankful to the opposition parties for collectively standing together, to kill dictatorship at conception. Does Maada Bio or any of his entourage ever find time to read and understand the constitution?

  4. These ignoramuses do not have what it takes to turn Sierra Leone into a One party state; a bull that confronts a Matador inside a ring engulfed by fire must be tough enough to inhale smoke fumes without suffocating to death under the merciless blows it is bound to receive at the hands of the fighter. A one partysState in Sierra Leone huh? Not ever going to happen – I would not lose a wink of sleep ove rit if I were you; not gonna happen under the watchful gaze of fearless young cubs that are known to hunt down their prey with matchless brute force and precision.(lol)

  5. The insistence on the continued short listing of candidates for political offices by undemocratic political parties does not augur well for the long term development of Sierra Leone.

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