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REVISED PUBLIC ORDER ACT: WELL BEGUN IS HALF DONE

June 10, 2020

BY Andrew Keili

Some things are as constant in political party manifestoes in Sierra Leone as the Northern star. One such thing is the promise to revamp our agriculture so we will be able to feed ourselves and cut off rice importation. Another is repealing the obnoxious Part 5 of the Public Order Act 1965 which deals with criminal and seditious libel. Under this controversial 1965 law, which has repeatedly been condemned by national and international press freedom groups, the publication, distribution or possession of content likely to provoke “public disaffection” with the president or other officials is punishable by long prison terms for the offenders and the closure of their news media. Many say, in modern democratic societies, remedies for defamation should be civil and not criminal.

Fortuitously, the Information Minister in the last political dispensation and the current one have been journalists at some stage in life and seemed to argue so passionately about what they regard as a truly obnoxious law. There is nothing to doubt about the passion with which the current Minister has pursued this.

However, the bill was recently withdrawn from Parliament.  Apparently Parliament has requested that the Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act be strengthened and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) improve on its self-regulation.

But what is surprising is that the Ministry of Information and Communications only learnt about the apparent casting aside of the Bill “Public Order (Amendment) Act, 2019, tabled on 14 November, 2019 when this was disclosed in a radio interview with the Leader of Government Business and Chairman of Parliamentary Committee on appointment and public service. The Minister himself mentioned over radio he read about it on social media!

The Minister mentioned that, as would be expected, a series of consultations were held with various stakeholders including SLAJ and IMC before the drafting of this Bill by the Law Officer’s Department, approval by Cabinet and submission to Parliament. Is parliament now insinuating that these consultations were inadequate and left many germane issues out of the reckoning? Also not surprisingly, some members of the media and public have got suspicious that this may be a ploy after all to frustrate the Minister’s efforts and put paid to the revision of the Act by persons with unsavoury motives.

The Minister’s assertion this week that the passing of the Bill is still on course at the start of the new parliamentary session seems reassuring. Apparently, this will also be accompanied by changes to the IMC Act. The Leader of Government business now claims to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Time will tell whether the Minister’s efforts will eventually be rewarded. It will all come out in the wash and the media fraternity is hesitantly expectant. We shall see!

A wily observer of the Sierra Leone political scene observed thus: “I wish Parliament were as proactive in reviewing all Bills and following due process as they claim to have done in this case. If other important bills relating to our natural resources and international agreements and the vetting of our political appointees by Parliament went through such exhaustive scrutiny and were not rushed in half a day, we would not be in the parlous state we are today”.

Anyway, here is to hoping that this “inordinate waiting” may not be in vain and that the Minister will be richly rewarded with Acts (both Public Order and IMC), that will address the interest of all stakeholders and Sierra Leone. When that happens I will raise my glass to the Minister (despite his recent “beefing” of an elder brother!).Well begun is half done, Mr. Minister.

CHIEF JUSTICE AND BAR ASSOCIATION REVOLT AGAINST PRESIDENT

The Chief Justice has given his opinion on the issue of the independence of the Judiciary thus:

“While the Executive order has no legal effect as the constitution is clear about the creation of the Judiciary and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and their authority and functions, it is important that the public understands for the sake of our constitutional democracy, that both the Judiciary and the JSC are independent organs which are neither assigned functions nor derive authority from the Executive Branch of government.”

The President of the “Bar Association” also expressed his views on this same issue:

“The Order cannot “restructure” or “assign” functions to the other co-equal and co-substantial arms of government and independent commissions. An Executive Order cannot “restructure’ or “assign” functions to the Judiciary or Chief Justice………This administration has distinguished itself in the disobedience of court orders. We shall nonetheless, not relent in our quest for justice because it is only a court of law that is mandated to determine legal disputes. (We) will accordingly proceed to court to…….”

It seems very unusual for the Chief Justice and the President of the “Bar Association” to be so bold, or are we seeing a paradigm shift in the actions of the heads of these institutions? Good for them!

Wake up from your dream and smell the coffee! Unfortunately, this is not Sierra Leone. It happened recently in Kenya, where the Chief Justice, Hon. David K. Maraga, who is also head of the Judicial Service Commission lambasted Government for its Executive Order No.1 of 2020, entitled “Organization of government”. This was echoed in a letter from the President of the Law Society of Kenya (the equivalent of our Bar Association) to the Attorney General.

I dream that one day our own institutions will develop the testicular fortitude to speak truth to power in defense of our separation of powers”, as Martin Luther King would say. Fat chance? Or as one of my legal friends told me-“moneoo, you nor sabi sef!”


HUSBAND SCHOOLS

Congratulations to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for setting up “the school for husbands” as a “male engagement strategy to provide the opportunity and space for men to actively participate in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment”. 

A report states: “Last year, UNFPA supported the development of manuals to standardize six sessions in Husband Schools in Bo, Bombali and Port Loko districts. One hundred and fifty husbands were reached with information on sexual and reproductive health and maternal health including family planning services…..17 members of the Husband Schools for the first time agreed to and accompanied their wives to the PHU to access family planning services…. Eight fathers in the Husband Schools consented to their sexually active adolescent daughters opting for family planning in Bo district.”

The report also alludes to the pivotal role of Male Advocacy Peer Educators (MAPEs) to the conduct of these schools. They facilitate the sessions, coordinate the activities of the schools, collect and record data on antenatal/postnatal care referrals, family planning uptake eetc.

As a result, 147men accompanied their pregnant spouses and 186 men accompanied their lactating spouses to health clinics. Radio discussion programmes were also held on Gender Based Violence (GBV).

All of this is admirable. I particularly like the idea of “Husband schools” and in the midst of the current COVIC pandemic would like to make some suggestions on expanding programme to other husbands with the curriculum to include the following subjects:

  • How to stay in one place (and after COVID, ’Strategies for coming back home early”)
  • Cutting down on alcohol consumption
  • A stitch in time saves nine.
  • Football can be watched at home
  • Listening and affirmation skills
  • Developing your wife’s confidence
  • Disciplining and training your kids.
  • Your role as leader of the house
  • The true meaning of submission
  • Helping out with housework

Just one little problem-who will be the lecturers? Congratulations again to UNFPA. Keep it up!

OUR NEW POLITICAL SLOGANS

Every party has its oft loved political slogans at campaign time, during governance and when it is in opposition. Good ones are hard to come by and quite often slogans may backfire. The APC’s “De Pa de woke”, “Four for four” and “Action pass intention” come to mind. One of my best was what I heard at a campaign “court barrie” meeting in Kailahun when the Women’s Leader in disparaging APC on the high price of a bag of rice shouted to the crowd- “One country”, with the partisan crown retorting “One people”. She then belched out- “One bag res!” and the crowd hollered- “One hundred thousand Leones”- an exorbitantly high price at that time. Only that years later up till now, the price has kept rising!

Well, fast forward to now. A favourite of this government is “Trust the process”. You be the judge as to whether we should always ‘trust the process”, even when you think “di gron dry”. There is apparently a new one “Nar di pa get di game”. Not surprisingly, opposition people-mainly APC extend it by saying “Na di pa get di game but Wi the people dae pan sufferness.” There is a new one about mandatory face masks that extends “De Pa say wi for cover wi mouth” to ” De Pa Say wi for cover wi mouth, tay den don eat di money don.” Not surprisingly the opposition comes up with these negative ones. Time for the SLPP to come up with more positive slogans like my favourite Kailahun slogan!

Ponder my thoughts.