March 1, 2018 By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Executive Director Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), Ibrahim Tommy, has said that the ban on vehicular movement on elections days, imposed by the Inspector General of Police, “has no legal legs to stand on.”
Tommy, who was speaking yesterday on Radio Democracy FM 98.1’s ‘Gud morning Salone programme’ said that the police might be coming from a good place but the Police Act of 1964 ( as amended), Road Traffic Act and 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone give no such powers to restrict vehicular movement without exceptions.
“We are a country of laws, if the police want to slam blanket ban on every election let there be a law that will allow them to restrict vehicular movement,” he said.
The CARL boss posited that it is the constitution that created the police, hence everything they do must be guided by the constitution, adding that he respects the job they do but if they intend to get such power on every elections day it got to be rooted in the laws of the land.
“I’m not in doubt of the fact that rights are not absolute, but even where you curtail rights, it should be based on law, that’s what the constitution says,” avers the human rights and accountability crusader.
He expressed that if people showed up after March 7 to complain that they couldn’t vote because they didn’t have access to regular means of transportation, the government of Sierra Leone would be susceptible to litigation for violating people’s right to participating in choosing a government of their choice.
He added: “I want to encourage the leadership of the SLP and any other public institution to make sure that they run this country by the laws of the land,” he advised, urging citizens to come out peacefully and vote and go back home in the interest of peace.
Deputy Inspector General of Police, Dr. Al-shek Kamara, however, insisted that the SLP has authority to restrict vehicular movement on elections day, adding that rights are not absolute and that even the constitution allows such limitations.
“This is done in the interest of public order and public safety pursuant to section 18(3) of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone and section 32 of the Police Act of 1964,” Dr. Kamara said.
But the DIG’s reliance on the said constitutional and legal provisions was challenged by Tommy, himself a lawyer, who explained that section 18(3) has a caveat that any restriction of freedom movement should be reasonable and justifiable, with the police required to rely on an Act of Parliament to invoke such powers. He also reminded the deputy police chief that section 32 of the Police Act was amended in 1965, stripping the force of any power to arbitrarily curtail a fundamental right as freedom of movement.
“You can go to court and challenge the vehicular movement restriction, which is the beauty of democracy,” the DIG retorted, adding that the controversial ban is for public safety and security.
The controversial ban was first introduced in 2012 and supported by all political parties. But unlike then, five opposition parties, including the two major ones – Sierra Leone Peoples Party and National Grand Coalition – have refused to sign a memorandum of understanding with the police in respect of the ban. They allege that, based of experience in 2012, it was a conduit through which the police aided the ruling All Peoples Party to gain advantage on polling day, adding that the ban is not supported by legal and current realities in the country.
Notwithstanding their misgivings, the DIG was insistent that they would robustly enforce the ban, adding “why you should abandoned a winning formula? It happened in 2012 and it won, in fact when we did a debrief it was one of the strengths of the peaceful nature of the elections.”
He said that people would be free to move out and about on elections day using public buses, ferries and canoes in the Western Area and provincial headquarters, while private and non-essential government vehicles would require accreditation pass from the electoral body.
“The said restriction will be focused on the sixteen (16) District headquarter towns including the Western Area Urban and Western Area rural,” he said.
Meanwhile, many people have condemned the controversial ban on vehicular movement, among them the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), which in a press release urged the police to reverse the decision as it would disenfranchise citizens who rely on public transportation.