November 1, 2018
By Jariatu S. Bangura
The Well of Parliament yesterday turned into a circus as lawmakers staged a protest demanding better welfare, describing their leaders as ‘Aki & Pawpaw’ amid chants of ‘The more we are together, together, together the happier we shall be.’
The protest lasted for almost an hour before the Speaker took his seat to commence the session.
Lawmakers in the last Parliament had asked then Minister of Finance to improve their welfare and the then government promised to look into the issue, but nothing was done in that direction.
While presenting the supplementary budget to the current parliament in July, current Minister of Finance Jacob Jusu Saffa assured lawmakers that their welfare would be looked into, but nothing has since been done to address the issue.
Yesterday, the MPs reacted angrily by calling for the removal of the financing agreement (Sierra Leone skills development project) between Sierra Leone and the International Development Association on the order paper until their welfare issues are addressed.
While the lawmakers were chanting slogans, the leadership of the four political parties in parliament summoned their members in Committee Room 1 for an urgent meeting. Journalists were barred from attending the meeting and were not informed about what transpired.
Prior to the sitting, the aggrieved lawmakers had, without their political leaders, unanimously decided to reject the paper that the Deputy Minister of Finance was due to table until their welfare issues have been addressed.
Speaker of Parliament Dr. Abass Bundu pleaded with the lawmakers to be patient until negotiations with the executive arm of government are complete.
“I am fully aware of the mood you are expressing now but I want to assure you that negotiations have taken place in earnest atmosphere. The decision is delicate and confidential, therefore I am begging that we all rise and go to Committee Room 1 to discuss the issue,” he said.
Hon. Bundu also pleaded to the MPs to allow their leaders to participate in the meetings as their presence was very important.
“This process has long been done and we do not want to exclude the leadership as they are equally important. Whatever feelings you have for your leaders, I am begging you to put them aside for the moment,” he appealed.
Coordinator of Welfare Committee of MPs, Hon. Lahai Marah assured the Speaker that they were willing to listen to whatever he was going to tell them, but insisted that the discussion should be held in the Well and not in any secret location.
“We are not going to accept people to negotiate on our behalf. We want to be involved in the negotiation process at every stage because it involves us and not the leadership. The members are demanding that the leaders shouldn’t be involved in the negotiation process and that also the Minister of Finance should be called upon, as we do not want any Deputy Minister or Financial Secretary to be there,” he said.
The current parliament was sworn in less than six months ago and lawmakers receive more than tenfold what the average Sierra Leonean worker receives as minimum wage, pegged at Le500,000 or approximately US$58.