February 26, 2016 By: Winstanley.R.Bankole. Johnson
It will be presumptuous to ascribe the first draft of the revised national constitution to the efforts of any particular group. However, I feel gratified that 60% of it reflects our submissions. The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) should be congratulated for work achieved so far against a backdrop of much suspicion, and encouraged to ensure that their final recommendations for Parliamentary endorsement convey the genuine concerns of the entire citizenry. Our generation cannot afford to get it wrong again.
Meantime even at this stage, and until we find the time to address our further submissions to the Secretariat of the CRC, it will no be out of order for me to publicly react to what in my view are obvious gaps in the first draft of the document in order that they can be corrected to avoid creating a lacunae of sorts in the final cut that will not make it to stand the test of time.
Fixed Elections Cycles
Apart from ratifying a fixed calendar cycle for all elections, I feel that in the case of Presidential elections particularly, a time lag of say ninety (90) days should be enshrined for between announcement of the final results and the Presidential inauguration date. This will allow for a satisfactory conclusion of elections petition by our Courts (if any). That will further not only eliminate protracted and preposterous claims by a defeated candidate about having being cheated, but also to allow the ultimate winner to assume office under a climate of peace and stability.
House of Paramount Chiefs
My profound respect for traditional establishments aside, I entertain grave concerns that no representational platform has been considered for us Krios whose socio-political interests cannot be guaranteed by any Paramount Chief. Given the immense weight Paramount Chiefs (and Tribal Heads in the Western Area) now enjoy from contemporary political dispensations including the receipts of regular salaries and allowances (which privileges are not also enjoyed by us Krios), a well founded suspicion arises based on experience, that a House of Chiefs once enshrined in our National Constitution without cognizance for minority Krio community interests would not necessarily reflect a wholesome nationalistic platform.
The paucity of our numbers notwithstanding, it has to be accepted that as a “Community”, Krios can neither be “tribalized” nor forced into crowning “Chiefs” of their own, or accept balkanizations to be superintended by Tribal Authorities. The spirit of liberty and an ability to exercise choices which brought our forebearers here still lingers, which is why it is in our undiluted loyalty to God, Country and Flag (in that order) that our loyalty to any sitting President becomes a sine qua non.
Politics is indeed a game of numbers, but it is not just numeric strength alone that determines a democracy. Besides minority Communities like ours the Krios have never relied on their numbers to prove their political efficacy. So numbers cannot be a factor for our relevance now.
Those with a very good retentivity can recall plans by a particular political dispensation to break up and balkanize the entire Western Urban Areas into “Districts” to reflect what to them were “the realities on the ground” with each “District” having its own sort of Traditional Ruler. The inference of “the realities on the ground” is that minorities “now no longer matter” when it comes to governance by consultation, even in their own places of nativity. Hon. Mr. Justice Cowan that cannot be right M’Lord!!
I am not quite sure if those same ideas have been completely aborted but suffice it to say though that our final Constitution no matter the outcomes must recognize minority rights and privileges, including their right to be represented in every national forum, just like those with the demographic advantages.
When you consider that at every change of political dispensation, those in the majority in a defeated political party would always cry foul about being discriminated against in everything – from scholarship awards to employment opportunities – it will be scurrilous for anyone to dismiss my apprehensions with a wave of hand as being alarmists. It is a fact that in between changes in political dispensations, it is us the minorities who suffer most because an opportunity for “our own time to come” just does not exist. And if those with the numbers advantage can be spending so much time and fanfare to propagate their ethnicity, what’s wrong with me doing the same for my own minority Community political security?
I would hate to contemplate that the final nails for the extinction of minorities in Sierra Leone politics could be hammered home under our All Peoples’ Congress (APC) dispensation. It will be the biggest and greatest political betrayal of all time. A House for Paramount Chiefs (only) certainly does not answer the question of equal representation for all Sierra Leoneans. Ideally the creation of a National Assembly representational of every tribe and minority communities (that are not tribes) in this country is the answer.
The Death Penalty
On this matter the CRC should go beyond just “seeking further information” on its abolition or retention. At worst, a referendum on it should be held because the state of indiscipline and lawlessness in the country, coupled with the gross incapacity of our Judiciary to expeditiously address murder cases do not warrant its abolition – at least not at this time when evidence abound of assailants forewarning their victims of their intentions to kill them before doing so. Apart from having too many unsolved murders in our Police files, many homicide matters in which the killers have been sufficiently identified and arranged before our Courts of Law are still inconclusive.
So there’s absolutely no justification at present to remove the Death Penalty from our statute books. If one of the reasons why the Inter-Religious Council does not want the Abortion Bill enacted is because our medical systems are not robust enough to guarantee the safety of the patients, then one can also logically and justifiably denounce any proposal to abolish the death penalty on grounds that our legal systems are not robust enough to assuage surviving families of victims and to justify its repeal.
Pensions as I’ve always maintained, should only be payable to those who have attained the stipulated ages for its eligibility. It is wrong – very wrong in fact – for the Parliamentary Service Commission to have ratified pensions for our former Hon. MPs even after just one term in office, worse still in our own perennially cash-strapped, donor-driven economy where 60% of government recurrent domestic expenses is applied to wages, salaries and pensions. The situation is further exacerbated when one considers that thousands of others also served government for much longer (say between 30 and 40 years) but are only receiving a pittance as low as Le25,000 (Twenty-five thousand Leones) in monthly pensions.
If we continue this untenable arrangement unchecked, we shall soon be re-inventing the wheels of bankruptcy as in Greece, Argentina and Bolivia among other nations on account of bloated pension and other retirement benefits payments. What we must not forget is that in times of dire economic constraints, the Bretton Woods are empirically more sympathetic to failed Caucasian nations than they are to black African ones – in the same way they are more positively disposed to assisting fair skinned refugees than us.
The only way the CRC can help checkmate this anomaly without discouraging current beneficiaries is to consider adding a clause in the Constitution that will (a) open future ex-Hon. MPs to a one-off ex-gratia payment equal to their last net annual basic salary and (b) defer their eligibility to the Parliamentary Pension Scheme for only those who (by the Grace of God) attain an agreed pensionable age of say sixty-five (65) years. Pensions to the existing crop of beneficiary ex-MPs can be allowed to continue until they all fade away. But there is no way this country can sustain the present arrangement given our usually high turnover of parliamentarians in recent times.
Non-Partisan Local Council Elections
There isn’t much to comment about on this topic, except to stress on its beauty and the benefit of their conduct on non-partisan/non-political basis to future incumbents. That is to say; Mayors and Chairpersons of a determined and fiery disposition to move their Councils forward will henceforth cease to be constrained by narrow political party considerations or experience intermittent and usually unfounded conspiracies, gossips and frequent character assassination attempts, all calculated to impeach them or sow a permanent schism between them and the leadership of their respective political parties. I am writing from firsthand experience as a former Mayor and victim of all above circumstances and worse more.
National Faux Pas
One blunder I’m sure we all made was not to have recommended for a complete divorce between political parties administrations and the political governance of this country. That is to say, that the new National Constitution should make it a criminal offence punishable by some stiff penalty for any executive office bearer of the political party in government to simultaneously hold public office as for example; as a Cabinet Minister and Organizing Secretary. Whether it should be included in the revised Constitution or a revised PPRC Act does not matter. But I think the concept deserves some serious consideration even at this point
My final concern is on a poignant statement by the Chair of the CRC the Hon. Mr. Justice Cowan that their final Constitutional draft can be altered / amended by the Honourable House of Parliament before presentation for Presidential assent or a referendum. May I will passionately appeal to our Hon MPs well in advance to present that final Constitutional draft submissions unaltered, having due regard for the extensive national consultations that they are predicated upon.
And God will bless them for that.