October 1, 2020
By Jariatu S. Bangura
Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Dr. Abass C. Bundu has yesterday cautioned civil society organisations that Parliament will settle for nothing less because ‘there will be no room for careless talks and no room to exploit the public at will in this current dispensation’.
The speaker was reacting to a perception survey report produced by the Institute for Governance Reforms (IGR) and the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), which placed parliament as second most corruption institution in Sierra Leone.
“There is no freer license to defame and slander; to curse and abuse; no more room for careless talk; no more room to exploit the public at will; indeed no more room to talk and act with impunity. Enough is enough! On the contrary, we have just arrived on the shores of a new Sierra Leone, the land that we love and call our very own; the land that is poised to rise to even higher heights of achievement in human capital development; of responsible leadership and freedom and of progressive and inclusive national development,” he said.
Speaker Bundu noted that the charge Parliament was facing was one that can be likened to treason; betraying the public trust and that from time immemorial no charge can be greater.
The speaker charged that the CSOs knew that their accusers are all men made of sterner stuff and occupy a special place in society, and that they the accused must hold them, and them alone, to bear an undivided onus of proof.
“And the evidence they must adduce must be of unimpeachable quality and the standard of proof cannot be anything less than the highest possible standard, that is to say, proof beyond all reasonable doubt; indeed the standard of proof must be commensurate with the crime charged. Thus empowered, whatever its imperfections, Parliament is designed by the framers of our Constitution to be the central nervous system and oxygen of our democracy, be it parliamentary or presidential. It is imperative therefore that it works, or made to work efficiently and effectively, above all, in the overarching interest of our country at all times,” he said.
He said parliament must be enabled to work in a corruption-free environment and must it be incorruptible and seen by the people as such.
“This is so because Parliament is the main organ of Government that carries the trust of our Sovereign, the people of Sierra Leone.
For Parliament to be accused of corruption, it must of necessity be viewed as committing a crime analogous to Treason, the crime of betraying one’s country. It strikes at the very heart of our central nervous system and that must never be taken lightly. In such circumstances Parliament must either emerge triumphant or atrophy.”
Speaking in rage, he said “To the Civil Society Organisations similarly involved in making frivolous and unsubstantiated allegations against Parliament, I would advise that they take notice now, together with their financial backers, that appropriate steps will soon be taken by Parliament to redeem its good image and reputation.”
He noted that the Executive will always be held to account by the Parliament, which is in turn answerable to the public.
“This is an obligation we as a Parliament fully recognise and respect as enjoined by paragraph (a) of Subsection 2 of Section 5 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone. That provision is like no other in our Constitution; it recognises the basic tenet that the people are the sovereign of this country and it is from them through the Constitution that power, authority and legitimacy flow. No more and no less.”
He charged that the surveys lack substance and that they are based on public perception and not reality.
“And we say clearly and loudly that public perception is not enough basis for an indictment. The perception is that of the very few, some might even say infinitesimal, number of people who mostly reside in the urban areas of our country; not of the multitudes who reside and toil in the rural areas. Are CARL and IGR telling this nation that the lives of the people who dwell in the rural areas do not matter?” he questioned.
He cited that in the urban centres, the CARL engaged only 2, 619 persons while IGR engaged 1,200 person.
“In other words, in a country of over seven million presently divided into 132 Constituencies, they engaged an average of approximately 20 persons per constituency out of a population of 55,000 in the case of CARL and only 9 persons per constituency in the case of IGR.Is this sample really large enough or reliable enough to deduce a national perception? Their Pay Masters must ask themselves whether they really got value for their monies or whether this is best way to spend the precious monies of their tax payers ? Moreover, what really do they stand to gain from such inconsequential surveys?” he questioned.
He noted that Members of Parliament are neither vault controllers nor are they responsible for the development of their constituencies. He stated that their function is to scrutinise and pass the national budget each year from which funds are appropriated to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government and the Local Councils who are then required to undertake development programmes in their various constituencies.
“This is precisely why I purposely changed the nomenclature of the meagre amounts given to MPs to Constituency Facilitation Allowance (i.e. to facilitate interaction between MPs and their constituents) from the previous Constituency Development Fund, which was a complete misnomer. Let truth be told, it was this misnomer that most the present crop of MPs capitalised upon to vanquish their erstwhile incumbents which also largely accounts for the over 80 per cent rate of attrition in the composition of this current Fifth Parliament compared to the Fourth Parliament,” he said.
Hon. Abass Bundu emphasised that Parliamentary Rules and Practice do not permit canvassing of MPs by Presidential Nominees when they come for confirmation hearings and subsequent approval by the Plenary of Parliament.
“The Committee on Appointments and the Public Service solicits information from the general public who are often encouraged to come up with evidence about the suitability or otherwise of Presidential Nominees during scrutiny.”
He said Parliament regularly and openly now conducts its business both at Committee and Plenary in the full visibility of the public as most of its proceedings are streamed live on radio, television and other social media platforms.
Dr. Bundu stated that Parliament operates as a democratic institution and that most certainly it cannot and will not do otherwise.
“It is under a constitutional injunction to do so. Of course, as the supreme law maker it must act under the Rule of Law.
This has happened almost half a dozen times in this Fifth Parliament. Notably it happened when Parliament approved the State of Emergency to address the rising spate of rape and sexual offences in 2019; for the approval of Justices of the Court of Appeal in 2020 and more recently for the approval of the Chairman and Chief Electoral Commissioner.”
He took a swipe at Hon.Hindolo Gevao who openly confessed that Members of Parliament do receive bribe from presidential appointees as requirement for their approval.
“This singular incident is not only a grave affront to the image and dignity of Parliament, it has placed the Honourable Member in a situation that is prima facie in gross violation of his responsibilities to Parliament under the provisions of Section 97 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone for which appropriate disciplinary action is currently under contemplation,” he said.
He added that upon the resumption of Parliament after its recess the said matter will be duly committed to the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges for investigation.
“Immediately following the publication of the allegations of corruption by CARL, I spared no effort to grant an interview to Mr. Umaro Fofanah of the BBC in which I expressed utter shock and consternation over the allegations of CARL. I made it abundantly clear that the people of Sierra Leone do not expect their Parliament to be corrupt by any stretch of the imagination, let alone the second most corrupt institution in the country as alleged by CARL,” he stated.