December 7, 2017 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
A coalition of key civil society organisations in Sierra Leone has written an open letter to President Ernest Bai Koroma expressing concern over what they described as ‘prevailing democratic quagmire in the country.’
Reading the open letter during a presser yesterday at the National Elections Watch (NEW) head office in Freetown, Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Valnora Edwin drew the attention of the president to a number of obstacles institutions under his administration have established that limit participation in political process.
They warned that “…if the situation continues undressed, the actions of current institutions could be viewed as a deliberate attempt to undermine the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the constitution; this is citizens’ right to vote and to be voted for.”
According to the organisations, restricting any citizen’s right to vote and be voted for would be against the democratic ethos and freedoms president Koroma took oath to promote and protect.
Apparently the coalition of CSOs was making reference to a raft of last minute actions by the current government aimed at either preventing unhindered participation in the forthcoming elections or hastily passing laws with the potential to negatively impact the March 2018 elections.
Ms. Edwin raised the issue of a statutory instrument that had been tabled by the electoral body in parliament for the reduction of ‘exorbitant’ candidature nomination fees, which was controversially thrown out.
“The proposal for the reduction of fees was thrown out of parliament in October this year and still yet to be enacted. We believe members representing people in the House of Parliament have not given the instrument the importance it deserves and that has compelled civil society organisations to crave Your Excellency’s timely intervention,” which according to the CSOs a reduction in nomination fees as agreed by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and political parties.
Also, the CGG executive director expressed their disapproval of a constitutional amendment bill that has been laid in parliament, which she opined might alter the electoral system right in the middle of the current electioneering process and restrict individual freedoms.
“We believe that attempts to amend the 1991 Constitution at this point in time may neither be in the interest of this nation nor in the democratic wellbeing of us as people. We worked so hard on reviewing the Constitution and do not believe it needs to be muddled with another critical democratic process,” she maintained.
They called on the president to ensure that the process of altering the 55% threshold requirement to 50+1% be left in the hand of the next democratically elected government, adding that recommendations made by the Constitutional Review Committee were progressive and citizens expect them to remain the same.
“The [presidential] winner must have support across the ethnic groups and regions further building social cohesion and hopefully dispensing with the winner takes all system of governance. Any action to legislate on issues related to the electoral process violates our obligations on the ECOWAS Protocol on Elections, Democracy and Governance,” she said.
The letter concluded that, “In our reaffirmation as citizens to the upholding of the Constitution of Sierra Leone and in a bid to maintain the hard-earned peace and stability, we are peacefully calling on Mr. President and Parliament not to proceed with any such interventions of passing an Amendment Bill into Law at this crucial time in our history.”